The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Your parents and teachers say it to you all the time: shoot for the stars. So why not apply that sentiment when it comes to getting an after-school job? Today, there are vast opportunities for young people to become involved in the market, even to start their own businesses. But where to start? Here are five tips for teen entrepreneurs looking to start their own business:
Find a mentor. It’s important to find someone successful in your field who already knows the business and the market. Not only will this be a great way to network and potentially find investors, your mentor has the kind of special insight only experience can bring. They can be a sounding board for your ideas and help you troubleshoot obstacles. A mentor will help you understand the risks and challenges of running your own business, and offer advice on anything from advertising to hiring strategies.
If someone doesn’t immediately jump to mind — or if your first choice has a full workload and isn’t able to offer the time — consider people you already have easy access to. It could be a relative, a parent of a schoolmate, or even a business or economics teacher at school. If you can make it someone you see regularly or that you can easily meet with, you’re more likely to stay on top of your game. It’s tough to lose momentum when your mentor is regularly checking in!
Keep in mind that your mentor doesn’t have to come from the exact field you’re interested in pursuing. If you’re starting a bike repair business and your neighbor opened a successful restaurant in town, he’ll have a lot of insight into the local market. He’ll be familiar with different areas in town that may be hot spots to advertise, as well as have countless customers as business contacts. Don’t count someone with experience out simply because it was in a different business sector!
Start small. You don’t have to kick off your entrepreneurial career with a multi-million dollar business idea. Instead start offering daily dog walking services, become a pet sitter or offer to help with yardwork in your area. Sharing economy companies make it easy to get started just know that some require that you be either 18 or older or 21 or older. If you choose to go the sharing economy route, be sure to do some research before deciding on a company!
And don’t forget to keep listening to your customers. Even if you can’t accommodate every single request, see if you can find another way to make it up to them. It’s valuable to a customer to feel heard, so taking the time to listen will show customers you genuinely value their feedback. Finding a reasonable compromise or accommodation will show them you value their business and can be flexible to their needs. The combination of these two will likely be met with loyal patronage and strong endorsements.
Implement safety features into your business. Not only do you want to ensure your own safety, it’s important that customers feel secure doing business with you. If you’re starting a babysitting business, require background checks of your employees. If you’re providing tutoring services (especially for younger kids), offer to have sessions in a public library or at the school. Meeting customers in a neutral zone until you’re better acquainted will make them feel more secure and help create a trust between you.
And don’t forget about your own safety! Require a home visit before signing on a new house-sitting customer to ensure the area is safe and the home has appropriate locks and smoke detectors. If you’re going the dog walking route, require that your canine customers are up-to-date with all shots and vaccinations. Implementing the right safety measures shows your customers that safety for all parties is important to you.
Don’t underestimate the power of social media, but use it wisely. Let’s face it: we live in the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram era. Take advantage! Social media is a great way to get free advertising and an easy tool to build a company website. It gives you a direct connection to your customers and allows you to build online relationships with them. It’s also an excellent way to provide easy-access customer testimonials to let everyone know just how fabulous your business really is.
However, don’t use it to blast followers with unimportant updates or information. It may seem fun to post photos of you walking your customers’ dogs, but it actually may make you seem distracted on the job and most people won’t care if it isn’t their pet. Post information about new services you offer, but don’t constantly share articles loosely related to your field. If you annoy your customers online, they’ll be less likely to share your page.
Go above and beyond. The truth is, your age may put you at a slight disadvantage in the market. Depending on your offered service and the availability of similar services by more-established, professional companies, customers may opt for an agency they’ve heard of versus a start-up by a teenager. But that just means you have to make yours a truly better choice!
Start by making your customer experience professional, reliable, and satisfactory for every customer, every time. Then go a step or two further and exceed his expectations. If you’re running a bike repair service, fill up the tires for free. If your business is tutoring, create test survival kits with snacks, spare pencils, erasers, and a stress ball. Make a small “Welcome home!” basket for your house-sitting clients to come home to. It’s the little touches that can be all the difference to consumers, not to mention make them excited to talk about and recommend you. Over-delivering will create loyal current customers and bring in more.
The earlier you can start gaining business experience, the more you’ll be prepared for the professional world. It will give you invaluable experience for you to carry on into your entire working career, even if you decide to go into a different field. Starting and running your own business will teach you how to handle money and expenses, interact with customers, handle issues with coworkers, and provide real insight into how the market works.
But don’t forget to have fun with your business. If it’s something you genuinely enjoy doing and are passionate about, you’ll work harder at it and make it more enjoyable for employees and customers alike. It’s even good for business: no one wants to work with someone who is lukewarm about their responsibility!
In today’s sharing economy, there’s never been a better time for young entrepreneurs to get a jump-start on their future. With the right tools, a positive attitude and drive for success, the sky really is the limit!
About the Author
Aaron Mead is a middle school teacher and a volunteer writer for ReadyJob.org. He enjoys helping his students prepare for their future careers and was inspired by ReadyJob’s mission to help kids on a national level. When he isn’t teaching and writing, he enjoys cycling and spending time with his family.