Are successful entrepreneurs born or made?
You could argue that they're born with attributes that make them successful, like an open mind, drive, competitive spirit, or the ability to see the big picture. But what about the skills we develop over time, like creativity, courage, confidence, the ability to handle stress, and subject matter expertise?
To raise the next generation of entrepreneurs, we shouldn't rely only on genetic traits. We should teach them how to be entrepreneurs—and there’s no better way to learn than by doing.
Shopify Kids Business Starter Kit
We've created a free 44-page activity book of engaging activities and exercises designed to lead children between the ages of 9-12 through the journey of imagining and developing a business idea.Get your kit
To raise entrepreneurial kids, we need to give them opportunities to start a business, take some risks, and learn what it takes to be an entrepreneur. I know this first hand—because I was a kid entrepreneur.
My first business(es)
As a child I was always exploring new ways to make extra money. I had big ticket items on my wish list like remote control cars, gaming systems, my first computer, and even a robot. My allowance just wouldn’t cut it—so I had to earn the money myself. At age 10, I started delivering newspapers and by 12 I had become an independent representative for two catalog sales companies, selling to neighbors on my street.
I was shy growing up, but selling to my neighbors and relatives was a nice way to ease into sales. I learned that the simplest technique is to give your customers the opportunity to buy something they want, at a fair price. There was no sales pitch. I literally dropped off catalogues and then collected the orders. It was exciting and a great experience.
From these early businesses, I developed experience and confidence, plus valuable skills like problem solving, customer service, time management, teamwork, leadership, and resourcefulness.
According to a study of 2.8 million businesses, experienced entrepreneurs have greater odds of success. Starting a business as a child or teenager delivers that experience early on and can improve their odds of business success later in life. Entrepreneurs tend to develop effective problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, which are valuable for any career path, not just running a business.
As parents, we can encourage our kids to get excited about creating or building stuff, selling things, offering a service, and making money, while teaching them important lessons and skills.
But what does this look like in practice?
Helping kids start a business
A few years ago, at age five, my daughter started receiving a small allowance to keep her room clean. The money meant nothing to her at first—until she realized she could use the money to buy Barbie dolls. Now I had her interest.
I explained to her that she could make even more money by starting her own business, whether it be a lemonade stand, making crafts, or some other idea.
Hannah’s Summer Treats was born.
Hannah decided she wanted to sell treats from our driveway. To keep her excited about the idea, we went online and had a logo designed on Fiverr for less than $25. Next, we ordered a t-shirt, banner, and a yard sign for another $65 from Vistaprint.
Hannah was in business.
All she needed now was her supplies. She wanted to offer more than just lemonade, so we picked up cans of lemonade concentrate, a box of ice cream bars, and several packs of Mr. Freeze ice pops. We chose a Saturday for her grand opening, created an event on Facebook, and invited friends and family.
When the day came to launch her business, we set up a table at the end of our driveway complete with an umbrella from our back deck. She had a cooler stocked with supplies and ice, a cash box, and a large drink dispenser for the lemonade.
That day, I learned that my daughter was a natural promoter. She ran up and down the sidewalk waving her sign and yelling to every car, jogger, and bicycle that passed. Some even stopped. When a customer approached, Hannah got shy and hid behind us. But each time, she got a little braver.
She also learned a few things real fast. First, ice cream sandwiches don’t stay frozen in the cooler, so we had to move them back to the kitchen freezer for storage. It became a bit of a hassle. Lemonade and Mr. Freeze quickly became her best sellers, which simplified inventory going forward. She dropped the chocolate ice cream sandwiches, and kept a limited supply of vanilla available.
She operated Hannah’s Summer Treats several times that summer, and each time she seemed more confident. My wife showed her how to take the customer’s money and make change. She learned about revenues and expenses. At the end of each day, we counted the money together, and took out the cost of her supplies. Whatever was left over was her profit to keep. She was proud of herself and excited about growing her new business.
Even kids can pivot
Unfortunately, COVID-19 prevented her from operating in 2020. So she decided to launch her own YouTube channel, The Hannah News Network (HNN), to share news for kids. It was completely her idea. My wife and I wrote each script and produced the videos. We shot them using my iPhone, and I quickly learned how to edit the videos on my PC. One of her first episodes was about Kid’s Messenger from Facebook and how it allowed her to stay in touch with her friends. She talked about how safe it was to use and all the fun features. She’s also done movie reviews and interviewed a professional football player, Jordan Hoover of the Edmonton Eskimos. Hannah really started coming out of her shell, and showing her personality.
HNN’s launch was featured on a local news website and caught the attention of our local cable company, which subsequently featured her videos on their community TV channel. She plans to continue filming HNN and restart Hannah’s Summer Treats this year. She even wants to write her own children’s book. Every opportunity has been a learning experience and stepping stone to other business ideas and projects.
Tips for parents raising entrepreneurial kids
By introducing our kids to entrepreneurship at an early age, the experiences—both positive and negative—can help shape their future, and may be the start of something amazing.
Shopify Kids Business Starter Kit
We've created a free 44-page activity book of engaging activities and exercises designed to lead children between the ages of 9-12 through the journey of imagining and developing a business idea for kids.Get your kit
Here are seven ways to teach your kids to be entrepreneurial:
1. Teach them about money
Most young kids have no concept of what money is or how it works. So help them to understand by relating it to the real world. Explain to them that you work to earn money, to pay for your house or apartment, to put food on the table, to pay utilities, and to buy fun things like toys and videos. Then teach them how to earn an allowance or make their own profits from a simple business. Let them spend some of their earnings (while saving the rest) on a new toy or video game and they will quickly begin to understand.
2. Teach them responsibility
This could be as simple as giving your child weekly chores, keeping the dog’s food and water dishes full, babysitting their siblings, or finishing their homework before playing video games. Responsibility will teach them that they have a role in their own success, and that keeping commitments is often rewarded.
3. Nurture their skills, talents, and interests
Encourage your kids to be creative and use their imagination. If they like to write stories, encourage them to write. If they like to make things, let them use your tools. Playing sports will teach them teamwork. Passions and interests are often a great source of business opportunities.
4. Teach them business basics
Running a business can be hard, and we want to make it as easy and fun as possible for our kids. Bite-sized lessons are a good way to start. Ask them to write down their business ideas and choose one. Next come up with a business name and logo. Show them how to create a simple startup budget by asking them to list everything (with costs) they need to start the business. Teaching our kids about revenues, expenses, and profits is also important. Do this by itemizing expenses and paying them out of the revenues earned.
5. Planning and decision-making
Entrepreneurs solve problems and make decisions every day. Get your child involved in making the business decisions in their venture. Another way to get started is to have them write a simple one-page business plan, like this one from Home Sweet Road. This exercise will force your child to explain their business concept, identify their target market, list their competition, show how they will promote their business, figure out how much they will charge for their product or service, and much more. As the old saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
6. Recognize opportunities
Entrepreneurs by nature see opportunities where others don’t. Encourage your kids to look for opportunities and take initiative. Whether it’s reselling sneakers on eBay, tutoring other kids for money, or shovelling the neighbors’ driveways, opportunities are all around us—and entrepreneurial kids can spot them.
7. Give back
Entrepreneurship isn’t just about making money. It’s about solving problems and helping people. Encourage your child to help by offering a portion of their profits to charity or hosting special sales events to raise money and support a cause. When we “forced” my daughter to downsize her stuffed animal collection, we convinced her to sell them on Facebook Marketplace and donate the money to a local charity. We explained how much the donation would help a local hospice and she quickly agreed.
A quick note on keeping your child motivated: as much as we want to teach our kids and help create opportunities for them to achieve success, remember that they are still kids. Keep it fun, and don’t put too much pressure on them. My daughter has told me numerous times that she doesn’t want to do HNN anymore, and I listened. But she always seems to come around on her own, ready to pursue the project again in her own time.
Leave the door open to continue, but encourage your child to open new doors as well. New interests can lead to new experiences and new opportunities. Just keep encouraging them to learn and follow their interests.
Resources for parents
The topic of raising entrepreneurial kids continues to build momentum, and luckily there are some excellent online resources for kids and parents to learn more.
Here are a few to start with:
- 50 Business Ideas for Kid Entrepreneurs
- Kidpreneurs with Big Ideas
- Let’s Raise Kids to be Entrepreneurs - TED Talk
- Entrepreneur Kids
- Homework: A Shopify series taking you inside the head of kid founders
- Shopify Kids: Business Starter Kit
Whether your goal is to raise an entrepreneurial kid or a kid entrepreneur who actually starts a business, the benefits gained by teaching our kids about business are undeniable. In the end, whether they pursue entrepreneurship long-term or not, the skills and experience gained during this formative time can pay dividends later in life.