Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

Consider your youth a blessing--it might just be the edge you need to make your business fly.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the June 2002 issue of Teen Startups. Subscribe »

(YoungBiz.com) - So you're thinking about starting a business. But, as a budding teen entrepreneur, you're also thinking there are more than a few cards stacked against you. You don't have any start-up cash to speak of. You don't have a storefront. And you're not old enough to sign the legal papers required to open a business bank account.

Whoa there! Before you go any further, you might be surprised to learn that, because you're a teen, you can turn those obstacles into opportunities. Many teen 'treps succeed where their adult counterparts falter. Check out the ways these 'treps played the "youth card" in their favor.

Small Beginnings
Adult entrepreneurs are more likely to jump into their newly established businesses with both feet. In their enthusiasm, they might sign for a sizeable bank loan, rent office space and buy some expensive advertising to announce their business's grand opening.

Might a teen do the same? Not likely. And not due to a lack of enthusiasm, but because teens generally don't have the same financial resources that adult entrepreneurs have. As a result, their businesses often start off small with little overhead--which means less risk. Consider the tote bag business called T-Bags that Taneka, Takeshia, Tajuana and Tianda Reed (ages 20, 19, 18 and 17, respectively) started in their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Instead of taking out a loan to open a store, the sisters started their business by taking 30 of their specialty bags to a three-day trade expo--and selling every single one the first day.

Advertising? These successful sisters already knew that word-of-mouth is not only free, but it's also the best form of advertising. "We get advertising from some of our special orders, by other people seeing our products and liking them," Takeshia explains. "When people see someone wearing our products, they ask about them."

Pay as You Grow
Most teen business owners operate strictly cash businesses, buying additional equipment only when they've got the money in hand. That strategy is often out of necessity rather than choice--teens aren't likely to qualify for big loans or get approved for credit cards. But this actually works in their favor.

That was the case when Chrissy Frentz started her Snowball City snowball stand seven years ago out of her Laurel, Maryland, garage, at age 14. She didn't have the cash--so she waited until she saved enough to start her business. "I've always been a big saver," says Frentz. "I was always cutting lawns, baby-sitting and taking care of people's pets."

It's a strategy that pays off. Without a lot of bills, it takes less for teen businesses to survive. If there is a downturn in the economy, they just hunker down and ride it out.

Next Step
  • If the entrepreneurs in How to Be a Teenage Millionaire can do it, so can you! Pick up a copy and learn from their stories.
  • Would you borrow money to start a business or use your own savings? Read more about how Chrissy Frentz started her Snowball City venture without a loan on YoungBiz.com.

Outside the Box

Daniel Anstandig's Internet radio station, Radio DAER, may have started out small back in 1998, but it didn't stay that way for long. With 1.2 million listeners every month, the 18-year-old broadcasting whiz from Beachwood, Ohio, is enjoying his success. He's also learned that, when faced with a bump in the road, creativity pays off.

As his business grew, Anstandig realized he needed professional legal advice in order to protect it. He also knew attorney fees could add up in a hurry. Faced with that obstacle, Anstandig combed through the business contacts he had made. His legwork paid off when he found an attorney willing to donate his services. "In this situation, I was actually blessed with the age card," Anstandig reflects. "If I had started this business at age 30, I don't think I would have been able to rally this kind of support."

Anstandig's approach to his problem is typical of 'treps. Teenage business owners are less afraid of doing the wrong thing than adult business owners, so they often think more creatively. As a result, they sometimes solve business problems or create products or systems that are very unique--thereby overcoming obstacles in creative ways that adults might assume were the "wrong" ways to do things.

The Bottom Line
Many 'treps are able to weather the storms of business that their adult counterparts cannot. Simply put, they face their challenges head-on and dare to think of solutions outside the box. Do you? Take the accompanying quiz and find out.

Are the Odds in Your Favor?
Do you approach obstacles with determination, or do you run away screaming at the slightest bump in the road? Read the following statements, and rate yourself between 1 and 4 based on the statement that is true for you. Then total your points and see how likely you are to turn those challenges into opportunities.

1 = Almost never true

2 = Sometimes true

3 = Usually true

4 = Almost always true

1. If I couldn't afford a storefront, I'd ask my parents if I could run my business out of the garage or basement.

2. When I come up against a problem that doesn't seem to have an immediate answer, I work on it until I think of a creative solution.

3. I'd be more inclined to save up the money to start my business than borrow it from someone.

4. In order to keep my business's costs down, I'd work extra hours or ask a friend for help rather than hire employees.

5. If I needed business or legal advice, I'd network with everyone I knew and everyone my parents knew to try to find someone who was willing to help me at no charge.

6. Rather than buy a piece of equipment on credit, I'd find a way to borrow or rent it until my business could afford to pay cash.

7. I don't have a fear of failure. To me, an obstacle only means that I have to find a different way to go.

8. If my business started losing more money than it was making, rather than having a panic attack, I'd sit down and calmly figure out what to do.

9. I think it's an advantage to start a business as a teen because I don't have adult responsibilities and bills to worry about at this time in my life.

10. Even if it takes longer, starting small and building a business slowly more often leads to success than the "full-speed-ahead" approach.

31-40 When life gives you lemons, there's no question--you make lemonade.

21-30 Obstacles may cause temporary setbacks, but you recover and find solutions.

11-20 You tend to let your fears take over and block your progress. Keep in mind that the best way to overcome your fears is to face them head-on.

1-10 When you see an obstacle headed your way, you freeze--and so does your determination and creativity. Spend some time with successful entrepreneurs who are experienced at overcoming challenges.

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