In November, we’re celebrating entrepreneurship: It’s what made America the great country that it is, and what will continue to make it great in the future.
How will that happen? Look around: those kids sitting at your kitchen table could be the next great U.S. entrepreneurs.
I believe that some children can show a natural inclination toward entrepreneurship. After all, I was exhibiting classic signs of having the business bug at the tender age of 8, when my sister and I earned 60 cents an hour dusting the shelves at a local pharmacy. I took those earnings and opened my first bank account.
If a child shows an interest in business, or even better, a head for business, it should be nurtured, just like you would nurture an interest in sports or music with lessons, practice, and healthy competition.
Learning business basics now may spark a lifelong passion for your child and offer expanded opportunities later when they enter the job market. Here’s how you can encourage your child along the entrepreneurial path.
Even in the early years, there are little ways you can encourage your child to start thinking like a business owner. As a kid, I was always looking for ways to earn money by shoveling driveways or doing yardwork. These odd jobs taught me the fundamentals about business, such as dealing with employees (I had three employees in my lawn-cutting business at the age of 12), coming up with a great sales pitch, and how to make a profit.
Are your kids interested in selling the toys they’ve outgrown and earning some cash at your next garage sale? Let them set up a table so they can sell their wares and learn to make change. And the next time they bring home another school fundraiser, resist the urge to take the cookie order form to the office. Instead, let your child work the phones and charm your family members into buying something so they can meet their sales goal.
Stop Buying Them Stuff
Is there some toy that your child is just dying to have? Put away your wallet: Let them negotiate a fair rate on some odd jobs around the house. Once they’ve completed the work to your satisfaction and saved enough, your child can decide whether that toy is still important after all that hard work. (This crucial lesson in delayed gratification may serve them well years later, when they have to decide whether a business purchase is a really a necessary investment.)
Talk about Capitalism
Contrary to popular belief, capitalism isn’t a bad word. Neither are profits or competition. A successful business may make a business owner wealthy, but one entrepreneur can also make a huge difference in the world. They can offer a new product or service and change the business landscape, boost local employment, and help grow the economy. Talk to your child about businesses they admire and discover their startup stories. Discuss which companies are making the news and why, and throw in a few lessons on ethics when you come across a bad egg.
I’m a fan of organizations like Junior Achievement, where age is no object to finding success. The owners of AT&T and Strathmore Paper, along with a U.S. senator, founded Junior Achievement as an after-school business club in 1919. In the 1940s, JA was helped along by the executives of Colgate, J.C. Penney, and Gillette. Junior Achievement is now worldwide and they’ve partnered with the Small Business Administration to create Mind Your Own Biz, a site that walks young entrepreneurs through the five steps of business ownership. Another organization, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, guides 50,000 high school students annually in testing the waters of entrepreneurship.
Take Your Child to Work
Of course, if you already own a business, you have a golden opportunity to give your child a birds-eye view of your business operations. There’s nothing that can match the hands-on experience of working alongside a parent. If possible, find some age-appropriate tasks for your child to complete at your workplace. They’ll soon discover that running a business takes more than passion – it takes hard, hard work, cooperation, and stamina.
America needs more people who are willing to take the dare of starting their own businesses. As parents, we can nurture that entrepreneurial spirit in our kids. It’s up to us to give tomorrow’s business leaders that push in the right direction.
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