Homeschool Corner

Best Micro Businesses for Teenagers

By Carol Topp

Carly and her sister, Hannah, had a goal to buy an iPod. They planned to earn money by knitting scarves and selling them to friends and neighbors. When they brought samples of their wares to our homeschool co-op, the parents were pleased with the scarves and impressed by the girls’ initiative. I had no doubt that they would reach their goal, especially when parents started requesting custom designs! Little did Carly and Hannah realize that they had just started a micro business.

Do you want to encourage your teenager to earn some cash by starting a business? Micro businesses are a great option, because a teenager can make money and learn a lot yet still manage schoolwork and a social life.

A micro business . . .

• Is simple and fast to start up.

• Has no employees. There is only one worker, the owner.

• Needs little start-up money. Most use what is already on hand.

• Is usually home-based.

• Is low-risk. A teenager wants to make money, not lose it!

• Offers flexibility. A teenager can still have a social life, participate in sports, attend youth group meetings, and finish his homework while maintaining a micro business.

• Finally, a micro business lets a teenager learn life skills while earning money.

Micro businesses start with an idea that meets a need. Brainstorm a few ideas with your teenager and see what strikes his or her fancy. Look for unmet needs among your friends and neighbors. Usually, the best micro business ideas come from personal talents or skills, such as playing an instrument or fixing a computer. Other micro businesses offer a new twist on an old idea, such as an innovative babysitting service. Just remember that a micro business is not a major commitment. It is an opportunity to try out something new to make some money. Even by having only one customer, a teenager can discover a new interest and a source of income.

My daughter Sarah decided to try her hand at web design and created a site for our hair stylist. She was paid $70 for designing a very simple website, using free software. So far, Sarah has had only one website customer. Her interests have shifted to something new, photography, but she enjoyed trying web design as a micro business.

Top 10 Great Micro Business Ideas

1. Child Care

The time-honored profession of teenagers is babysitting, but a micro business can offer something new or different. A unique twist to a typical babysitting job might be to add extra services, such as doing laundry, pet walking, or light housecleaning for an extra fee. Or a teenager could offer to babysit regularly. One teenager made her babysitting micro business unique by advertising to neighbors that she was hosting a regular babysitting service every Tuesday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. in her home. Her customers could plan ahead knowing they had childcare available that evening.

Karen (Spunky Homeschool) Braun’s daughter, Kristin, combined her love of reading and childcare. She assembled a small group of children and, during a two-hour block of time, read them a story, planned a craft, and fed them a snack. She charged $5 per child per week, offered a sibling discount, and averaged earnings of $45 per family during a six-week summer mini-camp.

2. Lawn Care

Lawn mowing, mulch spreading. and snow shoveling are great micro business ideas. A teenager may already have the equipment he needs to get started. If not, he or she should purchase only what is needed initially.

Using savings from a paper route, Lucas Rice bought his first riding lawn mower at a garage sale when he was 12. As his business grew, he was able to buy more equipment. “Allow your business to grow, and then grow your equipment into your business,” he advises.

3. Cleaning

It’s not a pleasant job, but houses, garages, yards, cars, and pets all need to be cleaned at some point. Some clever teenagers sell coupon books of cleaning services or offer to wash a neighbor’s car on a regular basis, say once a week for six weeks, in a package deal. One family with five daughters trades housecleaning for piano lessons. As one student has her piano lesson, the others clean the teacher’s house. Everyone is happy with the results of the trade.

4. Pet Care

Walking dogs, ridding the yard of their messes, and pet sitting for neighbors on vacation are great ideas. There is a man in my town who charges $10 per yard to clean up after a dog. It is not the nicest job in the world, but it could be a great option for a teenager or even a pre-teen.

My friends, the Wonsers, care for other people’s pets while they are away from home. They keep the pets at their home in their large backyard. The Wonsers have rabbit hutches and dog runs to keep their animal guests safe and happy. Your family could house rabbits, cats, or dogs for friends on vacation in a home-based pet hotel.

5. Music

There are several potential micro businesses for musicians, such as giving lessons, accompanying, and performing. Is your teenager a drummer? Eric Cieslewicz, a teenager in Ohio, teaches eight drum students every week. A teenager can use his knowledge of any instrument to teach children in a micro business.

Pianists are always in demand as accompanists for events or performances. My daughter, Emily, was paid for her time to rehearse and perform as an accompanist to a teenage cello player who was participating in a school music competition.

Some talented musicians are paid to play at weddings or social gatherings. Harpists, violinists, and pianists are the most popular types of musicians requested, but garage bands can also be paid for a gig.

6. Tutoring

Teenagers can tutor students in many school subjects, such as math, grammar, or Spanish. They make excellent tutors because they have recently studied the subjects themselves. My oldest daughter was hired to tutor a 14-year-old girl in study skills to help prepare her for high school.

But tutoring does not have to be limited to academic subjects. Teaching art, swimming, and sewing all lend themselves to great micro business ventures. Your teenager might consider teaching a small group of children simultaneously to maximize income.

7. eBay or Garage Sale Assistant

An ambitious teenager offered to sell his neighbors’ stuff on eBay and took a 25% a cut for himself. As a garage sale assistant, a teenager could advertise, organize, and run a garage sale for friends or neighbors. If he gathered several neighbors together, he could really earn the bucks! Another idea is to combine decluttering, hosting a garage sale, and eBay assistance into a full package to help neighbors profit from the sale of their excess belongings.

8. Computer and Software Help Desk

Many teenagers may already have computer knowledge that can be turned into a profitable micro business. I needed help to straighten out my iTunes library after I accidentally deleted all the music on my iPod. Dave had started a micro business doing computer support, and he spent an hour answering my questions, such as “What are the blue circles for?” and “What do the checkmarks mean?” Then he showed me a neat feature called “smart playlists” to help get me organized. Dave sold his knowledge of computers as his micro business.

A teenager could be on call from home or, for an additional fee, make house calls to fix sick computers. Remember that what may be easy for a teenager can be very intimidating to some people, and they would gladly pay a helpful teenager to run cables or load software.

If your teenager is a patient teacher, there are plenty of people who would love to learn how to make better use of their software. My daughter took a Photoshop class, and she then taught three adults how to use Photoshop.

9. Photography and Videotaping

We live in a visual age, where kids take photographs and videos all the time. YouTube has made amateur videos commonplace, and Facebook is now the world’s largest photo-sharing site. A teenager could build a micro business by taking pictures or videos of parties and special events for neighbors. This frees up the hostess to enjoy herself (and actually be in some of the pictures).

Additionally, a student could offer to film an important occasion such as a birthday, music recital, or sporting event and then create a DVD of the special event. I hired someone to assemble forty photographs of my family for my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. He added background music, and we played the DVD during their anniversary party. His micro business DVD service added a nice touch for a special event.

10. Baking and Cooking

Dream Dinners is a popular franchise that lets customers prepare frozen meals. An ingenious teenager could modify that idea and offer to prepare frozen meals for neighbors. Or a teen could go to a neighbor’s house and have a meal ready for a busy working mom when she arrives home. Homemade cookies, cakes, and pies are always popular too.

However, it is vital to follow your local ordinances on food safety. Some local food-safety laws require you to use a commercial kitchen or limit home-cooked foods to only baked goods and candy. Your local county extension office or 4-H office will have information on food safety guidelines associated with a micro business. As a variation, a teenager could bake dog treats, since there are fewer restrictions on pet foods than on food meant for human consumption.

After the Idea: The Next Steps

After your teenager has come up with an idea for a micro business, a few more steps are necessary in order to launch a successful enterprise.

Conduct a market survey. Encourage your teenager to ask a few potential customers if they would hire him and what they would be willing to pay for the service he plans to offer.

Decide on a price. A great way for teenagers to get customers is by undercutting the competition. My daughter ended up with more piano students than she could handle because she charged only half the going rate for a half-hour lesson. She was happy because she was still paid better for her time than she would have been paid working at a fast food restaurant or at the mall.

Become a volunteer. I recommend that a teenager offer to do a free service for one or two clients to start out and see how it goes. It will teach your teenager a lot about the business, and he’ll also gather some references for use in advertising.

My daughter Sarah is interested in photography and took senior pictures of her friend Kelsey. Sarah loved it, and Kelsey’s parents were thrilled to receive a CD of more than a hundred photographs. Now Sarah can use their comments and Kelsey’s pictures to help launch a micro business doing senior portraits for friends.

Launch an initial advertising campaign. Word of mouth is the best means of advertising, and in this digital age that means using email and Facebook. Parents can help spread the word about their teenagers’ micro businesses by posting on homeschool forums. My daughter found her first piano students through our homeschool network. Also, consider setting up a Facebook fan page to advertise to friends and neighbors.

Pick a name and register it. Usually a teenage micro business owner does not need a business name; most can simply use his or her own name. I recommend waiting a few months to see if the teenager is going to stick with the business before choosing a business name. Business names must be registered with your state or local government, and this may involve a fee, so I recommend putting off that expense until the business shows some longevity and a profit.

Consider opening a checking account. Be aware that many banks will not let a student under age 18 open a checking account, while others may require a parent to be a co-signer on the account. A check is a contract to pay, and minors cannot legally execute a contract. If your child is too young to maintain a checking account successfully, he or she could endorse checks over to you and have you cash them. Minor children can open a savings account, and they can build good financial habits as they see the profits of the micro business grow, yet they will not have easy access to those resources.

Read up on taxes. I hope your children are successful enough to pay taxes on their micro business profits! If they earn a profit of more than $5,700 (in 2010), they will owe federal income tax. Depending on the nature of their businesses, they may also owe self-employment tax of 15.3% of their profit over $400. TeensAndTaxes.com covers the details of taxes affecting teenagers. It also discusses services that are usually exempt from self-employment tax, such as babysitting and lawn care.

Learn about customer service, marketing, and record keeping. There will be a lot to learn when running a micro business. Encourage your teenager to read books about several aspects of running a business. Offer to give him high school credit for what he is learning. My website, MicroBusinessForTeens.com, is aimed at teens and offers excellent information to learn as the business grows.

Carol Topp, CPA is a homeschool mother and accountant. Her book, Starting a Micro Business, is the first of a three-book series titled Micro Business for Teens. She encourages teenagers to start a micro business at her website MicroBusinessForTeens.com.

Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Fall 2010. Used with permission. Visit them at http://www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com.


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