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March 16, 2020

Teen Entrepreneurs: Inspiring Kids to Start a Small Business – with Rob Phelan

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When it comes to mastering personal finance or exploring entrepreneurship, one of the most common laments I hear is that people wish they started sooner. Managing money well and taking the leap into entrepreneurship are no small tasks, so wanting a head start makes sense. But exactly how can parents and teachers help someone become a teen entrepreneur?

I sat down with educator and entrepreneur Rob Phelan to learn some specific steps parents and teachers can take to raise more money-savvy kids. As someone who recently took the plunge into full-time entrepreneurship myself, I couldn't wait to learn more. If you think that entrepreneurship for kids simply means mastering the art of the lemonade stand, you don't want to miss this chat.

Why It's Important for Kids to Learn About Money and Entrepreneurship

Currently, only a handful of states mandate personal finance classes as a high school graduation requirement. That is one factor that contributes to the unease that many of us feel surrounding our finances. Developing a strong financial foothold early in life can pay off big time in adulthood.

The Benefits of Kids Exploring Personal Finance

Rob says that one of the most significant aspects of personal finance is that it is about managing your money to avoid or lessen hardships. With fewer financial burdens, people can focus their energy and efforts on other parts of life. By teaching children and teens about financial literacy, we can help them bypass some of the frustration and struggles we experienced in our 20s and 30s.

What if people didn't have to learn the hard way about how devastating consumer debt and impulse shopping can be? What if people were educated about student loans before they signed the paperwork?

Rob says that if people can learn some of these lessons earlier–or at least be made aware that they exist–it can really help mitigate some of the big financial stressors that people feel.

The Benefits of Becoming a Teen Entrepreneur

Teaching kids about money and entrepreneurship are opposite sides of the same coin, according to Rob. In addition to teaching kids how to save money, helping kids understand entrepreneurship and small businesses can help them better understand how to make more money. Even if they don't pursue full-time entrepreneurship in adulthood, cultivating that mindset can help them see that they possess important skills and knowledge.

Teen Entrepreneur Conversation Outside of School

Entrepreneurial skills overlap with virtually all aspects of life. As a personal finance and mathematics teacher, Rob sees the overlap in skills play out on a daily basis. Entrepreneurship is all about recognizing pain points in society and working to solve them. Math skills feed into the problem-solving process that makes people better entrepreneurs.

A teen entrepreneur uses real-life math skills. They also learn about problem-solving and risk management. In working with other people and trying to address issues, they also get a better understanding of consumer behavior and psychology.

Additionally, they are working on a variety of communication skills. All of these skills are integral components of being an adult, so it is important to give kids the opportunity to explore them now.

How to Get Kids Interested in Entrepreneurship

Not every kid wakes up and decides to become a teen entrepreneur. Instead, parents and teachers can work to foster that interest.

Rob suggests one of the best ways to help young people understand finance is to talk about money with kids when they are young. As soon as kids are able to identify and articulate wants, families can start having conversations about money, saving, and spending.

If kids have a strong grasp of how money works and why it matters early in life, entrepreneurship becomes a logical next step. How do you cultivate an interest in small business for kids? Rob says it is important to find out what excites kids and go from there.

The Classroom as a Case Study

In his own classroom, Rob has students create passion projects. He asks them questions like, “What is something you have always wanted to do? and “What do you want to know more about?” After identifying something like playing guitar or learning to code, Rob then encourages them to find ways to learn that skill.

Sometimes that means students are doing online learning through free courses. Other times, they are accessing books and other library resources. By encouraging them to find their own sources of education, this conveys to young people that learning doesn't just take place during the school day.

Once his students have time to learn their new skills, he gives them opportunities to showcase them. Then, he helps them see how this carries over into entrepreneurship by considering how they can create something they can monetize.

To help someone understand what a teen entrepreneur does, Rob says that their goal is straightforward: build a product or service that solves a problem and find a way to charge for it. By presenting entrepreneurship in this light, kids are encouraged to think about their passions, strengths, and expertise. They also start to see how they can generate income without being reliant on an employer.

Teen Entrepreneur Study Session

Parenting Tips for Developing Kid Entrepreneurs

Parents play an important role in helping a child become a teen entrepreneur. One of the best ways to fulfill that role is to let kids figure out more of the process themselves. Rob says that when it comes to small business for kids, it can be tempting to help too much.

Let's look at one of the best examples of entrepreneurship for kids: lemonade stands. Rather than preparing the entire lemonade stand or hot chocolate stand for them, it is essential to encourage kids to troubleshoot and problem solve.

Perhaps they need more signage or a different location. Help them explore various problems and solutions to continue to build an entrepreneurial mindset.

Rob says the real benefit of supporting them in this way is that you're creating a safe place for them to explore entrepreneurship. They need to experiment and even potentially fail. By having someone support them through that process, instead of giving up, they are more motivated to try again with a different approach. Being there to ask “What are you going to do differently next time?” can make a big impact on your teen entrepreneur.

Rob's Journey as an Employee and Entrepreneur

Rob's own career path gives him the unique vantage point of being able to appreciate both more traditional employment and entrepreneurship. Teaching affords him a reliable salary and benefits, and it is also a very exciting career. He says that entrepreneurship is exciting in different ways. Because he can see the benefits of both careers, teaching entrepreneurship has become a very rewarding way to marry the two.

Even though teaching takes up a considerable amount of time, effort, and energy, Rob makes room for side hustling and creating passive income. He says that when you side hustle along with your full-time job, there is more of a safety net. You are able to try things out and experiment. It becomes less of a leap if you do decide to transition into entrepreneurship full time, and it also allows you to decide that entrepreneurship isn't right for you.

In addition to teaching math and personal finance, Rob wrote The Simple Startup. This workbook is a how-to guide for starting a business that any young adult can use to launch into entrepreneurship.

More so, Rob is also one of the curriculum leads for the ChooseFI Foundation's K-12 Financial Literacy Curriculum. Rob and the other team members have developed free and effective curricula that allow any educator to start incorporating personal finance into their classrooms.

Advice for Parents and Teachers

You value the concept of entrepreneurship for kids. So where do you start? Rob says the starting point is actually quite simple: Start with listening to people in your community. What are people complaining about? Then, talk with your child or teen about what possible solutions might look like.

Go through the exercise repeatedly when you are out and about with your child. Then, turn the conversation to specific qualities your child possesses. What are their strength or interests, and how might they monetize them? The goal is to find ways for them to help others while doing something they love.

Pushing Small Business for Kids into Schools

One of the biggest missteps that people can make is to wait for change to come from the top. Education is slow-moving. As parents, stakeholders have a lot of power, especially if they speak up collectively.

By voicing your interest in having your school integrate lessons on personal finance or small business for kids, you can get the ball rolling. Reach out directly to your school superintendent or school board, and share resources directly. Rob suggests including the link to the ChooseFI curriculum or other resources you value in an email or letter.

You can also reach out to teachers directly to let them know that you found interesting resources. Offer to try to partner with the teacher or support them however you can.

Two women discussing teen entrepreneur class for kids

Another option is to work on cultivating teen entrepreneurship in your own community. You can work alone or with other families to mentor groups of kids. Find ways to foster their creativity and help them problem-solve together.

This would allow them to either build on the work they are doing in school. It also allows them to explore personal finance and entrepreneurship if it isn't currently being taught.

For more ideas and inspiration, follow Rob on Twitter or connect with him at the ChooseFI Foundation.

Key Takeaways for Supporting Your Teen Entrepreneur

Understanding personal finance and having the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship can change your life. While it's tempting to get lost in wondering what would have happened if you got started sooner, there's a more productive course of action you can take.

As parents and teachers, we can take a page from Rob's playbook. Let's make sure that schools are teaching about small businesses for kids and giving your child the ability to test out life as a teen entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship may not be for everybody, but early exposure to those skills can do a lifetime of good.


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Teen Entrepreneur Discussion outside of school

Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the award-winning writer, speaker and podcaster behind Marriage, Kids and Money - a platform dedicated to helping young families build wealth and thrive. Andy's advice and personal finance experience has been featured in major media outlets like Business Insider, MarketWatch, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and NBC News. Trusted as a personal finance influencer and corporate financial wellness speaker by global brands like JLL, Andy’s message of family financial empowerment has resonated with listeners, readers and viewers across the world. When he's not "talking money", Andy enjoys wrestling with his two kids, singing karaoke with his wife and watching Marvel movies.

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