From the July 2002 issue of Startups

Almost anyone can wash a car, set up a lemonade stand or baby-sit the next-door neighbor. Those are good first-time gigs, and there are important business lessons to be learned in all of them. But if you've decided it's time to take off the training wheels and take your business and entrepreneurial savvy to the next level, we can help.

There is a difference between washing someone's car a few times and earning $50, and incorporating a business, incurring serious expenses and hiring employees. The latter takes a bigger investment of time, money and tenacity; it's riskier and can be emotionally very tough. For a teenager who has schoolwork, sports, clubs and friends, starting a full-fledged business is difficult. I can tell you this, though: Running a business can provide you with life skills that no school teacher could ever teach. And heck, you can start slow and work your way up from there. Let's do it!

Next Step
Get help writing your business plan with our how-to guide.

What Types of Businesses Could I Start?
Tons. There are a number of successful teen entrepreneurs who have launched food businesses, sports-oriented ventures, consulting practices and the like with great success. But with the advent of the Internet, computer- and Internet-related companies seem to be the company of choice for many 'treps, including me. The reason is simple: With the Internet, you can conduct business out of your home, and developing software by hiring programmers or writing it yourself is much easier and more feasible, in most cases, than manufacturing a hard product in a factory.

When pondering what kind of business to start, first discover a problem or need that a group of people has to which your company could offer a solution. Look around, and do research. Is there something time-consuming that you think could be done more efficiently? Are there people who are spending a lot of money on something you could offer for less?

Planning & Research
Shorten your list of possible products and solutions your company could offer by doing research on the size of the market, feasibility (at my age, how much time and expertise will it require?) and start-up costs. Once you have your list of possible companies to start down to no more than three, you can move on to the business plan, which will help you flesh out your choices into one business idea and discover any obstacles you haven't considered.

Your business plan must be comprehensive and detailed. I would suggest going month by month. In each month, write down the things you want to do, the things you will do to accomplish those goals, any costs you will incur in that month.

Launch!
Assuming all of this is done, consult your plan and implement the things you have listed in month one. Go slowly, and don't worry if you fall behind your timeline. The moral of this story is that planning and research are absolutely essential. You will fail without some sort of plan--be it on paper or in your head. So find a problem, develop a solution, plan, and then launch your company!


Fourteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder, CEO and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in over 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at ben@comcate.com.