Most resources for entrepreneurs are aimed towards older people.
But what about young adults or even teenagers?
Entrepreneurship is a great way to learn new skills, develop connections, and hopefully make money.
Find What You’re Looking For
For those who don’t find the traditional go-to-school-and-find-a-job route appealing, entrepreneurship is a great alternative path.
I’ve written this guide as a high-level outline of how to be a successful young entrepreneur, including some resources to help you get started.
It covers all the areas that you will have to at least be aware of, and I’ve linked tons of resources that have a lot of depth on specific topics that are relevant to you.
What Does It Mean to Be a Young Entrepreneur?
Keeping a business alive, let alone making sure it’s profitable is a tough challenge.
That’s why around 20% of businesses don’t exist after the first year.
Of the remaining 80%, many are losing money or just breaking even.
Add youth into the mix, and it’s even harder to be a successful entrepreneur.
On top of the usual challenges, you have a few more obstacles to overcome:
- Age – Being young means that you have a lot of time ahead of you to learn and build businesses. But it also means that many people won’t take you seriously.
- Lack of money – It’s a lot easier to build a successful business if you can invest some money in it at the start. Most young people have very little that can be put into a business.
- Small network – Having a strong network of intelligent and powerful people makes starting a business much easier. You may be too young to know anybody that can help you.
- Little experience – We learn through experiences, and being young means that you don’t have much in the way of business experience. Your initial chances of succeeding go way down because of this.
I don’t say all this to scare you but, unfortunately, that’s the reality of the situation. Entrepreneurship is hard, especially for younger people in general.
Now, take a second to think about what success means to you…
Success may not mean making tons of money. Maybe it’s about learning how to run a business right now and developing skills?
The biggest benefit to being young is that you have lots of time to fail – and learn. It takes most people several businesses before they achieve their version of success.
The good news is – you’re starting early and it’s okay if you don’t build an incredibly profitable business right away.
How to Become an Entrepreneur
I’m not going to assume you have any business experience (even though you might) in this section.
Let’s take a step-by-step look at the core steps in creating a business:
Step #1: Brainstorm Ideas
Every business starts with an idea.
It doesn’t have to be an idea that you commit to for the rest of your life, or a world-changing idea for that matter.
Most successful small businesses are not going to be the next Facebook or Tesla.
Your idea only needs to meet 2 requirements:
- Be something that provides value to others
- Be something that you’re at least interested in
In order to provide value to others, you will need to have skills of some kind. It’s okay if you don’t have them yet so long as learning them is achievable. For example:
- Have to learn how to create a landing page? Reasonable.
- Have to learn how to perform surgery? Not reasonable, it takes several years of school to do that.
You may have certain skills that you enjoy using and can be the focus of your business.
Skills like programming, video editing, and photography are great skills to have but are not incredibly common.
Here is a quick list of business ideas that require skills that just about any young person has or could learn in a reasonable amount of time:
- Computer repair or tutoring
- House painting
- Flipping from garage sales
- Graphic design
- Social media marketing
- Start a Blog or YouTube channel (see here)
- Many more business ideas
You’ll notice that most of these are service-based businesses. They require hard work but are doable for most young people.
If you ever drive around a college neighborhood, you’ll see signs for house painting and lawn cutting and these businesses are run by students.
These businesses are in demand, have a proven business model, and you can carve out your own space because they are so dependant on location.
I also included a few online businesses (graphic design) because these are skills that you can learn for free – online. They also cost next to nothing to start, plus, you never have to reveal your age if you don’t want to.
Step #2: Do Market Research
Regardless of whether or not you picked an idea from the list above or came up with another, you need to do some basic market research.
You need to prove that there’s demand for your service or product and find a way for your business to stand out from the crowd.
To do this, look for competitors.
At first, competition may seem like a bad thing but it’s the complete opposite. It shows that people actually want that service or product and are willing to pay for it.
Start by making a list of all close competitors. You can typically do this with a simple Google search, for example:
Dog Walking Toronto
Add the area if appropriate.
Then you need to learn more about each of them.
What do they do well? What could they improve? How much do they charge? Where do they get their customers?
Create a spreadsheet or Word document where you’ll write all this down as you do your research.
You’ll find this information in a variety of places, depending on the type of business idea you have:
- Their website
- Google and Yelp reviews
- On forums
What you’re looking for are comments or reviews like this one:
From there it’s already clear how you could make a better dog walking service:
- Meet the dog in person right away during the initial consultation
- Always be available through phone and email during business days
- Keep customers informed of any delays in their service
- Pay attention to the needs of the individual dog
And that’s all from one review.
By the end of your list, you’ll have a detailed picture of your ideal business in the words of your target customer.
Step #3: Consider Funding
How much money, if any, will be needed to start and fund your business until it’s profitable?
Businesses need money for:
- Stock (if selling a product)
- Skills training (e.g. dog training course)
- Business requirements (e.g. dog walking permit)
- A website
Some businesses are cheaper than others to launch and sustain. If you don’t have access to much in the way of funding, try to find a low-cost idea.
Make a list of all the things your business will need, as well as the cost of each.
You’ll need to raise this amount before you launch your business, and, ultimately, before you can bring any money in.
If you aren’t able to, start back at step #1 and pick a different idea.
So how do you raise money?
As a younger person, it’s likely you’ll have limited options:
- A job
- Parents and family
- Friends (rare, but possible)
- Investors (again, difficult for young people)
I know the appeal of entrepreneurship may be to avoid the dreaded 9-to-5 job, but sometimes you need to work a bit to raise money for your own projects.
I’ve included more detailed funding resources later on in this guide.
Step #4: Create a Business Plan
A business plan is important to show your family and friends that you’re serious about your business. It’s also a basic requirement if you’re trying to get funding from an investor.
But, it’s also important to give yourself the best possible chance of success.
A business plan is a way of summarizing the key aspects of your business and ensures that you have a clear path to profit, including validating your business model.
It doesn’t need to be a huge book at this point, even a well-written one-page business plan is a great start.
Step #5: Prepare for Launch
With your market research done, a business plan in place, and funding achieved, you should have a clear picture of what your business will look like.
Now it’s time to do all the necessary work to get from your current position to the one you have in your mind.
This may include:
- Buying supplies
- Learning any necessary skills
- Registering your business if necessary (more on that later)
- Creating a website
- Developing forms (if customers need to fill anything out)
Once you think you’re ready, it’s likely that you’re not quite there.
The next step is to do a dry run.
Find a customer, even if you have to do the work for free. You can even get a friend or family member to pose as a customer – who they are doesn’t matter at this point.
Go through the entire transaction seriously and treat it as though it’s real. You’ll likely run into situations and problems you didn’t think of beforehand and this will help you figure out how you can solve them.
Repeat this cycle as many times as you need before you feel comfortable launching your business.
Step #6: Launch Your Business and Adjust
To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions. – Steve Jobs
At this point, you have a long list of things that you’ve done just to get the business ready for launch.
But now the real work starts, especially once the excitement of launching wears off.
You’ll need to:
- Find your first customers
- Collect feedback
- Tweak your services and processes
- Find a way to become profitable
This is easier for some businesses than others, but it’s never easy.
Running a successful business takes a lot of persistence and willingness to fail and learn.
That concludes our high-level overview of starting a business, but I’ve put together a few sections below of specific resources that will help you overcome common problems.
Mentorship for Young Entrepreneurs
In most cases, a mentor is someone you respect that gives you advice. Typically, they’ve done something that you want to do. In this case – run a successful business.
Since you lack experience as a young entrepreneur, finding a good mentor can make up for it.
But let me make one thing clear – you can be successful without a mentor.
Often, they will increase the chances of your success but they are not mandatory. If you want to do this all on your own, that’s fine – just skip ahead.
If you are interested in finding a mentor, there are 4 main places you can find one:
- A family member
- A friend of the family
- Local business owners that own a business you respect
- Business owners looking to give back
But before you look for a mentor, it’s important to understand what a mentor is.
A mentor is not going to do everything for you or tell you what to do. Typically, they will answer questions and point you towards topics you that you need to research and learn about.
A mentor doesn’t get much out of helping you, just the satisfaction of giving back and helping a young entrepreneur succeed. Be respectful and take their advice and you’ll soon develop a strong, ongoing relationship with your mentor.
I’ll also add one caution: If they ask for money, that should be a red flag that you might want to find a different mentor.
Resources to Find a Mentor
If you have successful entrepreneurs in or close to your family, that’s the best place to start.
Otherwise, you’re left with options 3 and 4.
If you choose 3, make a list of businesses in your area that you like and know are successful. Track down the name of the owner of each of them.
For 4, you can find them at local business events, or use these websites that help connect entrepreneurs with mentors:
- SCORE – An American based network of volunteer business mentors. It focuses on small businesses, which is perfect for the business ideas we looked at before. It’s extremely reputable as it’s backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and has been in service since 1964.
- MicroMentor – A free social network that lets entrepreneurs and volunteer mentors connect.
- MentorCity – Another online mentoring matching program that connects entrepreneurs to mentors for free.
The people who join this network as volunteer mentors are actively looking to give back to less experienced entrepreneurs and can be great mentors.
Once you’ve identified some mentors you’re interested in getting advice from, you need to get in touch with them.
Here’s how to get mentored – the right way.
Step #1: Do Work Beforehand
Don’t get a mentor just for the sake of getting a mentor.
You should try to find one because you are feeling lost in your endeavor to start a business. You have a good idea of what you’d like to do and have done all the research you can but are clearly missing a few pieces.
Write down all the specific things you’d appreciate advice about.
Step #2: Ask For Specific Advice
Remember that you’re not offering much value to a potential mentor.
They’re trying to do a nice thing for you or others, so make it easy on them.
If you ask general questions, ramble on, or just say “teach me how to run a successful business,” it shows that you haven’t done the work beforehand.
Do everything you can to solve your own problems and then ask for help. That’s what will impress potential mentors.
Nicholas Reese has a great article and video about how to ask for advice effectively. He shares the following short, simple, and effective template.
Step #3: Apply the Advice and Follow Up
Successful business people have no shortage of people wanting help from them.
Many are generous people who take the time to help as many people as possible. But they quickly stop if it’s clear they aren’t being respected. This is how people are in general, not just where business is concerned.
If you ask them for advice initially and they give you some, follow up with them, thank them for the advice, and show them how you’ve implemented it. Show them that you actually care about and respect their opinion.
Only then should you ask for more advice.
Over time, this is how you build a closer mentor-mentee relationship, and your mentor will get more interested and involved with your success.
Financing for Young Entrepreneurs
Beyond the obvious sources for funding, there are some small business grants that you may be able to get to start your business.
While some of these are geared towards young entrepreneurs, don’t limit yourself just to them.
It will depend a lot on where you live so you’ll need to do additional research. However, here are some sources for grants along with other funding information:
- SBA funding programs – Multiple funding resources for U.S.-based businesses
- 106 small business grants – A huge guide of U.S. small business grants
- The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Fellowship – A U.K.-based funding opportunity
- UnLtd – Funding opportunities for social entrepreneurs
- Dare to Dream Grants – Funding for University of Michigan students. Other schools offer similar ones
- Crowdfunding – If your business features an innovation, crowdfunding is often an option
- 13 Places to find small business grants – An additional list of grants for small businesses
- Ontario has funding programs specifically for young entrepreneurs
Being a young entrepreneur is not easy but it can be incredibly rewarding.
Not only does it give you the chance to grow as a person and explore your passions, but it has the potential to enable you to create a life that you love. No arduous 9-to-5 job, earning money for yourself, growing a team of dedicated employees, serving customers’ needs, and becoming a force to be reckoned with in your industry.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
FAQs About Becoming a Young Entrepreneur
At this point, there are probably a few final questions going through your mind.
Let me try to answer them.
What are the benefits of starting a business when you are young?
There are some big negatives to being young but also some big positives:
- You have no big financial responsibilities (no dependents or debt)
- You have a lot of freedom to try new things
- It’s easy to fall back on school if you change your mind
- You have minimal living expenses, so immediate profit isn’t necessary
Do I need a lot of money to start a business as a young person?
As we’ve looked at in this guide, there are many business ideas that require very little capital to start up.
If you do come across big expenses, developing an app, for example, it may be worth learning the skills and doing the work yourself to save money.
How do I write a business plan?
A business plan can be anything from a paragraph to a thousand-page report. There’s no right or wrong way to make one.
It just needs to outline what your business will do, how it will profit, and how it will be marketed, at the very minimum.
As a young adult do I need a business license?
It depends on the business you choose to start. In many cases, depending on where you live, you can skip the business license and operate as a sole proprietor.
Refer to this guide to choosing the right business type for more specific information.
Further Reading & Online Resources
There are a bunch of general business topics that you may not have experience in. I’ve put together a list of resources that will help point you in the right direction.
Here they are:
- SBA business course for young entrepreneurs
- SCORE educational resources for young entrepreneurs
- A list of the top business podcasts
- EDX digital marketing courses
- Digital.com’s guide to online marketing
Hopefully, all of the above has given you a good understanding of how to start a business, whether you are a teenager or young adult.
Using the resources in this guide, you’ll be able to dive in deeper and get to work on your business, making sure all of the necessary steps are in place as you launch your business to the world.