Q: At age 13, I own an action figure business with my brother. Unfortunately, my brother left me with the job of taking care of all the paperwork, like how much we're going to buy the products for, where we're going to buy them, and how much of a profit we're going to make. Do you have any hints?
A: Don't despair. The questions you're faced with are the same ones all entrepreneurs face when starting their businesses.
You need a place to turn to get the inside scoop on your industry. Industry associations and organizations usually have great research data, membership programs, books, educational seminars and workshops. To find an organization in your industry, check the Internet, running a search for "toys" or "toy manufacturers." You can also ask a reference librarian for The Encyclopedia of Associations (Gale Research), a listing of thousands of organizations, or ask the owner of a local toy store if he or she knows of any trade groups that might be helpful to you. Then just call and ask to have information sent to you.
You should also think about finding a mentor or business advisor. Someone who is already in the toy business would be your best source of information for questions like these. See if you can find someone to introduce you to a prospective mentor, or just introduce yourself. Make sure to tell him or her you are looking for advice while getting your company off the ground. Most people love to help young entrepreneurs and are usually flattered when asked to be part of a new venture.
Regarding your finances, there is a great book you should read that is specifically targeted to teenagers. The Young Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business (Times Books) by Steve Mariotti will teach you everything you need to know in the beginning about pricing, determining profit margins, and keeping good financial records.
A: Unfortunately, credibility is an issue young entrepreneurs simply have to deal with because we are younger than most of our professional peers and in many cases haven't had the chance to prove ourselves yet. This can pose quite a problem when we are looking to engage in more serious business deals--like buying companies. But first, it looks like you need to identify a company looking for a buyer.
To find a business for sale, get the word out in your professional community. Start with any business contacts, friends and organizations you already have relationships with. Let people know what you are looking for--and that you are serious. You can also call your local chamber of commerce, junior chamber of commerce, trade associations or other business brokers for help. Since they are all in the business of facilitating networking, they should be able to help you.
About the credibility issue, here are a few tips to help you along the way:
1. Address the concerns of anyone questioning your credibility directly, confronting each of their concerns and offering assurances.
2. Make sure you've conducted extensive research on the companies and industry you are looking at, and know what you're talking about. When speaking, use industry terminology, refer to trends, quote statistics and so on.
3. Once you get down to serious discussions, have a lawyer or financial advisor send a letter on your behalf stating your interest in buying the company to show the owner you are a serious and responsible businessperson.
Jennifer Kushell is president of the Boston-based Young Entrepreneurs Network, a consulting firm and support organization. She is also the author of No Experience Necessary: The Young Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business (Princeton Review). E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or the company's Web address, http://www.idye.com