Finding ways to earn extra money or save toward college is part of many teens’ experience. It’s a powerful rite of passage on top of helping them understand the value of money and the work that goes into earning it. For most teens, that means getting a job at the local burger joint, in the mall, or with some other local business. That’s a fine way to go about it, but it’s not the only model.
Another, arguably better, choice is to encourage your teen to start their own business. They get all the benefits of having a part-time job, plus experience in success skills you don’t learn working for somebody else.
Why Teens Should Start a Small Business
Like we said, starting a small business helps your teen earn some money, and learn some valuable lessons they won’t get working a job. Beyond that, it carries some other strong advantages.
- Not Limited to Minimum Wage. Minimum wage, which most teens start at, is depressingly low. A small business doesn’t limit their earnings that way.
- Looks Great on College Applications. College applications will go smoother when they mention, or write entry essays about, the experience of entrepreneurship.
- It’s More Flexible. Your teen won’t have to worry about losing their job to go to a camp, volunteer with friends, or take a trip.
- It Builds Self-Reliance. Being able to fend for themselves is a skill your teen will need more and more with each year moving forward.
- It Teaches Startup Mentality. Thinking like a business owner can prepare young adults for success as an entrepreneur or employee.
Pro tip: Make sure you have a checking account open where you can deposit any money that you earn. We’ve put together a list of the best bank accounts for kids.
7 Great Business Ideas for Teenagers
Here are a few great ideas for types of businesses that most teenagers could start today.
1. Monetizing a Hobby
At this point, your teen is probably passionate about and surprisingly good at something. That might be a sport, a hobby, or “pwning” a certain video game franchise. Whatever it is, their skill level is sufficient to start charging people for their skills and knowledge in that area.
For example, a teen passionate about a video game could begin livestreaming their play and collecting ad revenue on YouTube. A teen who likes building computers could start doing that for your friends and business associates. A teen into model trains could start trading in low-cost trains they find at garage sales, then sell high on Ebay and other online marketplaces, while one who loves to bake might bring muffins to the local farmer’s market.
For every hobby or interest, there is a model to make money, and no reason to wait for full adulthood to begin exploring that model.
- Your teen is engaging more deeply in something they love, which can be fulfilling.
- It immerses them early in something that could become a real career.
- Builds confidence as they realize they know more about some subjects than adults around them.
- Can be an introduction to e-commerce and other forms of online business.
- Making money from something you love can lead to burnout.
- Many e-commerce niches have stiff competition, or require a leadup to success that won’t become profitable until after your teen turns 20.
- Replicate success: have your teen look into who’s succeeding in their area, then find ways to do what that person is doing.
- It’s tempting to spend more on a hobby than this earns, so counsel and check in on your teen about their expenses.
2. Tutoring and Coaching
Wherever your teen’s skill level at their academic subjects or school sports, chances are they’re ahead of somebody else. That might include adults getting their GED or younger kids looking for a leg up. Teens can help people in the community around them while helping their financial situation by tutoring or coaching.
The rarer the skill your teen has, the more likely they are to succeed here. They will find more clients and be able to charge more money for more specialized tutelage. For example, a teen with strong calculus chops or who is fluent in French can charge more for tutoring than somebody who offers basic coaching on how to lift weights or gives introductory music lessons.
- Further develops their skills. Most people learn more by teaching than by being taught.
- High-paying compared to most items on this list.
- Teaches early the value of maintaining specialized skills and knowledge sets.
- Usually harder to find clients than with some other models on this list.
- Inflexible schedule because they have to meet when their clients are available.
- Although most have a minimum age requirement, online tutoring platforms can help your teen find clients while also widening the potential pool.
- Encourage your budding tutor to ask for referrals. It’s one of the best ways to gain new clients in personal businesses like this.
3. Taking Care of Smaller Creatures
Whether the small creatures are children or animals, taking care of them is a classic method of teen earning. Although most teens suitable for this work already got some experience with it as a tween, it’s different now. Teens are old enough to take on more challenging and independent responsibilities, which means they can charge more for their services and sell them to a wider range of customers.
For example, they might move from simple date-night child care to watching kids for an overnighter or a weekend. They might move from pet sitting at home to a daily dog walking service or watching a home with pets while the owners are away for several days.
- Builds on skills and contacts your teen has already developed.
- Being responsible for another being’s safety builds responsibility.
- Can be more flexible, allowing your teen to take or pass on opportunities based on their overall schedule.
- If they were involved in housesitting or babysitting as a younger child, they can upgrade to more responsibilities as they get older.
- Not all teens are suited for this kind of work, either by temperament or ability.
- Some adults view this as work for tweens, so a teen may need to overcome that perception, especially when charging premium rates.
- You can use the neighborhood website Nextdoor or Rover.com to find potential clients.
- It can help to get a certification as a sitter, and in the appropriate first aid, to help sell your teen as a reliable professional.
- Your teen can look for ways to work for multiple clients simultaneously, for example walking more than one dog at once.
4. General Handyperson and Errand Runner
Doing chores for money is something even preschoolers and kindergarteners can do, but once a teen gets a driver’s license or masters the bicycle, it opens doors for all kinds of help-for-pay options that were previously closed. Every family and every neighborhood has adults with more money than time, or with physical limitations that require some assistance.
For the former, hiring a local kid to take care of some tasks is a clear win-win. They clear some of their schedule while helping out someone they know. For the latter, your teen will charge less than an adult assistant while also learning how it feels to assist people in need.
- Does not require specialized skills. Even grocery pickup can make money.
- Client opportunities are common in most areas.
- Teaches teens creativity and hustle as they find what they can offer to different potential clients with different needs.
- You will need to vet any adults your teen spends time with alone. Predators are rare, but it’s better to be safe.
- Some people find this kind of work demeaning. Some teens might find the work boring or unfulfilling, and some clients may feel like they have permission to be rude or dismissive toward errand runners.
- If your teen has specialized skills like carpentry or plumbing, they can earn more than if they’re just fetching groceries.
- Help find ways to multitask — for example, making a grocery run for four clients simultaneously, then dividing out the purchases before making delivery.
5. Selling Art, Writing, and Crafts
The public view of most creative endeavors is that being a professional means breaking big. We can see how Madonna, or Brad Pitt, or Picasso all made money because they were rich and famous, but if you don’t really make it, you’ll spend your life broke.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Every creative endeavor has ways to make decent money without becoming famous.
A teen who writes well can sell articles to magazines or start blogging about a favorite topic. A skilled drawer or painter could sell portraits or help local businesses with graphic design. An athlete might start a podcast about their sport, while a shutterbug could start a photography business. Sites like Bandcamp could have your teen musician earning money off their music in under a week.
The opportunities are out there. It’s just a matter of helping your teen find theirs.
- Your teen gets to engage with their artistic passion.
- Can lay the groundwork for a creative career.
- Teaches early how to make a living from creative pursuits without “selling out.”
- Lots of competition compared to other options on this list.
- Some pursuits may require expensive equipment to get started.
- Social media marketing support really helps this small-business model grow. Luckily, your teen is probably well-versed in social media platforms.
- Resist the temptation to view art as a backup plan. This can be a real and rewarding career, and one teens can start while still in school.
6. The IT Crowd
Most adults have a relationship with new technology not unlike somebody trying to learn a new language. They can grasp the basics, and even become passably fluent, but it will never be natural to them like their native tongue. Teens, by contrast, are like native speakers of the language of technology.
That means almost every teen can make a few dollars by helping the adults around them with their technology. Most adults have some device they only sort of know how to use, which teens understand intuitively, but which aren’t worth paying professional tech support prices to optimize. That’s where your teen steps in.
They can help the neighbor across the street sync their phones with their tablets, set up Grandma’s Wi-Fi network, help an uncle turn off unwanted Amazon subscriptions, or troubleshoot the sound system for some friends from church.
- Low barrier to entry, if your teen can communicate well and keep commitments.
- Familiarizes teens with tech support as a job, which can lead to more lucrative gigs later on.
- Teaches the value of good customer service and the power of repeat clients.
- There might be strong competition, depending on how many teens are in the area.
- Might mean spending time alone with adults you don’t know well. Vet new clients carefully.
- Remind your teen that YouTube probably has easy-to-understand (for them) solutions to many technical issues they’re not already familiar with.
- A holiday season set-up special can give your teen a nice bump of income from helping people deal with new devices they receive as holiday gifts.
7. Muscle Management
Teens tend to have some new muscle, boundless energy, and a seemingly innate desire to use both. Many of those teens are surrounded by adults who lack at least one of those three factors. That leaves an opportunity to put that to work.
Whether they’re doing simple labor like basic lawn care, construction cleanup, or something more specialized that combines their muscle with skill, you might both be surprised how much opportunity there is once your teen starts offering.
- Keeps your teen busy and in shape.
- Low barrier for entry.
- High variety between gigs, making it more interesting.
- Higher risk of injury than for other items on this list.
- Can be highly seasonal, thus limiting income.
- This business will live or die on client referrals. Help your teen develop a system to earn and solicit word of mouth referrals (Nextdoor is great for this).
- Beat the seasonal nature of labor work by coming up with offerings for each season in your area.
The First Step
For teenagers, starting a small business should begin much like doing so as an adult. One of the best ways to do this is with a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for:
- Strengths: what your teen brings to this business that they do well or uniquely
- Weaknesses: points of weakness in your teen’s skill set, life, or habits that could get in the way of success
- Opportunities: situations in life your teen could turn into strengths with applied effort
- Threats: situations in your teen’s life that could turn into a weakness unless they take action
For example, imagine a teen wanted to start selling books of poetry online instead of working at the local fast food joint. Their strengths might include strong social media skills, being an excellent poet, and having a free period in school they could devote to work time. Their weaknesses might be a lack of business experience and a time-demanding membership on the debate team.
An example of an opportunity might be a teacher willing to help them get into magazines and anthologies. It’s not a strength because that potential hasn’t happened yet, but will become one once the teacher and the teen follow through. A threat might be the beginning of debate season, which will double the time required. They might need to do some ground work early, such as writing a backlog of poems for submission and sale, before the season starts.
The exercise of walking through this analysis helps your teen think deeply about how they’ll make money from their entrepreneurial venture, and to plan for success.
One last important consideration for teens starting a small business is how this will interact with college plans. Every family is different in this area. For example:
- A college-bound senior who wants to major in literature might not be suited for a small business at all.
- A junior who wants to enter business school could start a business to make some tuition money and give them a leg up in admissions.
- A teen aiming toward the trades could start a small business doing basic handyperson work, which they can turn into a full-time business as they gain skills and go to trade school.
- A teen not interested in college might start a small business with the goal from the beginning making enough money to not need higher education.
Whatever the college goals for your teen are, it pays to consider how a small business interacts with them. This includes planning with young entrepreneurs from the start, and also a plan for what to do with the business if your teen leaves town for school.