The year 2023 will soon be upon us, and if you’re a teenager who has the goal of becoming a teen entrepreneur, the good news is that you now have a lot of options available to you and tons of easily accessible (and cheap or free) business resources to reduce start-up costs and provide you everything required to start and grow a side gig into a full-time job and a lucrative business. In fact, since many regular jobs are off-limits to people in their early teens (due to legally mandated work permits, experience requirements, degrees needed, or age limits imposed), starting your own first business and becoming your own boss as a teen may be your best bet, as it will afford you invaluable experience and an array of basic skills most successful entrepreneurs don’t learn until well into their 20s or 30s. Thanks to the democratization of business-building information and entrepreneurial tools and resources online, you should have no problem discovering how to start a business as a teenager, and though the steps vary a bit from industry to industry, we’ll do a deep dive below to help you get started on your route to business success.
First Thing’s First
Naturally, you shouldn’t just rush out and start a business off a random idea or interest. Instead, young entrepreneurs and first timers should begin with some research first, which includes deciding what you have a lot of passion for, where you see gaps in the market or a retail arbitrage opportunity (in which you can create and provide services for a much lower cost than a target audience of buyers would be willing to pay, thus resulting in instant profit margins, which is a good thing).
Arguably, one of the hardest parts of finding the right business opportunity to pursue is identifying one that will maintain your passion and interest, while also filling a legitimate and proven need that isn’t fully saturated by a host of efficient competitors. However, while it may be tempting to instead go for the low-hanging fruit of an industry that’s taking off right now, you should remember that pursuing an industry, product, service, or topic simply due to a current trend, despite your lack of interest and expertise is going to put you, as the entrepreneur, at a definite disadvantage. It takes both an entrepreneurial spirit and a relentless commitment to making your business work, so you’ll need to pursue a business idea you feel strongly enough about that you’ll push through the doldrums, obstacles, plateaus, and hard times in the pursuit of success.
As we initially mentioned, the best thing you can do when planning to start your own business is as much research as possible. You’ll want to research the industry, what skills you need to be a success, your target market, and how to market and promote the business (thanks to social media, you won’t solely have to rely on business cards, word of mouth, and expensive paid advertising). If you’re going to require financing, even from a family member, it’s good to develop a robust and detailed business plan, and you can get sample plans by the dozen on the Internet. Most teens don’t need outside financing, but if you do, a business plan and financial model with a budget breakdown, marketing plan, and future sales forecast is a smart way to start.
Don’t assume that a successful online business is going to be easier than a brick-and-mortar one. Each type of business has pros and cons, and while online businesses may be lower cost to start, that also makes them far more crowded, competitive, and difficult to stand out among a sea of other companies online. Brick-and-mortar, on the other hand, may be conducive to local foot traffic and repeat business (particularly if it’s a coffee shop or other consumable product), without requiring as much social media peddling and online media buying to acquire new and repeat customers. That said, starting a physical, in-person business may incur costs like rent, which make this an opportunity ripe for fundraising or a partnership with an existing business entity, so it usually isn’t the best testing ground for new ideas, whereas a lower-cost or online marketplace is a great opportunity to test the concept, gain initial traction, and determine if brick-and-mortar will make sense.
Also, keep in mind that the easiest businesses to start as a teen are small businesses where you are the only employee—at least initially, as this avoids the need for payroll and the burden of other people relying upon your business to pay their bills. When brainstorming businesses you could build and operate as a solopreneur, consider businesses like auto detailing, babysitting, dog-walking, blogging, baking, tutoring, or even building a strategic poised-for-monetization YouTube channel.
Some of the Best Business Opportunities for Teenagers
If you want to start a business but you’re not sure which one to choose, below are a few suggestions you might want to consider:
- Graphic Designer
A graphic designer makes sure your online layouts look their best. If a new business wants to build or revamp its own website, it will often seek out a graphic designer to lay it out properly and make it look spectacular. Familiarity with CSS and HTML is a huge plus, but other than that, you can likely do this job with basic computer skills. Of course, it helps if you have an eye for design because that’s what clients will be paying you for in the end. Luckily, you can easily learn a host of computer and graphic design skills through free videos online, or you could take a professional graphic design course if you’re really serious about obtaining all the professional skills at once.
- Video Game Tester
If you love playing video games, you might want to consider being a professional reviewer. Lots of video companies hire reviewers for their games so they can receive honest feedback on what is good and bad about the games. Young adults and teens tend to love this job because it seems that new games come out every year, which means even more of them are now being tested. The job can also keep you very busy, so you shouldn’t run out of games to review very often, and as the gaming industry has continued to grow at an accelerated pace, there will be countless additional ways to monetize your expertise and familiarity with these games.
- Start a Blog
If you’re an expert at anything and love writing and sharing that expertise or experience, starting a blog is a great idea that doesn’t have to cost a dime at the beginning. Many websites in your industry seeking high-quality guest content may let you guest post and link to and promote your blog for free, so the blogging space can be very teamwork-filled with endless collaboration opportunities to help you grow organically while also pinpointing your target audience in complementary guest blogs. There are countless ways to monetize blogs, from ads to affiliate linked products, paid guest blogs or paid features, and selling your own product to your loyal readership, so though it may take some time to build a large following, the rewards you’ll reap will often far outweigh the investment in time spent building early on.
If you’re good at administrative tasks and you have an eye for detail, transcription work might be for you. Today’s transcription is quite different from the transcription of long ago. For one thing, you can often download software for free, as well as do the actual transcribing of notes without a lot of fancy equipment. For these reasons, this is a business you can start practically for free, as well as do it while watching shows or listening to podcasts at night or on the weekend, so it can be a great way to monetize your downtime. Along those lines, you could even aim higher and build a full-service virtual assistant (VA) business, which could start as a solopreneur gig and later grow to hire and manage a whole fleet of other VAs.
- Lawn Care Detailer
If you love working outside, working in lawn care is a good way to take advantage of your local connections (like neighbors and parents’ friends), and you can make good money without any operating costs other than your time. Though lawn care is hard work (from a physical perspective), it allows you to practice your creativity, professionalism, and feel a huge sense of satisfaction every time the job is completed. The nice thing with a business like this is you can scale up or down your services as much as you’d like, from offering basic grass cutting to more artistic hedge cutting, planting trees and flowers, and even doing daily and weekly lawn trimming maintenance and garden weeding to guarantee yourself some stable recurring revenue (which can grow to a lot of money with just a handful of regular weekly clients).
- Mobile Auto Detailing
If you’re interested in cars or have ever worked at a car detailing shop, you may be equipped to start a local or mobile automobile detailing business with an array of services and upsells, from a thorough indoor and outdoor clean, to waxing, chrome polishing, and more. Believe it or not, there are automotive entrepreneurs who started small local car detailing businesses in their teen years and eventually grew them into statewide or nationwide franchises making tens of millions of dollars or more, so don’t assume this type of business is perpetually limited to a teenage side gig.
Photographers are needed for lots of different special events year-round, so if you’d like to start a photography business, you’ll never lack for clients, so long as you build and grow a local network. Nevertheless, it can be an expensive venture to start due to the high-quality camera, lenses, lighting, and editing software you’ll need to purchase. Nonetheless, photographers these days can gain significant popularity on social media, which increases their demand and enables them to raise their rates, particularly for events like weddings and holiday family pictures, so it often is a very profitable venture.
- Online Store
An online store can make you good money, and you can either make and sell your own creations on sites such as Etsy or eBay or buy products wholesale and then sell them retail. You can even have an online garage sale to try to sell the items you no longer want. In fact, selling anything online can be very lucrative, but only if you’ve done the research to identify the right product, pricing, sourcing, and marketing to ensure a profitable operation that doesn’t leave you with unsold inventory you can’t sell.
No one actually enjoys cleaning their house, and besides, who has the time? Young people who choose to clean houses can make some good extra money, even if all they clean are small homes. You can get started quickly as well because all you have to do is post some flyers in grocery stores, retail stores, etc. Your investment in the business will consist of buying all of your cleaning supplies—including a good vacuum cleaner—but those items should last for a long time, so it’s a fairly cheap business to start.
- Selling T-Shirts
Everyone loves t-shirts, and you can even make them in your free time using print-on-demand software (like Teespring or Printful), which means you don’t have to pay for the product before it’s sold, thus making this a practically no-cost business, so long as you price your products appropriately to cover manufacturing, shipping, and marketing costs. Some online t-shirt businesses have grown to making millions of dollars, simply by promoting their own designs with a unique brand theme and a loyal cult following. Alternatively, you could build an audience around your own channel on a social media platform and subsequently create a line of merch with a ready buyer audience, which would likely increase the odds of success without incurring marketing expenses.
While the more creative and unique ideas may seem fun and exciting, it’s important to remember that some of the best business ideas are also the simplest or most objectively “boring”, yet they fill an undeniable and recurring need, such as food delivery, pet walking, or child care.
How Should You Get Started?
What is the first thing you should do if you’re trying to start a business? Once you come up with a product or service, you’ll need a business model next. Your business model describes how you’ll market the business, where you’re going to get your products from, a profile of what your customers will look like, all the required costs associated, and every other aspect of operations and growth.
One of the easiest ways small business owners can market their business is through various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and a separate website. This is where a lot of prospective customers will be looking for the product or service they need. In fact, in order to build a successful business, you have to promote and market your product or service continuously, and using social media is one of the best ways to do this, which has become all but a requirement in most industries.
If your product or service is a little out-of-the-ordinary, you may want to seek out mentorship from people who have experience in the industry. This is often the first step for people who already know what type of business they wish to try. Consulting with people who are already doing this job can answer your questions, give you some idea of the challenges you might face, and even help you determine what price you should charge, which will change depending on the local market and industry standards, which anchor a certain price range in your prospective customers’ minds.
Finally, you’ll want to discuss all of these things with your parents, especially if you’re in your early teens. They can be a valuable resource because they may have connections to potential customers through friends or coworkers, depending on the business venture you plan to pursue, and they may even offer to help with the financial side of the business to get you off the ground. One of the first lessons new entrepreneurs often learn is that no matter how much of a great business idea they think they have, they may find that their network is – or directly impacts – their net worth, so family members shouldn’t be overlooked.
Make Sure You Know What Your Expenses Will Be
Even if the business idea seems like it will be low-cost, expenses can pile up faster than you think. When you compile your budget, you have to consider every single expense and make sure the prices are realistic and take growth into account. List every expense, including tools, equipment, flyers, ads, phone expenses, your website domain, software, hardware, any other technology or ongoing services, materials, and everything else required to maintain operations or produce and deliver your product or service. This concrete expense breakdown will help you determine your burn rate, meaning how much money you typically spend in a month on your business, and by dividing your total cash by your burn rate, you can calculate your remaining runway, or how much time the business can survive if it experiences a period of no sales.
Though you can use an Excel spreadsheet or Google sheet, at some point you should probably get some type of financial small business software to keep track of the fluctuations in your business bank account, meaning your expenses and your income. Among the legal requirements when running a business is to keep meticulous track of these numbers so you’re able to report your income to the government and pay your owed taxes. Software packages such as QuickBooks and others make doing this super-easy, so you really have no excuse not to do the job the right way from the very beginning.
You’ll also have to research whether or not you need a business license or other documentation, including tax forms. Both of these are usually required, but you can check with your local clerk of court to make sure. In fact, you should have these documents ready to go before you accept your first customer, and keep in mind that everything you do to make some extra cash under the business umbrella is considered income and must include paying taxes on it. When determining which legal forms and documentation are needed, this will typically be dictated by the type of entity you form (LLC, S-corp, C-corp, B-corp, etc.) and your chosen state of incorporation.
If your blog or social media page starts to take off and you suddenly find yourself the next social media influencer, it becomes even more important to pay taxes on your income, since your visibility may skyrocket and your sales could jump without your anticipation. In that case, since you’re working for yourself, you should plan to pay tax estimates every quarter so that you don’t have to pay them all at once. Tax complexities are yet another reason to involve your parents or seek out a more experienced business mentor, since they may be able to help you or provide a recommendation for a qualified tax preparer for your venture.
Now that you know the basic steps for how to start a business as a teenager, it’s imperative that you choose the best-fit idea and industry to pursue and take the methodical steps to plan out your success. As you’ve seen, business opportunities for teenagers are everywhere, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to start by turning a hobby, talent, interest, or expertise into a business if you have a passion for it, access to the target market, and some proof or precedent showing that there’s a legitimate demand for the product, service, or industry in mind. The smartest thing you can do in the beginning is to do your due diligence and research everything about the business and specific industry so you can enter the market as much of an expert as possible, despite your newbie status. The more you know about your new business, the more prepared you’ll be for any unfamiliar scenarios or obstacles you might encounter, and while the journey will likely be filled with pitfalls and road bumps, being well-researched and resourceful can only increase your odds of success and mitigate or minimize the problems you will face.