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.

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.

(P.S 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.)

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