New Biz on the Block
- Carol Topp, CPA Home School Enrichment
- 2010 1 Jan
Are you a teenager who would like to earn more money or learn more about business? Micro businesses may be the way to go. Their small size makes them easy to manage. They can be started quickly, and they provide a way for you to earn money while learning a lot.
A great place to start a business is in your neighborhood. Offering a product or service to neighbors and friends can be a simple and profitable business. Your neighborhood could be the physical location around your home, or it could be the network of people you and your family know.
There are many advantages to keeping your business in the neighborhood.
1. Safety. Your parents may be reluctant to let you go all over town promoting your business, but chances are they will feel better if you stay within your neighborhood or circle of friends and acquaintances.
2. Keeping close to home makes your business more manageable in both time and distance. You will not spend time driving to customers who are distant from you.
3. Working in your neighborhood is convenient. You can eliminate transportation costs if you walk or bike to your customer's home instead of using the family car.
4. Your marketing can be very focused. You won't waste money on ads that don't reach your potential customers, because you know who your customers are: your neighbors and friends.
5. You can keep up with your other activities and interests. A micro business allows you to earn some money but not lose your life to the business. You can keep up with your homework, sports, and activities and still serve your customers if they are nearby.
6. Word-of-mouth advertising is easy because neighbors and friends will tell others about your venture.
7. There are some tax advantages if you work in a neighbor's house doing lawn or childcare. If you are under 18, you can be considered a "household employee" and will not pay Social Security or Medicare taxes. Ask a tax professional for details on being a household employee.
Ideas for Neighborhood-Based Businesses
There are dozens of micro business opportunities that can be done at home or in a neighbor's home. I have seen teenagers (and adults) perform every one of the following business ideas, so I know they work well. Some of these businesses involve physical labor, which may not appeal to you—but don't be discouraged by thinking you have to commit to doing a job forever. A micro business can be started quickly and ended quickly too if you get busy doing other things (just don't leave your customers in the lurch!). The goal of a micro business is to learn a lot while you earn some money.
Some of these jobs also require specific skills. You don't have to be an expert—and there's certainly nothing wrong with honing your skills and knowledge on the job—but you probably don't want to embark on a business you know absolutely nothing about. That's not the best way to make a great impression and earn future business!
Babysitting and Childcare
Offer a short time frame for childcare, such as two to three hours, on a regular basis. Parents can use the time for running errands or going out. Watch several children at once to maximize your profit. One student advertised to neighbors that she was hosting a regular babysitting service every Tuesday evening from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in her home. Her customers could plan ahead, knowing they had babysitting that evening.
Try mowing grass, shoveling snow, raking leaves, and gardening for your neighbors. Offer to put garbage cans out on the curb and return the empty cans to their proper places.
Take pictures of parties and special events. This frees up the hostess to enjoy herself and be in some of the pictures.
Offer to create a scrapbook of the photos you took for an additional fee. Make it on paper (and charge extra), or create a digital version if the customer prefers.
Walking dogs, cleaning the yard of their messes, and pet-sitting for neighbors on vacation form another great business opportunity.
Baking or Cooking
Offer to cook full meals and have them ready for a busy working mom when she arrives home. Homemade cookies, cakes, and pies are always popular. Be careful to follow local ordinances on food preparation. Your local county extension or 4-H office will have information on food safety in a business.
Plan a birthday party or holiday parties for your neighbors' children.
Redecorate a room if you have an interest in interior design, or offer to decorate a home at Christmas or other holiday times. Elderly neighbors might appreciate your willingness to set up their tree and string lights.
If you vacuum the interior or wax a car as well as washing it, you can charge an extra fee. Arrange a set time each week to arrive at a neighbor's house and clean the car. Your neighbor will love it!
Teach school subjects such as math and Spanish, or offer lessons in swimming, music, or art. Students may be able to walk to your house for the lesson or vice versa. Charge a premium for going to the student's home. Consider teaching a small group of children at the same time to maximize your income.
Neighbors would love to have you help them when their computer acts up. Offer phone service for a fee or in-person service for an additional fee.
Organize your neighbor's house, playroom, or garage.
Garage Sale Assistant
Advertise, organize, and run a garage sale for your neighbors. Get several neighbors together and really earn the bucks!
Offer to sell your neighbors' stuff on eBay and take a cut for yourself. Combine the decluttering, garage sale, and eBay tasks into a full package to help your neighbors profit from their excess stuff.
A family might want help creating a blog or a Web site for personal or even business use.
If you have taken a basic accounting class, you could offer data entry for a small business.
Tips for Running a Successful Business
• Keep good records. Record all sources of income and every expense. Total them by categories such as gas, supplies, and books.
• Talk to a tax expert if you find yourself making more than $400 in profit in a year. You may need to pay taxes. Visit my tax Web site, www.CarolToppCPA.com, and read the article entitled "Teens and Taxes."
• Collect payment from your customers when the job is complete, or you might forget to bill them later. If they don't pay immediately, hand them a bill and keep a copy for yourself. Office supply stores sell sales slips and receipt books with duplicate copies.
• Do a few jobs for free to get started. This will build your experience and confidence. Get a good referral from a neighbor and use it in your advertising to other neighbors.
• Make up a business plan. It does not have to be very long; one page will do. List what you plan to sell, how you will advertise, what you will charge, and what expenses you will incur. Get your parents' opinion on your idea and ask a business owner for feedback. Listen to their advice and follow it.
• Focus on customer service. Arrive on time, be neat, clean up after yourself, and say hello, please, and thank you. Do not forget to smile! These polite gestures can greatly impress a customer.
• Be unique. Many teenagers babysit, but maybe you also wash the dishes or bring a craft for the kids to make. Think of ways that you can offer something special.
• Charge a competitive rate. Many times, a teenage micro business owner can undercut the competition by offering a lower rate. My daughter was 14 when she offered piano lessons at $8 an hour—less than half of what adults were charging. She had so many interested customers that she had to turn away students.
• See your age as an advantage instead of a deterrent. You have more energy to wash cars, mow grass, and babysit children than many adults. Use your energy to be an enthusiastic business owner. You also have up-to-date skills on computers and technology. Offer your knowledge for a price, and you will have a micro business up and running in no time!
• Learn all you can about your field and about running a business. Doctors and accountants keep learning about their professions, and so should you. Read a book like Bringing Up Boys by Dr James Dobson if you provide childcare, learn Quickbooks (small business accounting software) if you do bookkeeping, and learn how to create a Wordpress blog if you design Web sites. Read some Web sites or books about running a small business. Start with these: Teen Entrepreneur: www.entrepreneur.com/tsu, Small Business Administration Teen Business Link: www.sba.gov/teens, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy from the American Institute of CPAs: www.360financialliteracy.org
*This article published on January 22, 2010.
Carol Topp, CPA, is an accountant and the mother of teenagers. She consults with teenagers launching micro businesses, presents workshops, teaches classes, and has written several articles on business start-ups. Her Web site (www.MicroBusinessForTeens.com) has resources, articles, and links to help micro business owners get started, be successful, and learn a lot.
This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb '10 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Now, get a FREE subscription to the HSE Digital Edition! Visit www.HSEmagazine.com/digital today to get immediate access to the latest edition!