6 tips for raising entrepreneurial kids and teens

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Lemonade Stand

because-I-said-so-REDLemonade stands are hardly the get-rich-quick scheme that young children often hope they’ll be. But even if you know your kids won’t strike it rich selling watered-down drinks for a quarter to passersby, there are good reasons to encourage your child’s inner entrepreneur anyway.

“I think that the world in general needs more entrepreneurial minds,” says Jeff Brown, assistant director of the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology in the BYU Marriott School of Management. “Entrepreneurs constantly look at the world and see problems and think about how to solve them. Early on, helping children recognize that they can change and influence their environment can be very rewarding and it can help foster great attributes.”

Here are six tips for helping your kids and teens think like entrepreneurs:

1. See the skills

A teenager’s initial reasons for starting a window washing business may be so they can raise enough cash to buy a cheap car, but there is more to the experience than just making money. Sure,  it may be easier for them to go work for an established business but parents would do well to see the skills behind the fledgling business. “They are developing problem-solving skills and innovating and creative skills, interpersonal skills and negotiation skills,” Brown says. “Those last two, communication skills and problem-solving skills, are some of the most sought-after skills for any employer.”

2. Get in the customer mindset

Help kids and teens understand that the customer comes first, Brown suggests. Remind them to think of what the customer wants and how they can adjust to meet those expectations. For instance, larger plastic cups may be better for a lemonade stand, or for a lawn-mowing business teens could consider adopting a uniform of sorts or using better equipment for a high-end experience.

3. Understand differentiation and competitive advantage

There is probably another kid selling lemonade around the corner — and she may be using one of those fancy, Pottery Barn Kids stands. Ask your young entrepreneur how they plan to set themselves apart from the (friendly) competition. “Help them think of the bigger picture rather than a little lemonade stand or mowing a few lawns,” Brown says. “Help them think broader.”

4. Set goals

It’s always a good idea to set goals, and kids and teens can surely benefit from the feeling of accomplishment that comes with meeting a goal. Sit down with your child and write down doable goals for their venture. The goals could be related to volume (lawns mowed, hours spent babysitting), money (how much they made or saved) or quality (how many repeat customers?). For younger children, it may be helpful to come up with a reward for a job well done, Brown says.

5. Avoid limits

“Early on, try not to put limitations on the kids,” he says. “Try to help them think bigger and broader. The sky is the limit, right?” Encourage creative free thinking, and share stories of successful young entrepreneurs with them. As your work alongside them — your level of involvement will vary depending on your child’s age — focus on the positives and not the negatives of the experience. “Try to set the stage so that they have some little wins,” Brown says.

6. Let them do the work

It’s nice to collaborate with, assist and encourage your kids but allow them to be the primary creators and innovators, Brown says. Resist the urge to take charge. “The most important thing it does is help them develop leadership,” he says. “They put themselves in the driver’s seat where they have not been for much of their life. They have to come up with solutions instead of mom and dad coming up with solutions.” Parents may be afraid to give the kids the proverbial keys to the car because they are worried they will make poor choices — like sleep through an window-washing appointment or forget about a babysitting gig — but that may not serve kids well in the end. “I’m always one that is very apt to help children use their free agency as early as possible in their life,” Brown says. “The more that you use that and are held to account for the choices you make, the more adept you are at making them.”

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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