How to Turn Your 12 Year Old Into an Entrepreneur

One of the most pleasurable days of my life was when my kids picked out items they wanted to sell, put price tags on them, painted signs that they then copied at a copy store and then hung up all over town, and then bargained, negotiated, and made deals left and right until the front of our lawn was empty of all the items they wanted to sell.

Every kid needs entrepreneurial experience. The feeling that you create something powerful enough that people pay money for it. Its exhilarating and inspires growth in so many ways. But its not about reading, or studying, or being smart, or even providing a good role model. The only way your kid will be an entrepreneur is if he or she starts TODAY.

Keep it simple. Here’s some businesses they can start right now:

Idea #1: The Lawn Store:
A) tell them to find 10-50 things in their bedroom close that they would be willing to sell. (and believe me, they have those items)
B) pick a day to do a garage sale
C) have them make the signs for the sale and then they should hang them up all over town. Teach them how to be marketers with these signs. They should be as salesy and noticeable as possible.
D) tell them to call all their friends to come over for the garage sale with their parents.

E) they should organize the items by category. Make them really think about the shopping experience as people mill through the items.
F) have them be the salesperson at their garage sale. Negotiate every deal.

Repeat one month later and see how they’ve learned from the experience. Maybe add a new twist. See if any local stores want to donate items. You can donate the proceeds to charity. Having quality store items will add value to your kid’s items. Have your kids do all the bookkeeping. Understand which categories sold best and to what types of customers (did kids buy? Or parents). Serve coffee so parents can chat and drink while their kids shop. An entire book can be written about kids garage sales. After sale #2, have the kids brainstorm about how sale #3 can be even better. Send me the ideas they come up with.

Idea #2. Newspaper. Have them make a newspaper of all local news. Sales at local stores, news from neighbors, real estate news, etc. Have them sell the newspaper door to door. Make sure they do at least 2 editions before they lose interest. On second edition they can get sponsors from local stores.

The Cold Spring Express:

Idea #3: Niche Blog: Make it a niche blog/newspaper: all the real estate sales and prices in the past six months in your area. they can get the data from the local city clerk. Real estate agents can sponsor the blog if it gets traffic. They can make flyers they can drop off at every house: “Check out local trends in real estate values at this blog”, etc. Include their cute picture on the flyer.

Idea #4: Be a consultant. Go up and down main street in your town with your kids. Tell them to come up with 3 ideas for how each store can attract more customers or improve your business. Then have your kid go inside and make an appointment with the owner to share the ideas. For a regular fee (or free cookie), your kid should offer to come back and give more advice. I know this sounds above and beyond (what store owner would care what a kid has to say) but it’s a valuable experience for the kids (overcomes shyness, talking to adults, makes them think as a businessperson thinks) but you never know. Could be a good source of free cookies at the local cookie store. I’ve done this with my kids since they were 5 years old and they’ve successfully predicted quite a few local bankruptcies (most notably the business, “Balls & Dolls”, a store that did exactly what it said. They sold balls (like soccer balls) and dolls (for the kid sisters of the boys who wanted to buy soccer balls).

Idea #5: Blogmaster. Help other kids set up their first blogs. Charge a small fee. First, of course, your kids should set up their own blogs. What’s their favorite topic. Upload a picture. Start blogging. Post on other blogs often enough that they then feel comfortable putting links in their comments back to their own blog, etc. Once your kid has become comfortable with the blogspace, make a little brochure, print business cards, and help other kids set up their blogs.

Idea #6: they write a book: “100 ways 12 your old kids can start businesses” and they sell it via google ads

Idea #7: Stock market. Give them $100. Tell them they can pick 10 stocks. $10 each. The stock picks have to come from their personal experience (DIS vs CBS, for instance). They need to diversify: Media, Clothes, Food, etc. Hedge their bets by shorting SPY. Tell them you’ll split the profits with them each week. They must have three bullet points per pick and they need to list also what could go wrong with the investment. They need to report back each day how their investments are doing.

Not every kid would want to do these ideas. There has to be a passion underneath. If you want more ideas, let me know. I have some. If you want to post additional ideas, please post them in the comments. Note: I think “learning by watching you” is not a good way to get them to be an entrepreneur. They don’t need role models now. They need to just do it.

Don’t forget to teach your kids to learn from their failures. If the garage sale doesn’t go well, then why? Figure it out and try again. Persistence is everything, whether you are a 12 year old entrepreneur, or an 80 year old one.

(ps. On a somewhat controversial note: I sometimes pay my kids to do their homework. I think kids should get used to the idea early on that if they do good work, they get paid for it. Every kid hates homework so its not like I’m getting in the way of a legitimate passion. So might as well use money to see how it focuses them. They are going to have to learn that sooner or later anyway so the earlier the better.)

  • Have to say I love this one!, really good ideas, and the video is extra cute

  • Steven Goff

    Good stuff!

  • sooz

    Just Perfect!!
    Must add they have a pretty good mentor.
    I think I have a few budding ‘Entrepreneurs’ in this household too.
    Although..I did have to nip most recent business in the bud, I’ll call it Pedaling Limited Edition Nike Sneaker’s for lack of a better description,due to my 14 year old pushing the envelope. It did not help when his last transaction took place in an alley..which I did not become privy to until after the fact and his sister’s ratted him out on last deal..:)

    • sooz

      response..”But Mom..what can happen in an alley in ‘Richville?”..
      my response to him..”A LOT”..;)

  • James Altucher

    @sooz, ha, well, its the thought that counts. I had a few of those “incidents” myself in my younger days.

  • Jami

    I also tried to sell cool rocks that I painted or put into jewelry kidding..I sold painted rocks..I painted a cross..or a cool design..HA..
    Also, at 6 I thought I could make HUNDREDS! by selling homemade quill pens. I went out and gathered as many feathers as I could (gross)..and broke a regular pen in half to get ink..baddd idea.. Went grocery shopping for my elderly (or lazy) neighbors…etc..when youre a kid..any idea is a good idea!

  • Amazing stuff when kids start young. My dad gave me some money to start investing when I was 13 and since then I never looked back. Great advice James, hopefully most parents listen.

  • James Altucher

    @jami, you’re right that any idea looks good and exciting to a kid. The more the merrier then so they can start building that filter.

    @Stocks, that must’ve been a great experience. I wish my dad had given me some money to invest. Although I guess I might’ve lost it pretty quickly!

  • Mr. Gradgrind

    James –

    I enjoy perusing your musings.

    Your latest article should read “… bedroom close*t* ” ?

  • Naswan

    These 7best ideas are very good to discuss with kits at home and the students at school. I buy your ideas for my economic students where I work as a teacher. Thanks friend

  • What a great article!

    I work with 12-18 year olds who are learning about business.
    We created a page to help other teens learn about business.
    Feel free to look at it if you get a chance:

    I wish there were more kids who saw the opportunities they have.

  • Pat Danielson

    New to this site….
    Always LOVE your insights….
    Stocks and Life lessons…included…
    Big Thanx to You for all you do….
    Happy New you and Fam….!

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  • Concrete Dovetail

    You don’t always get paid for doing good work, especially in science.

  • Interesting article! Is it too late to start training someone at their late 20’s?

  • Alex

    Thank you for the great list!

    I can share a couple ideas I’ve tried with my kids:

    1) collect shells on the beach, paint pictures on them, make a cardboard sign saying whatever marketing idea for the name you can come up with, and sell the shells on the farmers market etc. They made a few hundred bucks over the summer.

    2) let them play with stocks in a paper trading account at one of the brokerages that have one, where they can manage $10 million. I like the idea of getting kids used to large numbers.

  • Jo

    Great article! I have an 11-year-old who paints astonishlingly gorgeous room murals. I’m thinking college might be a waste for her…;)

  • Denis

    James, I really like this post. I just got married less than a year ago. And one of the things which I constantly think about is how do I create a learning environment for my future kids. Here you give a great list to begin with. Thank you.

  • I missed this one–I’m going to use it in class. Right now, I have two writers, a small business owner, and a couple of artists looking to convert their work into sales:) I have business plans developing on the table after school. That’s the bottom line–fostering that vision. Whatever I teach out of “the book” is useless if it doesn’t connect to that vision.

  • I shared this with my 12 year old, he thought it was Okay, “a little tame”. We must be doing something right.

  • Eric Grimaldi

    Thank you for this very interesting article, my 16 years old step-son hasn’t been to school the past year because of last minute change of plan (we were supposed to go and live in Europe, which didn’t happen, schools would not register him anymore after 3 months of unattended class.) This past year, he’s been regularly helping his mother in her shop, doing house chores and playing on his computer a lot. He’s been reading a few books…
    We offered him to go to Europe by himself when he’s 18 for a few months, meanwhile, we will his mother and I let him learn/make creative work, read books and write, practice a sport, (he does not need a push on playing computer games). Now he will have to start making a list of 10 to 50 things to sell and create a blog, we’ll see how he does from there.

  • I’m not a 12 year olds anymore, but I’ll try to do all of this, so I can teach my kid in future.

  • Eduardo Chávez

    I think is never too late to start with this ideas, awesome post! :)

  • Jen Turrell

    These are some great ideas. Now that we have access to all kinds of print on demand with fulfillment options, kids can also do stuff like this! I helped my kids start a Red Bubble website to sell their art. It has mostly sold to family and friends, but a few of my clients have seen me post about this and have bought a few things as well! Now we need to work on promotion.

  • I know one enterprising 14 year old techie with the patients of a Saint that taught a grandparents class in texting, facebook, and solved some of their computer programs. He also went to the Apple/PC store with them. He was booked for private lessons—all referrals. He started hiring his friends. I believe he even made some ebooks.
    Another teen I know set up afternoon movies one day a week throughout the summer. The movie showing was in the basement of her home and, included 3 hours of babysitting, and refreshments. She made a $100.00 a week. She also let the kids dress up in her old Disney costumes and took pictures. Priceless marketing.