Bracelets and bath bombs. Dried apples and aprons. Plants and popcorn. What can we learn from passionate young entrepreneurs?
That is what I set out to discover this past weekend in the small community of Ada, Michigan. Two large tents were filled with young businesspeople, ages 5 to 14, who set their products out on display and honed their sales skills at the Grand Rapids Children’s Business Fair.
I heard about the Grant Rapids Children’s Business Fair quite by accident and was curious. You see, I often worry that we have lost some of our passion for small business. That potential business owners are discouraged by the statistics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Approximately 20 percent of small businesses fail within the first year, 30 percent of businesses will have failed by the end of the second year, and by the end of the fifth year, about half will have failed.” I worry we are not doing enough to prepare future business owners.
Encouraging creativity, hard work and innovation is the only way to have a healthy business community — one that includes budding entrepreneurs like those at the business fair. I decided to do my part. Armed with cash to spend I wandered around the tents waiting to see if these young people would engage me. I did not have to wait long to see their passion for business.
A young man proudly told me how he made his jewelry. He even had a video, smart! There went my first $10.
A young girl suggested that I would be less stressed if I bought her bath bombs. Who can argue with that? Did I look stressed? Anyway, she made perfect change for the $20 I gave her.
Two older boys shared how they came up with their dried apple snacks. When I asked how they arrived at a price, they described their formula which included the cost of materials, time and the mark-up. Another $5 went out.
A few bookmarks, snacks and a packet of recycled Legos and my wad of cash was getting smaller while my outlook was getting brighter.
So back to my question, what can we learn from these children and their passion for business? Here are three takeaways.
1. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must have passion.
A successful entrepreneur has a passion for business and that passion is not defined by age. These young people gushed about how they came up with their ideas, what they loved about making the product, how excited they looked when someone (me) gave them cold hard cash. Passion for what you do is obvious. Even after 35 years in business, I still feel like these young people, excited about what we create. I can’t tell you how often people say to me, “You really love what you do!” That passion is a predictor of success.
2. Communication is essential for entrepreneurial success.
Communication is critical if you want people to engage with you. I am not sure how these young people prepared for the event, but every one of them was able to sell their product. One told me in all sincerity, “You don’t have to be an adult to start a business, but you have to like to talk to people.” Good point. Sometimes these communication skills come naturally, especially if you are passionate about your product, and other times it takes work to hone these skills. The follow-up on the fair website offers a testimonial about a shy child that was able to overcome her fear and talk to strangers. It resulted in her “business” making an additional $500.
3. Courage can help lead to business success.
If you want to be a successful business owner, you must be courageous. One young person at the event said it simply and beautifully. She said, “I learned that it is not always easy to start a business.” That’s been true from the beginning of time, but these young people were flexing their “courage muscle,” moving outside their comfort zone. It’s a skill that will help them succeed in business for years to come. Imagine what went through their heads: what if no one likes my product, what if no one stops at my booth? I did not see a lot of hand-holding by parents and later learned that they are not allowed to assist with setup, sales or interacting with customers per fair rules. They stood back and watched their children in action as passionate entrepreneurs. Children are capable of much more than we think and are often fearless. As business people, we should take a lesson from them. No matter where you are in your business journey, seek opportunities that provoke some fear and learn to “do the thing you think you cannot do,” as Eleanor Roosevelt suggests. Be courageous.
Thanks to the young people I met at the fair. You reminded me how much fun it is to be in business and how important it is to have passion for your work. I wish you well and am counting on you to keep developing your entrepreneurial skills.