Is your homeschool student an aspiring entrepreneur? She can start her own microbusiness—while she’s still a student! Find out more on this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat with accountant Carol Topp.
Mike Smith: Our guest today is Carol Topp, a CPA and the founder of Micro Business for Teens. Carol, welcome to our program today!
Carol Topp: Well Mike, thanks so much for having me. It’s a joy to talk to you again.
Mike: Carol, how can young people take something they enjoy and turn it into a business?
Carol: Well, they do what most business owners do—they find a need that they can fulfill and they meet that need, and someone will pay them for it. So they might meet needs with any talent or skill that they might be good at or better than somebody else.
Mike: What’s a practical first step for starting up a small business like this?
Carol: Well, I think you start with thinking about, obviously, what you’re good at. So kids don’t always give themselves credit, but sometimes they’re better at some things like algebra, Spanish, piano, pet care, pet cleaning. And you start thinking about, what could I do to offer these services or offer my talents or skills to somebody else. I call it creating a mini-market plan, where you just think about, “Who could I help? How could I charge them? How can I find them?”
Mike: What’s the very first practical step they should take?
Carol: They should start by listing what they’re good at, and then try to say, “Is there a need for what I am good at?” It’s a good place to start, because there’s your natural skill and talent. It’s much easier to start with something you’re talented in and then say, “Is there a need out there for what I know, what I can do?”
Mike: Carol, let’s say a teen listening to this program wants to start his or her own business. What kinds of businesses have worked well for students, in your experience?
Carol: Well, I think teenagers typically think about selling a product. Girls typically like to sell jewelry or something like that, but I try and encourage them to think about a service that they can offer instead. Because products have a lot of problems. They have shipping and inventory and sales tax. But services don’t!
So you know, the typical services that kids have always done, like babysitting and lawn care, are great. But there’s a lot of other wonderful ideas, like tutoring, teaching music lessons—I have a virtual assistant who helps me in my business, and he’s only seventeen.
Mike: Carol, are there a couple of success stories you can share with us?
Carol: Yeah, I want to share with you one about Emily, who was homeschooled. She started ballet lessons in her basement—she called it Modest Dance, because she saw a need for young girls to have a modest form of ballet lessons. That was wonderful! And he can be found on a video that was produced over at Microbusiness for Teens, so people can see her in action.
Mike: Carol, can you give our students some tips on how to keep their businesses organized?
Carol: Well, since I’m an accountant, I will tell you recordkeeping is the lifeblood of a good business, so you need to keep a good record of income and expenses. And this might mean a student needs to learn how to operate a spreadsheet, which is a very useful skill to have in life. He also might need some skills in time management, which would mean having a calendar and a day planner or keeping a schedule. And parents can do a lot to help with that as students learn these very important life skills of time management and money management even while they’re just teenagers living at home.
Mike: Well Carol, that’s excellent. But we know that any business involves a risk. What should these students do if things don’t go exactly as planned?
Carol: Well, I think students should start without debt, because that greatly reduces their risk. So that’s the first thing. Plan well, try to start a business without any debt, and you’re less likely to have any problems. But also, I think that you can learn from your failures. I used to tell my daughters, “There’s no failure, there’s only feedback.” Take those mistakes, take those failures, learn from them, and do something better the next time you start a business or the next time you serve a client.
Mike: Sometimes it can be hard to get clients to take you seriously, especially when you’re young. Carol, what can teen business owners do to overcome this problem?
Carol: Well, they need to look and sound very professional. So they need to dress well, if they’re meeting their customers face to face. They need to look that customer (and it’s usually an adult) in the eye, stick out their hand, shake their hand, call them “Mr.” or “Mrs.” All these things boost the teenager’s confidence, as well as helping them come across as serious about trying to serve the customer well and trying to be a success in their business.
Mike: Well those are the positive things they should do, Carol. What are some negative things they should avoid?
Carol: You know, I think teenagers should avoid starting a business with a friend. Avoid partnerships. They’re usually fraught with problems, and the friendship can be damaged if they go into business with a friend. I think going into business with your sibling, a brother or sister, is fine because mom and dad are there to help negotiate problems. But I’d say one of the biggest pitfalls I see is teenagers starting a business with a friend. It’s almost always a mistake.
Mike: Carol, what are some legal issues that microbusiness owners should know about?
Carol: Well, they need to know if they do business under a fictitious name, they need to register that name with their state or county government. So I just usually encourage teenagers, just use your own name, although they think it’s a lot of fun to come up with a name for their business—but that involves sometimes a cost and paperwork.
But also, if they are doing any kind of food preparation, they need to be aware of health laws, to keep that food hot or cold. If they are driving anybody anywhere, there’s laws about that. And sometimes there’s laws about even childcare, like how many children you can care for in your home. So just some practical things to think about: if I want to run a business dealing with food, or children, look into the laws in your county and in your state.
Mike: Carol, are there some good resources to guide our young entrepreneurs through these issues?
Carol: Well, I didn’t find a lot, which is why I wrote my series called Micro Business for Teens. And so the website microbusinessforteens.com will be very helpful. I think the Pinterest page, where teenagers like to hang out, is very helpful; I share a lot of my ideas and tips on starting a running a microbusiness. I also have a podcast. And there’s a wonderful video that was produced by a public television station here in Ohio that teenagers can watch. They can find it on my website and on YouTube.
Mike: Well Carol, thanks for joining us this week, and especially for giving us all this helpful information—we really appreciate it! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.