With fall having arrived and school now back in full swing, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to get kids interested in business – how to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit in young people starting at the earliest age possible. Myself, I was engaging in business transactions going back to grade school when I opened a “store” in my bedroom to sell candy bars and such to my elementary school classmates. It started me on a path of self-employment that remains strong to this day.
To further explore this topic, I sat down recently with my 13-year-old daughter Vanessa who interviewed me about business and I learned a lot from her point of view, just as she picked up a few pointers from me. My hope is that parents and teachers will share this article with the young people in their lives and get a conversation started about all the options available for youth to achieve a satisfying and rewarding future for themselves.
My daughter started with the basic question:
Vanessa: What is business?
William: Business is all around us. If you look around, everything has gotten to where you’re at because of business – the shoes on your feet, the sweatshirt on your back – everything around us is business. It’s all about trading services. If someone is good at making a shirt, they trade their time for money to provide that service.
Vanessa: What would make someone want to get into business?
William: You get to be your own boss, create your own hours and you get to make money.
Vanessa: How do you start a business?
William: To start a business, you have to first solve a problem. What problem are you trying to solve? The answer to that question could very well be the basis for your own business – you have to be able to provide a good service, like a lemonade stand. Someone has to be thirsty to want to buy lemonade from a lemonade stand. Would you set up a lemonade stand on a rainy day?
William: When would you do a lemonade stand?
Vanessa: On a hot, sunny day.
William: Why is that?
Vanessa: Because they’re thirsty.
William: Yes, so you’re solving a problem and you have to pick the timing so that the timing is right. Would you sell ice cream in the winter?
William: The ice cream man comes around the summer, right? That’s because it’s hot and you want ice cream. That’s what we mean by solving a need – you have to solve the need at the time someone needs it.
Vanessa: How do you make your business unique from others?
William: That’s the thing – other businesses already have things created but there is room to improve on what they are not making or what they may lack in their service. Like McDonald’s and Burger King – they both sell burgers but they’re different kinds of burgers. Would you agree?
Vanessa: Yes, but then you look at Wendy’s, Five Guys, In-N-Out… How do you make another different burger?
William: You have to be different and set yourself apart. What do you know about 5 Guys?
Vanessa: Their burgers are big…
William: …and they have homemade fries, right? That’s what separates them. And they don’t have a drive-through – you walk in. They have a different theme and different look.
Vanessa: What do you say to those kids out there wanting to make their own color changing T-shirt company, for example?
William: For every kid, you have to start learning basic money skills. Where would you say kids go to get money?
Vanessa: Their parents.
William: And what happens when their parents say no?
Vanessa: Then you have to find your own way – sell something at a yard sale, a lemonade stand…
William: I had the fortunate situation of being where my parents couldn’t just hand me money. And I’d see other kids getting brand new stuff and I didn’t get brand new stuff. Instead of sitting back and saying I wish I would have this or that, it made me think of creative ways to come up with money and I knew I had to go make it. So I think parents shouldn’t just give their kids money – they should ask their kids what they could do to earn it.
Vanessa: There are plenty of kids out there who want to do stuff but their parents say no. Say their kid wants to grow up and own a vape shop and their parents say no. You can’t make your kid do something they don’t want to do when they’re older. You want to let your kid do what they’re best at and once they get older, they’ll realize what’s good for them. You can’t push them to make them someone they’re not, like a doctor or lawyer.
William: I think that’s a great point when you say “the best at.” In school when you’re taught something you’re bad at, they say keep working on that because you’re bad at it – you’re not good enough yet. That’s not business. In business, you take what you’re best at and you hire people that are better at the job than you in other areas. In business, you don’t waste your time on what you’re bad at. I do not personally waste my time on what I’m bad at – I hire people to do stuff that they’re good at and that’s the thing I would sum up with business. Say you may be really good at making the lemonade but you’re shy to talk to people…
Vanessa: …but you’re good at selling it…
William: Yes, I’m good at talking to people but when I make the lemonade, it’s too sweet. And if you started a lemonade stand at a young age, you would learn how many hours it took you to make, say, $5. Would you think a little bit more before you spend that $5 if it took you all day out in the hot sun to earn it?
Vanessa: Yes, definitely…
William: A lot of time I think parents should not just give their kids money and instead help them find ways to work for it, otherwise the kid will just stop. “Mom says no, Dad says no” and that’s it.
Vanessa: Say you got the $5 and you go to Toys R Us and you want a Lego set. You have to think, “I’m going to play with this for 10 minutes then I’ll have to go work in the hot sun again to get $5 because I don’t even want to play with this toy anymore.”
William: Does every one of your friends have an iPhone or Android?
William: And I’ll bet you that some of those parents don’t have all that much money but every one of their kids has an iPhone. Why do you think that is?
Vanessa: Because they want to be connected with their kid whenever they need to call them or text them.
William: Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that everyone else’s kid has an iPhone so why can’t my kid have one?
Vanessa: That could be. Parents feel that their kid needs to have what other kids have.
William: Do kids talk about having to do chores in order to get their iPhone?
Vanessa: Not really, just the basics – do the dishes, take the garbage out and keep your room clean…
William: But they get paid an allowance for this too?
Vanessa: No, I never hear about kids getting allowances anymore. I think it’s just like, “Hey, mom, can I have $10 to go get something to eat with my friends?” It’s not really an allowance anymore – nobody does that.
William: Do kids your age in 8th grade talk about what they want to be when they get older?
Vanessa: A lot are still deciding… I’ve always had it in my heart that I want to be a heart doctor. I want to stick with that. There are a lot of people who say, “I want to be a race car driver” or “I want to be a veterinarian” but once they get older they’re working at jobs they hate because they didn’t set their goals high enough to reach. They set their standards low and they kept them low. You’ve got to set your standards high and keep them high.