Most teenagers start a business because they want to make money. However, wouldn’t it be great if running a business also had other benefits? What if a student applied his academic knowledge in math and writing to running a micro business? What if a talented young lady discovered her future career? What would that be worth? Or what if a young man stretched himself to learn new skills on his own? Could running a business actually help change and improve the world? It’s wonderful to imagine. Starting a micro business can be a fantastic learning experience with many unexpected benefits.
Apply Academic Knowledge
“When will I ever use this?” is a common complaint (disguised as a question) heard from teenagers. Students can apply many of the writing and math skills they have been learning for years by starting a micro business. For example, a student can apply writing skills by creating ads, articles, and flyers to explain and promote a business. Math skills are needed to calculate a profit, taxes owed, and product mark-up.
Cathy Mayfield’s daughter started her own magazine when she was only 9 years old. It was a magazine filled with articles, stories, puzzles, and games for children aged 5 to 10. At first, Cathy was concerned that her homeschool evaluation would look as if her daughter wasn’t learning any language arts skills. Then Cathy realized she had all those magazines to demonstrate her daughter’s knowledge of the English language. Cathy’s daughter was certainly applying everything she was learning about writing! It was a marvelous experience that lasted for five years.
Learn New Skills
Running a micro business can reinforce old skills, but new skills can be acquired as well. One teenager I know, Joel, has a talent for computer web design. He taught himself software programs such as InDesign and makes money by creating buttons and banners for websites. Joel’s web design micro business will help him determine if he wants to be a full-time graphic designer. Meanwhile, he is learning time management and customer service skills—while getting paid!
Eric, a teenager from Ohio, teaches drum lessons to eight students. In an interview in USA Today, he spoke of how he has learned to be organized and save his receipts for tax purposes. He admits: “This is just the foundation for learning how to be a businessman. I couldn’t learn this just working at a restaurant.”
I’ve met many teenagers who are self-taught in their knowledge of software programs, blog or web design, and social media marketing such as Facebook, where they advertise their businesses. These subjects are not learned from a textbook. They must be learned in an alternative way, usually by trial and error, with a mentor, or sometimes through the use of Internet tutorials. As they seek out the knowledge they need, today’s entrepreneurs are becoming self-taught experts. In the future, they will not be afraid of learning new things nor be dependent upon an institution to teach them.
Find a Future Career
A teenager might also discover a future career by operating a micro business. As a teenager, Meghan taught violin lessons to children. She loved playing violin and enjoyed teaching so much that she decided to study violin in college. Running her micro business helped her find her future career. She is now at the University of Memphis studying violin on a music scholarship.
On the other hand, Lucas, who has been very successful with a lawn mowing business, does not plan to mow grass the rest of his life. However, he shared with me recently that what he is currently learning about customer service, scheduling, taxes, and hiring employees will be extremely beneficial in his future. Lucas is studying mechanical engineering at the University of Cincinnati and plans to operate his own engineering firm some day. I have no doubt he will be a very successful adult entrepreneur.
Become Motivated to Learn More
Learning can be described as “making a connection between old information and new information.” If a student can tie new things he is learning to the “old information” he gathered from running a micro business, it makes learning easier.
For example, Phil was only 15 years old when he had to learn about paying taxes and record keeping in order to run his business. Now he is a college student majoring in business. He recently emailed me to say he took his first accounting course and remembered what I had taught him as a teenager about reading financial statements. He was connecting his new information in college with old information he had learned from running his micro business.
While in high school, Emily found she enjoyed teaching beginning piano students. She decided to continue learning more about piano pedagogy (teaching piano) and is pursuing a teaching certificate from The Royal Conservatory in Canada. Her micro business experience prompted her to learn more about teaching music.
These students were motivated to learn because acquiring knowledge and skills would enhance their micro businesses. They may even find motivation to study subjects that are challenging because they see the connection to their passion or the usefulness of what they might learn.
Influence Society and Alter History
Running a micro business may start out being about making money, but it can become so much more than that. Micro business owners today are the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. They will be the creative thinkers who will mold and shape our society. A new term has sprung up recently: social entrepreneur. This term implies that the entrepreneur is motivated to change society by tackling important issues such as poverty, illiteracy, or illness. Thus, a great way to improve our world can begin by learning to run a micro business as a teenager.
In their book, Do Hard Things (Multnomah Books, 2008), Alex and Brett Harris share the story of Conner Cress, who was bothered by the lack of clean water in Africa. He had an idea to make bracelets, sell them, and use the profits to dig wells in Africa. Conner and his friends formed an organization called Dry Tears and sold 3,500 bracelets, T-shirts, and water bottles. They raised over $20,000, with 90 percent of those funds coming from other teenagers.
One homeschooled teenager started a drama ministry. Although it had a nonprofit focus, she had to learn many business skills while staging and promoting performances. She wrote her own plays and won national awards. Her work eventually led her to a career with Youth for Christ’s drama ministry, where she is a change agent for a better world.
As a final encouragement to teenagers who want to start a micro business, here are some words from homeschool leader and teacher, Andrew Pudewa, of the Institute for Excellence in Writing: “I am entirely convinced that students who have been educated in a way that promotes initiative, real thinking, and ingenuity should also have some practical and explicit training in how to apply their talents to starting a business . . . We need a nation of entrepreneurial, mission-driven, prepared, young adults; it’s never too soon (or too late) to start nurturing this aptitude.”
Carol Topp, CPA, helps people, especially teenagers, start their own small businesses, Micro Business for Teens. She has authored several books, including Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out, and the Micro Business for Teens book series. Carol lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two daughters, where she runs her micro business from home.
Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Fall 2011. Visit The Old Schoolhouse® to view a full-length sample copy of the magazine especially for homeschoolers. Click the graphic of the moving computer monitor on the left. Email the Publisher.