What we’ve experienced over the past few decades is a shift away from the self-carved path of earning your own dime to a well-trodden one in which the young professional is filtered through a series of coffee runs into the corporate world.
Young entrepreneurs should and often do challenge this system, and in doing so face a seemingly endless list of obstacles that stem from educational, financial, and societal limitations.
Educational Limits to Youth Entrepreneurship
Even if every single class I’ve ever taken applied to entrepreneurship, which I can assure you is not the case, it’s hard to take what we learn in a classroom and apply it to the world around us. I learned more in my first week of trying to come up with a business idea than I did in at least half of the classes that I took throughout my high school career – for many young people this is the case.
It is for this reason that solutions like the one we’ve built at Quarry Custom Clothing and the entire concept of DECA and of Junior Achievement exist.
Helping young people get into business is no new idea, but the perception that we need help in the first place highlights an issue with our educational system – what we get in a textbook or classroom simply doesn’t compare to what we get outside of these educational routes. It is because of this notion that almost any first year university student with entrepreneurial ambitions seeks out internships; there’s a lack of tangible skills taught in our educational system that we are responsible for learning on our own time.
Financial Limitations to Youth Entrepreneurship
If every aspiring entrepreneur had the skills of Warren Buffett but lacked start-up money, they would still find themselves disadvantaged by the world in which they attempted to start their new business. In my case, I worked for the better part of 2 years on minimum wage before starting Quarry, and even that was an affordable business to start-up. I was eager to get out of the job, with my compensation simply not being enough for the work I was doing, and this is the unfortunate case for many young people with the business bug.
Finding funding just to pay for incorporation fees, licensing, and the cost of your inventory can be the hardest part of a young entrepreneur’s first few steps. With everybody investing in you hoping for a return, it’s hard to know who to trust and how you’ll actually pay them back, making the entire funding process incredibly difficult.
Societal Limitations to Youth Entrepreneurship
Let’s say you are the richest, most skilled young person in the world. Unfortunately, you are still going to have trouble starting up a company, and this limitation to your success is by far the most frustrating. Most businesses file for incorporation, hold a business account or a credit card. Shockingly, all three of these things are illegal in many countries if you are under the age of 18, making it not only hard, but illegal to start a business.
On top of this, we face an entirely new battle in trying to gain respect. As a young person, you are perceived in one of two ways: you are inexperienced, or you have potential. Proving yourself to be the latter of these adjectives is the battle that proves most difficult for a large portion of young professionals.
5 Tips for Young Entrepreneurs
So far, what I’ve painted for you is a pretty grim image of the entrepreneurial world if you are under the age of 40, but there are ways for young people to succeed against these odds. Here are a few tips for finding your path to building a fruitful business as a young entrepreneur.
Provide Solutions, Not Products
Many people build businesses for the purpose of building a business, but these are the companies that seem to have the most trouble turning a sustainable profit. Think about a large company, any large corporation. What would happen if they were gone? Chances are there would be a void, something that needed to be solved.
Successful businesses offer products or services, but they offer them as solutions to problems that we face. In order to solve a problem in your community, think of a creative approach to issues around you, and build up from there.
When I started Quarry Custom Clothing, I noticed a host of limitations to young entrepreneurs, and a custom clothing industry with a long list of humane issues. By offering humanely produced products, and creating a youth entrepreneurship network, we were able to take steps towards offering solutions.
Love What You Do
Don’t love it? Don’t do it. If you are starting a business just to make money and hate working on what you are trying to create, chances are you will not work on it much longer. Find something that you love, and working will not feel like working anymore. Yes, you will find something you do not enjoy in every project or role, but this is not the case for smart young entrepreneurs.
The beautiful thing about creating your own company is that you can do it your way, and while there will always be days where work can be tough to get through, you will love the challenges you face and take joy in overcoming them.
Let Actions Build Your Resume, Not Job Titles
Many young people feel the need to take on a long list of positions to stack their resume, when really employers are often impressed by the initiative shown by a candidate’s experiences. If you go out of your way to take on professional endeavors and perform well, the results will come. If you are not a long-term entrepreneur, and have another position in your mind for a little bit down the road, work hard now to get that position later.
Take advantage of LinkedIn and networking sites like Meet-Up to make new friends in your professional world. Find a good mentor, and then find the time to absorb any information you can from them, often they have been where you are and be ready to help solve the problems you are facing. Having a good mentor is like having your teacher help you write a test, it is really hard to fail.
Know When to Relax
Working hard is important, and you might not have the chance to rest every day when you first start out, but it is important to know when you are overworked. Many people who buy from youth businesses do so because of the youthful component of what they do, a component built on energy and a fascination with everything they are learning. That energy and fascination can burn out very quickly if you are not well rested and ready to go. This is not to say that you should slack off, but that you should know when you are at a limit and celebrate progress when it occurs.
Andrew French started up QuarryClothing.com at the age of 16, making wholesale deals with Nike, Oakley, New Balance, and many other MNCs. Youth business is something he’s grown to love and know. Andrew works with other small youth companies through Quarry’s Investment Initiative, where they give 25% of their profits to other young entrepreneurs in Canada to start up their own companies.