No experience needed
The first thing that you should know about starting a business as a high school student is that it is going to be a lot of work. The second thing that you should know is that it will likely be the most meaningful and important learning experience of your teenage years. Many adults dream of being their own boss, but feel too established in their job to leave, too senior to learn a new industry, or too tired to put the hours in to begin their own venture. One of the best parts about starting a company as a young person is that you have time on your side—you aren’t established in your career yet so there’s really nothing to lose. Teenage businesses come in all shapes and sizes from lemonade stands to military-grade drone empires, so no matter what your ambition or interests may be, there is likely a way to grow it into a company. Here are some useful tips on how to create, grow, and sustain your business as a young person.
Choosing your Industry:
If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and are serious about creating your own company, the first question you should be asking yourself is what type of company do I want to start? If it’s not immediately clear to you then you may want to consider these preliminary guiding questions: What am I passionate about? What are my areas of expertise? What are the services, products, and brands I like to interact with? What are the needs of my community? Where can I make a difference and add value?
Let’s say that for as long as you can remember you’ve been interested in law enforcement and detective work. You’ve spent hours watching CSI and Law & Order and even though you’re not a so-called “expert” you are more knowledgeable than most of your peers. Being a private detective requires extensive training and isn’t something that you’re going to be able to do while you’re in high school. However, perhaps there is a niche for you. Do you walk by signs of missing cats and dogs in your neighborhood? Maybe you could consider creating a personal database of missing pets in your local area and offering a service to investigate their whereabouts in order to collect rewards. Admittedly, this is a little far fetched, but it’s the type of creativity and passion that it takes to enter an industry that wasn’t designed for you.
If you choose to take on a more traditional route with a smaller barrier to entry, you should still be putting a spin on your company that leverages your skillset. Don’t be afraid to let your inner-kid shine through!
Building your Business Model:
Once you’ve picked the industry, you will have to figure out how exactly you’re going to create value and get people to pay for it. There are 3 basic types of businesses that you have to choose from: Services (examples include music lessons, babysitting, and tech support), Merchandise (examples include selling used clothes, reselling sports tickets, and hosting garage sales) and Manufacturing (examples include hand knitting scarves, building birdhouses, and, yes, lemonade stands).
Primarily, services are the simplest business models because they don’t require much overhead and are a very direct and simple way of doing business—I am good at photography so I take photos at events and charge per image & per hour fees. It’s the quickest way to monetize an idea and the profit margins are usually really good since there aren’t many expenses.
If you choose to sell merchandise or a manufactured product, you’re going to have to be more strategic because there are operating costs and expenses that make turning a profit a bit more of a challenge.
The is one other type of “business:” a nonprofit. This is a class of business registered under the IRS as a 501c3. All of the other rules & advice applies, but there are extra steps like registering as a nonprofit and choosing a beneficiary. That’s because these types of businesses are considered charitable organizations and therefore don’t have to pay taxes on their income. This type of business makes money, just not for your own personal gain.
What do all successful businesses have? Clients! You can have the best product or idea in the world, but with no one to buy it your company won’t last long. This is one of the most common pitfalls companies fall into; they either fail to reach enough customers or pay way too much money to do it.
In your case, acquiring clients and building brand awareness should mainly take time, not money. Building a website is a great place to start and there are plenty of free or inexpensive website design templates on sites like Squarespace. Once you’ve picked out a template and reserved a unique domain, you’re well on your way to publishing your own website. Always remember to keep it simple. Overwhelming sites are hard to navigate and in the early stages of your company you really want to do one thing well instead of offering tons of services and options. Remember to highlight what makes you different and makes you even better than your competition!
Along with the website you should use the resources at your fingertips such as social media accounts, community email lists, Nextdoor, printed flyers, and word of mouth to get the message out there that you are open for business. Always maintain a professional tone in any advertising material you post, but feel free to be creative and eye-catching!
As your business grows you may start to feel like you’re getting the hang of things and have a desire to turn up the heat. Be careful, with heat comes the potential to get burned! Before you decide to offer another service, upgrade your website, or pay for promoted posts on Instagram, you have to make sure you’re ready. You should only take a step forward if you’ve sustained your current level of operating for at least 2 months—this will protect you against becoming overwhelmed, not meeting demand, or having your product or service quality suffer.
The trick is setting realistic expectations. If you have started a babysitting network, don’t book dozens of children if the only babysitters you have are you and your best friend for now. It may sound simple, but it’s easy to get distracted by the lure of money. Safe is always better than sorry since you only get one shot with your business’s reputation.
Just as it’s easy to go crazy after your first bit of success, it’s dangerously easy to get complacent and start coasting when your business is doing well. Here are some things to keep you from losing steam:
If you do the hard work of starting something you believe in, it will be much easier to continue motivating yourself to work hard. If you are truly adding value to people’s lives, then the joy you get out of making a difference is likely to keep you coming back for more. Continuously check in with your “why” whenever you start to feel tired or less passionate about your business.
If you continually ask yourself, “Would I hire me?” it will keep you accountable and hopefully motivated to continue working hard and improving your business. Remember to stay positive; building a business is an uphill battle and most adults even fail so if you’ve made it this far, you’re a huge success already! If you see yourself as “not the type of person who would create a business,” remember that no one is born business savvy, it is a learned skill set!
Age doesn’t have to be an inhibitor either. You might run into certain obstacles due to your age, but there is no reason that you can’t succeed just because you don’t have your driver’s license yet. It may take a little more creativity, but just know that you belong. If you’re willing to hustle a little bit, make deliveries by hand, promote your business by posting flyers, ask for help when needed, and seek partnerships from other similar, more established companies, then the odds are in your favor.
The Essential Steps:
Pick an industry that you’re passionate about and brainstorm a way to add value to this industry with your current skill set. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, rather you should emulate other successful businesses.
Next, create a website and start gathering clients..slowly! Make sure you can handle the amount of demand you are getting before you go crazy with advertising. This also gives a little buffer for you to do some quality control and work out some of the inevitable kinks in your plan. Once you have been steady for a few months, you can begin to look for ways to expand. Maybe that means a new product, a second employee, or a partnership with a larger organization.
Keep reminding yourself that you are capable of being a boss! Confidence is key and maintaining a composed outward appearance is crucial. Good luck with your entrepreneurial journey! Don’t be discouraged by failures, learn from them and try again!