You’ve stumbled upon a small business idea that could change the world (or at least your high school). What now? If you’re under 18, it’s possible to bring that idea to life and start your own small business. But there’s a catch. Young entrepreneurs will often need parental support or sign off to complete many of the steps leading up to launch.
The good news is that with the blessing of a parent or guardian, kids and teens can manage most of the day-to-day operations of a thriving business. Becoming an entrepreneur at a young age can open up doors later in life, teach skills outside the classroom, and generate extra cash for entertainment or college.
Hear from several former kid entrepreneurs as they share their advice for how to start a business before you turn 18—and why doing it now is worth it.
Why start a business as a young entrepreneur
Making mistakes is easier when you’re young
Starting a business at any age involves risk. When you’re young and living under a parent’s roof, the consequences of failure are much lower. Making mistakes early means you’ll have a lot more time ahead of you to get it right.
“When starting any kind of business there is a lot you don’t know, and the only way to accelerate your learning curve is by trying many things,” says Nick Mares, who founded a bone broth company with his brother Justin when he was just a teen. “Trying and failing isn’t something to avoid. Fail fast and learn faster."
You’ll never have this much free time again
Between school, sports, activities, and an active social life, it might already feel like your time is tight. But once you hit adulthood, your schedule can get even busier. With fewer responsibilities and bills to pay, now is the time to act on that idea.
“I was 16 when I started. When I was in high school, balancing everything was pretty easy,” says LeiLei Secor, who turned her jewelry hobby into a small business. “When I got to college, I treated it as if it were any other part-time job or work study. I set aside a few hours each week to fulfill orders.”
You have a built-in audience for your idea
Classmates become the best springboard for testing a product idea, and a school’s built-in network of potential customers makes powerful word-of-mouth marketing easy. Use your experiences as a kid or teen to solve a problem or create a product geared toward your peers.
Carson Kropfl was 11 when he came up with the idea for his product Locker Board, a short skateboard that would fit in his locker. “I first started selling them at my school for $20 a piece,” he says. “I made an Instagram account, and I posted a video of me riding it to school and putting it in my locker. I woke up the next morning and I went from zero to 300-something followers. My mom and I quickly made a website and started selling them.”
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After high school, your education is going to cost you—and so is everything else. You’re bound to pay more for pretty much everything from bus passes to entertainment. Many schools are beginning to address the need for practical business skills for young entrepreneurs, offering elective classes as part of the curriculum.
Consider also tapping into these school resources:
- Labs and tech equipment
- Computers and software
- Art studio and shop class tools
- Knowledge and feedback from teachers, guidance counselors, and fellow students
The skills you learn now will help you later
Small business owners learn a lot in their first year of business. That’s because they usually wear many hats, from driving sales to developing products to managing customer service. The same is true for entrepreneurs of any age. Starting a business will build a skill set that can help you submit winning college applications.
“Being able to prove that you’ve been through the ups and downs of building a business and making money on your own is incredibly valuable, and in some cases more important than a piece of paper from college that says you went to school for four years,” says serial entrepreneur and CEO of Combo Tucker Schreiber, who started his first business when he was only a kid.
Make extra money for fun or college
Hobbies are ideal business ideas for young people. Turn a love of animals into a local dog-walking business, or an affinity for sewing into a clothing brand to sell online. Earn extra spending money while doing something you already enjoy doing. Save up for a gaming system or sock it away for college—your own business gives you financial independence.
How to start a business under 18
Young entrepreneurs usually get their start by hosting a front yard lemonade stand or spearheading a neighborhood babysitting empire. These starter ideas don’t have high barriers to entry, but if you’re looking to take entrepreneurship to the next level, it’s time to get a parent or guardian involved.
With the help of an adult, follow these five steps to start your business before you turn 18.
1. Ask for permission
Before you even consider writing a business plan or designing a logo, make sure you have a parent or guardian who supports your idea. They will, after all, be responsible for co-signing on anything involving a contract (legal documents, financial products, your online store account). Your adult sponsor may also need to sign up for and monitor social accounts if you are less than the minimum age for certain platforms.
2. Find and validate your idea
Think big! Ideas can come from anywhere—a desire to solve a problem impacting you and your peers, a fresh take on an existing product, or something entirely new.
“Start an idea book or a journal where you can write down all your ideas for your business,” says 22-year-old Maya Penn, who started her business Maya’s Ideas at the age of eight. “Whether it be a small thought that crosses your mind or the next big idea, it’s important to have it written down. Even if it doesn’t seem important, it may be very useful in the future.”
There are plenty of business ideas for kids, from starting a lawn care service to selling products through an online business or building a nonprofit around a cause. When coming up with an idea for your small business, be sure to keep your target market (the people you want to sell to) in mind. Engaging this group in your idea will help you collect feedback and validate that it’s a viable idea.
3. Decide how you will fund your business
Young people can easily start a business with a parent’s support. But some business ideas will require start-up money. Do you have your own savings from allowance or a babysitting job? Will your parents lend you the funds?
Once you have the money required to start up, you’ll also need an adult’s help to handle other financial aspects of the business. Talk to your parents about whether you need a business bank account (with them as the authorized signer). When starting up, you and your parents should also discuss your respective roles around business finance, including paying taxes.
4. Work with a parent or guardian to get set up
To reiterate, a parent or guardian’s involvement is critical to starting a business when you’re under 18. In most cases, you’re not old enough to enter into a legally binding agreement or hold a credit card in your own name. In Canada and the US, minors under 18 cannot sign contracts. But your parents can, on your behalf.
Country and state regulations vary, but most financial, ecommerce, and social media products have minimum age restrictions. Local governments can provide guidance on these rules. The US Small Business Administration advises that parents seek the counsel of an accountant and an attorney.
You should also get a parent’s help with other tasks like:
- Determining pricing. Look around at your competitors. What are they charging for the same product or service? If what you’re offering is of comparable value, price it accordingly. Have a parent or mentor assist you with pricing, or consult online resources.
- Setting up an online store. You’ll need to use a parent or guardian’s account to log in to a tool like Shopify, but the rest is up to you! Choose a theme and customize your design.
- Creating social media accounts. A parent may need to sign up for the account and monitor activity, but when it comes to social media, you’re the content expert.
5. Market and sell your products or services
It’s time to make money selling to your audience! Launch your website or online store, start marketing, and wait for the cha-ching notification on your phone. You can also explore other sales channels like local craft fairs or events at your school.
Shopify Kids Business Starter KitWe've created a free 44-page activity book of engaging activities and exercises designed to lead children through the journey of imagining and developing a business idea.
Parents, get your free kit
Once you get a parent’s help to set up the legal aspects, you’re ready to manage the day-to-day business operations. Have fun, make extra cash, and learn new skills that you can take to college and beyond!
Your business idea can’t wait
Kid and teen entrepreneurs are in the best position to build for the next generation of consumers—their own peers. Don’t wait until you’re 18. Talk to a parent and bring your ideas to life today. The lessons you learn by starting your own successful business will carry you into adulthood.
“There will be some obstacles trying to stop you, people doubting you,” says Esma Ilyas, the young founder of social enterprise brand Ivory Ella. “As long as you continue to do what you started and love, it will all be worth it in the end.”
Feature image by Anna Shvets
Photos by Pexels
Start a business under 18 FAQ
Can you start a business as a teenager?
As a high school student, you can start your own business with the help of a parent or guardian. Some great business ideas for teens include neighborhood services, selling handmade goods online, and starting a tutoring business for younger kids. Be sure you chat with your parents and research the legal requirements for starting a teen business.
What is the youngest age a kid can be to own a business?
Any young person can start a small business. Ollie Fequiere was just six when he started his own bath fizzies business. The amount of help kids will need from parents will depend on their age. For Ollie, his mom ran the business aspects while Ollie was the face of the brand and helped with simple tasks like picking scents and designs. Older kids and teens will have more autonomy but still need a parent to sign up for Shopify.
What kind of business can kids start?
Kid and teen businesses come in all shapes and sizes. Kids have started businesses doing everything from helping the unhoused population to making jewelry to designing inclusive school supplies. Parents, be sure that your child’s business ideas or product does not come with age restrictions. You will also need to be involved in any aspect of the business that requires a signed contract.