Although elementary-aged and tween children might seem too young for entrepreneurship, it pays to remember that Mikaila Ulmer of the multimillion-dollar brand Me & the Bees got her start before entering kindergarten.
Of course, not every small-business idea is a good fit for a 12-year-old or younger child. Some are too risky to try until high school. Others would put them in contact with strangers far too often. Still others are too complex to manage while growing up and going to school.
But a few — like one-third of the beds, chairs, and porridge in the old story — are just right. They’re great business opportunities for kids of all ages who want to explore this side of personal finance.
Why Kids Should Start a Small Business
Starting a small business at an early age helps kids learn the value of money. Earning their own video game and treat money helps them appreciate the funds more personally.
Beyond that, there are other important benefits for children of starting their own business:
- They Can Start Earning Earlier. In most states, it’s illegal to have a job until a child is 14. But enterprising kids can begin earning on their own at any time.
- It Teaches Multiple Skills. Managing a small business requires young people to learn skills beyond getting better at making or doing what they sell.
- There’s No Earning Cap. If your child wants more money, they can sell more or find ways to improve their business. That’s not true of an allowance, or of most kid jobs.
- It Introduces Startup Thinking. Learning to think like a startup founder can prepare kids for adult entrepreneurship or to work well with an exciting employer later in life.
- It Shifts Their Thinking About Money. Kids go from relying on others to providing money to finding ways to make it happen themselves. This may be the most important lesson on the list.
7 Kid-Friendly Small Business That Make Money
With those benefits in mind, here are the best business ideas for entrepreneurial kids.
1. Garage Sale Arbitrage
Thrift stores, Craigslist, OfferUp, and eBay run ads every day for people selling collectibles, books, clothes, furniture, and electronics, and people buy from those ads. Even Amazon retailers do business with used and refurbished goods. Yard and garage sales sell those same items, often for lower prices than they get purchased for on those sites.
A child, especially a child passionate about a certain hobby, sport, or toy collection, can make decent money by taking advantage of this difference in price.
To successfully engage in yard sale arbitrage, your child first needs to complete market research about what some items typically sell for. Armed with that, a few Internet accounts, and some stake money, they can begin turning a profit.
- Easy to scale up or back down in real time without harming the business.
- Can mesh well with something your child is already interested in.
- Teaches negotiation and web savvy.
- Can be a good gateway to a more expansive online business as your child gets older.
- High risk of losing money if your child isn’t very knowledgeable about what they’re buying and selling.
- Requires interacting with strangers on the Internet. It’s likely you will want to closely supervise or manage much of this side of the business if you have younger kids.
- Choose a niche, at least at first, so your child trades in just a few items they know well. It reduces risk.
- Use this model to teach bootstrapping — being able to buy progressively more expensive items and reach proportionally growing profits as their success builds momentum.
2. Babysitting, Pet Sitting, or Housesitting
Babysitting, housesitting, pet sitting, dog walking, and even plant sitting have long been jobs held down by kids too young to get a regular job. For most, these gigs are one-off opportunities that happen when a parents’ friend goes out of town. A kid with hustle and a large enough contacts list can turn this into a regular practice, bringing in money week after week.
The trick to getting started here is developing the list of contacts. It can be a challenge for a fourth grader to convince adults outside their parents’ immediate circle to trust them as a babysitter or pet care provider.
To get started, they just need one client who can recommend them, and a willingness to ask for referrals. Parents can help give their kids a start by getting the word out to neighbors through the Nextdoor app. After a couple of successful jobs, the referrals will start.
- The work is fairly simple, and usually in line with experiences kids have had at home.
- The work gives practice at independent responsibility in a safe environment.
- The contacts they develop often need other work as your child ages out of these more basic tasks.
- The stakes are higher if your child makes a mistake.
- Not all children are ready for unsupervised responsibility.
- For babysitting and pet sitting, consider getting your child certified at your local Red Cross or community center.
- Develop a script for your child to ask for referrals, and practice it with them until they’re confident enough to use it.
3. Lawn Care With Perks
Any kid can run around the neighborhood raking leaves or mowing lawns, and most kids can turn a few bucks each year making that happen. Consider, though, some of these add-ons to that reliable trope:
- Gathering lawn clippings and other debris, then composting them over the winter and reselling the result at garden season each spring
- Rotating between mowing lawns in the summer, raking leaves in fall, and shoveling snow in the winter
- Weeding gardens, flower beds, and walks
- Watering on schedule while people are on vacation
- Harvesting fruits and veggies
- Preparing yards and lawns for special events like graduation or birthday parties
By adding some of those services to their repertoire, a child can create an age-appropriate landscaping empire in your immediate neighborhood.
Starting this sort of operation requires equipment, although rarely equipment most homeowners don’t already have on hand. It also requires training on how to use the gear safely, and how to properly do the jobs the kid is offering to do.
Once they have that in place, it’s just a matter of getting customers and keeping them.
- Gets your child outdoors, away from the screen.
- Interacting with plants is good for kids and has been shown to fight depression and anxiety.
- Fosters closer ties with your neighbors, who will look out for your kid even after the work is done.
- Lawnmowers can be dangerous if misused and expensive to replace if damaged.
- Risk of sunburn and heat exhaustion in some climates.
- Rent your lawn tools to your child for a nominal fee until they earn enough to buy their own gear, which teaches them a valuable business lesson.
- Subscription models work well here. Encourage your child to set up a preapproved work schedule with their customers instead of asking each time.
4. Online Influencer
We’re not talking about becoming an Instagram celebrity or hosting their or YouTube channel here. Although that’s possible, the odds of success are slim and it’s not recommended for children that young to be that public on the Internet.
Instead, we’re talking about doing online reviews and surveys like those you can find on Swagbucks and Survey Junkie. Paid surveys are generally not worth an adult’s time, but they can be a meaningful moneymaker for a younger child.
The accounts need to be in an adult’s name, but once you’ve set them up there’s nothing to stop you from letting your kids take the surveys and enjoy the rewards. Set it up, establish parameters with your child so they don’t access inappropriate content, then let them set their own hours and make extra cash.
- Kids have complete control over how much they work and when.
- Teaches strong computer and Internet literacy skills.
- Can be educational about the topics they work in and marketing in general.
- It requires a lot of screen time, which is something most children are already getting too much of.
- Low pay compared to most other options listed here.
- Multiple accounts on multiple platforms can help your child maximize their earnings.
- Make sure they work only with legitimate platforms. Many don’t offer cash, but instead promise coupons of dubious value.
What’s your kid’s favorite chore? Is it cleaning the refrigerator? Vacuuming? Picking apples out of trees? Folding laundry? Replacing a trip through the car wash?
Most children go through a phase where they inexplicably love doing some household task the adults around them dread. Starting there, and expanding into things they don’t love but still can do, sets them up to earn pocket money easily and safely.
Much like with sitting, the key here is to get a foot in the door by helping with a household task or errand for somebody nearby. Once your child does that, they can expand their offerings and get referrals to scale up as they like.
- They’re practicing adult skills while earning money.
- Teaches diligent work habits, since they won’t get repeat customers for shoddy work.
- Does not require specialized skills.
- Work opportunities aren’t as flexible as for other items listed here.
- They will spend time in peoples’ houses, which you will want to vet ahead of time.
- Identify the three busiest people you know and help your child start with that connection.
- Have your child stay alert while on the job for other work their client might need help with.
6. Selling Arts and Crafts
Not every child is crafty or artsy enough to make things people might buy on Etsy, but some children are. A larger number of children could become good enough at an art or craft with just a few months of practice.
Adults worldwide are turning an artistic flair into cold cash via Etsy and similar online marketplaces, so why shouldn’t your kid? Something as simple as handmade greeting cards or hand-painted t-shirts could let your child pick up a few extra dollars.
To get started, your child will need to produce a few prototypes, then get some high-quality photos taken. They will also need an Etsy account, which an adult has to set up and manage. With those in place, it’s just a matter of getting the word out, then fulfilling orders.
- They make money off something they already love.
- Introduces your child to the realities of marketing and retail.
- Can dovetail nicely with learning about social media savvy.
- Materials costs can cut down on profits and potentially result in a net loss.
- Requires your child to interact with strangers on the Internet.
- Use your name and face for all online profiles to protect your child’s identity.
- Niche products reliably do better than general offerings. For example, instead of selling knitted caps, your child could sell knitted caps with a Pokemon theme.
- Some older kids with strong DIY skills can use a similar business model to sell crafts around the neighborhood.
7. Subscription Lemonade
Lemonade stands are a classic kid-friendly business, but they are rarely successful long-term and in recent years have run up against legal and safety issues that make them even less of a good idea for a business model. That doesn’t mean your child shouldn’t sell lemonade, though.
Instead of a lemonade stand, they can set up a lemonade route. Or an iced tea route. Or a home-baked cookies route. They get customers and deliver every week, or whatever period works for you and your family.
According to his biography, famous investor Warren Buffett got his start that way, dragging around a wagon of candy and sodas door to door to sell them at a small profit.
- Can create reliable, steady income with a subscriber model.
- Teaches the value of regular, high-quality performance.
- Your kid will learn to cook.
- Materials costs can cut into profits.
- Less flexible schedule than most other items on this list.
- It’s usually better to offer one high-quality option than multiple options.
- Work to make the most efficient delivery route to help your kid save time.
For young people, a business usually starts in one of two ways. Some have a good business idea and want to make it happen. Others like the idea of starting a business but don’t yet have a business in mind. Each of these models requires a different first step.
For those without an idea, it’s smart to do a miniature SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and it’s an integral part of most business plans.
Sit with your child and talk deeply together about what they’re great at, what they’re less experienced at, what they can leverage, and what they should avoid. They can understand this in concrete terms even at a young age. Use that knowledge to brainstorm a list of the most appropriate possibilities for their small business.
Kids with an idea already in mind need to run some numbers. Take a look at the general concept and work together to determine the first way they can make money from it. Find out how much it costs to get started, what pricing looks like in your area, and how much time they can devote.
If those numbers work out to something that could make them money, keep the ideas. If not, try different models until you reach something that will work.