Start them Young! How to Cultivate the Young Entrepreneur
I remember very clearly my first trip to the principal’s office. I was in the second grade and in trouble for “stealing other kid’s lunch money”. As much as it sounds like the calling card of a bully, I can assure you it was nothing like that. It was the early 80’s and jelly bracelets were all the rage. (Does anyone remember these?) It just so happened that my Mom and Dad had a hobby of shopping the flea markets for deals- used tools, bulk socks, old furniture that could be repurposed- the usual flea market fair. As I wandered the aisles with them I found a small corner chocked full of jelly bracelets. I used my allowance and bought 10 for $1. The next day at school everyone wondered where I had gotten my unique glittered jelly bracelets (they were usually solid colored). By the end of the day, I had several orders to pick up more when I went back to the flea market. Using more allowance, I went back and bought more and then sold them to the other kids at school for $0.25 each. Things were going great until parents started wondering why their kids were coming home starving. Evidently, they were using their lunch money to buy my bracelets and not eating lunch. So there I was- in the principal’s office. My Mom went to bat for me and I promised to close down shop. My entrepreneur days were over until about 20 years later when I rediscovered my calling.
I can’t help but reminisce on this as I watch my 5 year old son try to sell our old washer and dryer at a neighborhood garage sale. He’s opening the doors, pointing to the motor telling her it’s “super big” so it’ll run “super fast”, and that she’s lucky it’s in white-“the best color ever!” He ends with, “So do you want it? I can help put it in your car?” The poor girl is trying not to laugh at his persistence and I step in to save her. As I admire my little salesman, I wonder - how are entrepreneur’s raised? I tried to think back to what shaped me as a child and encouraged my early jelly bracelet enterprise. I’ve put together some lessons that are excellent for cultivating young entrepreneurs.
Visit Flea Markets
Ah, the memories…Flea markets are great for learning the art of negotiating, how to measure a “good deal”, and how to work with all kinds of different people. If you don’t have a decent flea market nearby, farmer’s markets, garage sales, and auctions are all great alternatives as well. Encourage your child to try his luck at bargaining. Try the “buy one get the second half off deal”, ‘”it’s damaged, can I get 20% off?”, and “this is all the money I have, can I have it for $X instead?” Real-world experience negotiating beats anything you can read in a book.
Allowances may have been started as way to compensate for good behavior, but it has been reduced to just being a day that Mom hands over some money. As long as you didn’t get in trouble five minutes earlier, you were getting the handout. This reminds me of an employee doing the bare minimum day in and day out knowing full well they will still be getting a paycheck on Friday. In contrast, offering to pay your child for completing extra chores provides an instant reward for hard work and encourages them to look for more opportunities. They will soon learn that the harder and smarter you work-the more rewards you receive.
See You at the Top
When I was in school they offered an optional “I CAN” course based on a book by Zig Ziglar, called “See You at the Top.” Most of the values I learned in that course are still with me today. Key topics are turning “I Can’t” to “I CAN”, eliminating “Stinkin’ Thinkin’”, and that its not “aptitude, but attitude” that determines success. While I don’t believe the courses are still available today, the book certainly is. They have a 25th Anniversary edition available at most major book stores and his timeless premise of “you can get everything in life you want if you help enough other people get what they want” still rings true today. Lots of kid-friendly stories that will help drive home the importance of honesty, loyalty, faith, integrity, and strong personal character.
Games are a tremendous opportunity to introduce and reinforce business lessons. Some top titles include Monopoly, Mall Madness, Payday, and PIT (if you’re not familiar with the titles just google them). All of these games teach respect for money, how to earn money, and how to make decisions that will give you the best return on your investment. Successful strategies are rewarded as the “winner.” Other ways to teach the skills of entrepreneurship include Chess, RISK, and CLUE. All of these games emphasize strategy and the importance of having a calculated plan for executing your attack. Another great game that can be played solo and is easy to take along is a book of logic problems. These “problems” ask the player to use logic to deduce answers and search for clues that can solve the mysteries. The amazing deductive analysis of Sherlock Holmes is a great example of this in action.
As you try some of these lessons gauge your child’s interest. If they can’t seem to get enough, praise their efforts and cultivate your young entrepreneur’s need for growth. If they could care less, give them a break and let them find their own pursuits. Each day my son shows more and more interest in “what mommy does”. I plan on encouraging him and welcome his curiosities. If he loses interest and decides a career as Batman would be more interesting, no worries. He might be right!
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