By A.J. MacQuarrie
More than 15 million U.S. high school students head to school every fall, and many
of them will become entrepreneurs, building their own futures, creating wealth and doing what they love.
Entrepreneurship is respected, fun and dynamic (now more than ever before). There’s never a dull moment. It’s something you can start at any time in your life and, especially if you are young, you’ll only get better at it as you travel through life. It’s like a muscle you can work on and practice.
As Mark Cuban says, business is the ultimate sport. It’s an exciting way to do life. You have a direct impact on the economy, create jobs, create wealth and solve a multitude of problems that make peoples’ lives better.
There’s no time better than now for any young entrepreneur to embark on the adventure of their life.
1. Do it now: Start your own business.
Like swimming, you just have to jump in and start paddling. You know those ideas you’ve been batting around? Write them down. What’s your best one? What makes it better? How can you gain an edge? Talk about your idea with your friends, gather feedback from them, from parents, teachers, your target customers. And go for it.
Don’t make it complicated. It can be a simple business, like babysitting, yard work or dog walking. This is going to give you experience in setting up a business — organizing paperwork, registering it, getting a business license, a tax identification number and so forth. Legitimize it as much as you can because your age is working against you. Babysitters who have CPR and First Aid certificates are a cut above. References from satisfied customers, before and after photos of a house-painting project you completed — whatever you can point to that shows you are serious and that you care about what you do.
2. Find your first mentors.
This step is very important. And it’s a lot easier than you might think it would be. The business world is filled with people who’ve made it and want to “send the elevator down” to pass along the knowledge, lessons and insights they’ve accumulated in their climb to success. It might be intimidating to ask someone, but go ahead and approach some local business owners and ask them if they can help you and mentor you. Throughout your life as an entrepreneur you should actively seek out and ask for mentorship. You will always need someone supportive, honest and neutral to turn to for advice.
3. Get a job.
Wait, wait … why get a job when you’re starting a business? Well, for one very good reason: You need to get more experience with customers and people. American businesses pride themselves on providing excellent customer service — but no one is born innately knowing how to do that. It’s something you learn how to do. The experience of interacting with people makes a huge difference to building a successful business. You need to learn to be the face of the company, to exhibit grace under pressure and to spread that smile on your face to satisfied customers and coworkers even on their crummiest day. Attitude may not be everything, but it’s always going to be a lot, so start becoming an entrepreneur by learning from McDonald’s or your local supermarket.
4. Embrace failure.
Everyone fails. It’s what we learn from our failures that teaches us what we need to be successful. Overcome any fear of failure you might feel — that feeling is the biggest obstacle of any you’ll ever face. Try. Fail. Get back up. Convert the experience into education. Learn its lessons. Did you need more focus, attention, effort? Get back up and try again, armed with your experience.
5. Put yourself out there.
First, be yourself. Remember what may not be considered cool in high school could give you an edge as an entrepreneur. Step out of your comfort zone. Run for student government, join a sports or academic team, get involved with the school news team. You need to start getting comfortable being a leader and marketing yourself, because ultimately that’s what entrepreneurship is all about. You’ll benefit from anything where you work on teams with others. It’s good to be able to juggle a lot going on, to meet obligations and develop accountability.
6. Get involved with theater.
I was involved in community theater since I was very young and I started my own theater company when I was 17. It was my first real business. It developed so many skills in working with people and overcoming shyness. Today, I can command important phone calls and my team, and I credit my experience being involved in 35 productions with developing the skills necessary to build up my business into a nationwide healthy vending company.
7. Pay attention in these classes (I wish I had!).
Math is critical because you won’t be able to rely on an accountant or bookkeeper when you get your business started. And after you’re successful, you still need to keep an eye on your finances — your livelihood is at stake.
English and writing are crucial. You need to communicate your ideas clearly and often. You need to persuade customers and financiers and suppliers. You need to sound intelligent and inspire confidence.
8. Recognize opportunities and pursue them.
Look for a problem in your community. Think about how you can possibly create a business around solving it. Start thinking about it even if you never do it. You need to start exercising the creative brainstorming part of your brain.