Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.
—William Stafford, poet
For the past two years, I have had the privilege of being an instructor for the Teenpreneur conference, a two-day program that has taught thousands of teens the vital concepts of entrepreneurship. Along with other instructors who are entrepreneurs, I have instructed young students on how to write a business plan, how to sell, how to select a business concept that they love, and where they can find help to build their business. The program also brings some of the most successful entrepreneurs and business executives to talk to the teens. For example, the CEO of Capri Investment Capital (Quintin E. Primo III), who manages assets of over $3.6 billion, came to the conference in 2012 and talked about how he has built his trailblazing company. I enjoy teaching and working with the teens because they are focused and excited to learn how to build wealth through entrepreneurship. I really love the fact that many students already have thriving businesses, even as teenagers.
Every year we have a handful of students who already have businesses that make money. This year, a young lady who makes customized balloon shapes and animals attended our sessions. She started her company at the age of nine after she received a kit that showed her how to make balloon art. Now, as elegant and well-spoken as any adult CEO, the sixteen-year-old manages a thriving business with corporate clients. With 2011 revenues topping $5,500, she is expanding her business to include other party services like face painting and storytelling. Another teenager, fifteen-years-old, bakes delicious cookies. As stated in her company’s professional brochure, she is “baking her way into college.” A couple of young men who are juniors in high school have an artist management company. They break new artists based on a successful formula that they have developed. In fact, the two men won the conference’s pitch competition, which required them to woo a panel of three judges by describing their business in three minutes. Moreover, a fourteen-year-old young woman had started a concession stand at her church to serve mainly people who have no time to eat breakfast before church. She has made good money with her clever business.
In addition to these teenagers being truly inspiring, they taught us adults a basic lesson that many older and veteran entrepreneurs struggle with. The lesson? Entrepreneurs should tell everyone about their business and do it unapologetically.
With no fear, each of the students who had a business talked to everyone at the conference about their business. For example, the young lady with the balloon creation and entertainment company arrived at the conference thirty minutes before it began with sample balloons in hand. She was dressed in a business suit and eager to tell every person who came to the conference her business’s story. The youngster with the concession stand business brought her basket of candy and was selling it to everyone, including parents who came the final day for the graduation ceremony. She was working hard. I was especially impressed with her initiative. For instance, she bought a large bag of candy from a conference participant who won it for volunteering. The participant didn’t want the bag of candy, so she bought it from him for much less than its worth and sold each packaged unit for a quarter. She later told me (after I bought some candy) that she made twice as much as she paid for it; she was even making deals during the conference. Other teens were making sales and spreading the word about their babysitting service, lawn care service, bakery, and so on. They had no fear, and if they did, you certainly couldn’t tell.
Toward the end of the conference, one of my co-instructors pointed out that for whatever reason, many adults lose or never develop their fearless ability to tell others about their business. Strangely, some entrepreneurs think that they will magically receive business for being passive and not bothering others. They confuse being humble with being quiet. Another possible reason for their reticence is conditioning. The same instructor mentioned, “I am from the South, and women aren’t encouraged to be forward. We aren’t taught to be aggressive and to tell people about our businesses.” Moreover, some entrepreneurs are simply afraid of a negative response. Whatever the reason, a lot of business is lost because inhibited entrepreneurs have decided that telling others about their business is offensive, pompous, inconvenient, or counterproductive.
An entrepreneur who doesn’t tell people about his or her business is like a baseball player at bat who swings only when it’s sunny, missing a lot of good pitches that could be home runs. The passive entrepreneur serves no one except the competition by staying quiet. We all know that business doesn’t come easy and that you may not naturally be a people person, but you have to get out of your comfort zone. The rules of the game are to take advantage of every opportunity you have, which means engaging other people. Otherwise, you will never maximize your potential. Like a fearless teenage entrepreneur, develop the habit of telling everyone about your business. It will make a significant difference. Besides, if you don’t, I know some sharp teenagers who are willing and able to take the business if you are too scared to pursue it.