Top 5 Lessons From a Kid Entrepreneur (Pay Attention, Public Schools!)
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I was recently introduced to Brendan Cox, a 19-year-old entrepreneur who has founded 10 different successful businesses to date — starting at the age of nine years old. Collectively, he has grown a $900 loan from his mother into $250,000 of profits today. I have previously written about how elementary-school-aged kids are capable of learning and grasping complex business skills, and Brendan is the poster child of proving that exact point. All I could think about was: What if Brendan was actually instructed on such entrepreneurial topics in school, instead of learning about rocks, state capitols and cotton gins. Maybe his successes would have been even higher! This post is going to highlight some of the key startup lessons that Brendan learned along the way.
How it starts for kid entrepreneurs
Brendan was an introverted, eager, and creative kid in elementary school with a fascination for business and a drive to be successful (passed down by his mentor father). He was never interested in more typical school-age activities, like playing video games, which he found boring. Instead, at an early age, he was driven by finding creative ways to make money and “scratch” his entrepreneurial “itch.”
Inspired by his fascination with the DJ setups at a few family bat/bar-mitzvahs, his first business was a DJ company that he started at the ripe old age of nine years old. He demonstrated his desire to learn the business and figured out on his own how to mix music by conducting research on YouTube. After pitching this business idea, Brendan’s parents agreed to help with funding for his equipment as a Christmas gift. He created business cards, flyers and promotional products, and reinvested his profits by purchasing additional equipment and lighting, party giveaways, company gear he designed and by adding a team member.
By the time he entered middle school, Brendan lost his passion for entertainment, so he shifted gears and created many new businesses, including a social media management company, a phone cases business, a graphic design business, a teen odd jobs business and, most recently, a podcast for entrepreneurs (All Up in Ur Business).
Below are Brendan’s top five lessons to share with other aspiring school-aged entrepreneurs.
1. How to raise startup money from your parents
Brendan started his entrepreneurial career by taking out a $900 loan from his parents. Convincing them to trust him with $900 wasn’t easy, tells Brendan. “I was a 13-year-old kid with absolutely zero experience in the business world. Therefore, I had to prove to my parents why they should trust me with their money. To do this, I created a PowerPoint presentation showing them my exact plan. This covered the breakdown of how I was going to spend the money and how I was going to earn the investment back, plus more. Sometimes visualizing your plan is the most efficient way of garnering support from others, especially from parents. Don’t assume just because they are your parents, they should just give you their hard-earned money.”
2. How to get an adult client to take you seriously
When starting a business as a kid, many adults may look down on you, think you’re incapable or try to take advantage of your services. “Clients would often ask for discounted services compared to other odd job businesses even though we were offering the same service. I wasn’t the average teenager who would negotiate, I never budged on pricing. I held my ground because I knew my worth and my company's worth, and through this, we built a reputation where people had no problem paying our prices. By learning how to talk and write in a professional manner I limited situations where adults tried to negotiate prices or services. If you’re unsure of how to respond or reach out to a person, always look up a template and make sure you use one that sounds professional and then personalize it for yourself. But always make sure there is confidence in your words. Confidence goes a long way in convincing others of quality service and experience.”
3. How to budget school and work
At a certain point, every young entrepreneur is going to feel overwhelmed balancing school and work. Budgeting time is crucial. Every second that Brendan wasn’t working on schoolwork, he was working on his businesses. Brendan says, “Keep yourself organized by making a calendar to space out blocks of time to determine what you need to accomplish in a day. During lunch and free periods, I would be answering clients and posting new targeted Facebook advertisements to draw in more clients. More than budgeting time, it’s about using time wisely. Eliminate distractions you aren’t gaining value from. An example of this would be social media; so many kids waste hours a day on various platforms. If you are serious about your business, delegate that wasted time to improving your business. In addition, always be transparent with your teachers. Let them know what you’re doing, and if you need help, ask. Many teachers will be willing to work with you and even adjust due dates as long as you have a valid reason and will hand in quality work by the negotiated time.”
4. How to make your brand look professional as a teen
Many businesses fail because they lack professionalism. Brendan explains that “as a teen, the key to having people take you seriously is making your self-image professional. Before engaging companies, people often research the owner of the company. This is easier than ever today because everyone is on social media. Make sure you understand that your image on social media can be a deal-breaker. Across all social media platforms, I’ve had to change from being your average teen to becoming a professional. It sounds harsh, but it is what you have to do. From having a professional headshot to posting content that’s relevant to your business, it all makes a difference. This also means making sure any information about you or your company sounds professional by using proper grammar and punctuation. Simple fixes or mistakes like these can make or break the success of a young entrepreneur.”
5. How to build trust among employees as a teen boss
Building a good relationship with those that work for you is extremely important in any business, and it is even more important in a business run by a teen. Brendan explains that “if you have your employees’ back, they will have yours. I remember one specific example where a teen assistant employee of mine worked about a six-hour moving job where the apartment building has five flights of stairs and a broken elevator. Near the end of the job, the lady drove off and tried to get away without paying for the move. In scenarios like this, you have to take the hit as the business owner. Not only did I not make money off that job, but I paid my employee $120 out of pocket to cover what she should’ve paid. Being good to those who represent your brand and company is everything. Your highest remarks and reviews will come from your employees; treat them right and you’ll see a difference in the success of your business.”
To all you young school-aged readers out there, take these lessons from Brendan and apply them to your life and educational path, and you may build a small fortune for yourself. And to all you school administrators building curriculums for our schools, we can do a lot better for our kids in teaching them lifelong skills they can immediately apply into success, a lot earlier in their lives, as many high school graduates will not be able to afford the rising costs of college. It’s time to step up your game; our future generations’ collective economic success are relying on you, especially in a world where 40 percent of jobs today are going to be disintermediated by automation in the next decade or two. Thanks, Brendan, for sharing your budding wisdom with us.