Business Boys

c9fqyqiecds-mike-petrucciIt always astounds me that whilst our education system happily covers topics such as the use of synonyms and the patterns of continental climate… that it generally fails to deliver much substance across more hands on, real world subjects such as financial planning, relationships or personal development.  God forbid we teach our children something they might actually use.

I’m not having a go at teachers; goodness knows I admire them deeply.  I’ve been fortunate to know many that tackle their role with incredible pride and prowess.  But even the most proactive teachers are bound by the state curriculum; and it’s important as parents, not to abdicate entirely the role of ‘education’ to our education system.

I feel it unfortunate that the school system does not generally reward risk, or mistakes, or originality.  It does not overly welcome change or challenge.  Instead, it mostly applauds conformity and the regurgitation of pre-determined information.  You get ticks and stars for the ‘right’ answers.  That is perhaps why innovators, mavericks and entrepreneurs do not usually thrive within the school system.  Education prepares a young person for further education (tafe, university), but in my humble opinion (of which I’ve got plenty), it is not a great instructor for the world of business.

Learning to manage your finances can be a bit like learning to drive a car- you could learn all by yourself, but it’s so much better (and safer) to be taught by a person who already knows.  And you’re less likely to make a mess.  Unfortunately, the stats show that when it comes to our finances, most of us do make a mess.  The current national credit card debt of over 32 Billion sort of confirms that.

Putting aside my disillusionment with the state curriculum, I do believe it is important to begin bridging this knowledge gap and take a more deliberate attitude to preparing our young people to manage their future finances.  One practical way to do this, is to help your child set up a little business.

My sons came to me earlier this week with a proposal.  They had an idea for a business and were requiring my help to get it started.  The concept was pitched: a dog walking/washing/minding service for busy families in our area.  Whether their little business works or not, isn’t important.  What was important, was jumping on an opportunity to learn practical lessons that could really count later in life.

So I decided that if they wanted to do this, they were going to do it properly:

  1. We had to come up with a business name.  We bounced around a lot of ideas, testing them for marketability and searching for available domain names.  We settled on a name that was playful and easy to remember.  We registered the business name, website domain and email.

Ok, I know that this may seem excessive, but I want my children to know that ‘starting a business’ is not reserved for someone with special permission, or knowledge, or money, or tools.

The first step to building a business can be taken by anyone with an idea… and a little guts (and it’s not that hard).

2.  I then suggested that we develop a basic business plan.  We took some paper and wrote down a general action plan.  Which afternoons would they use?  How many dogs could they walk?  What would their rates be?  How would they distribute profits?  Which percentage of profits would they re-invest?  How would they grow the business?

3.  Marketing.  We jumped on the computer and designed a little flyer for distribution.  We looked on google maps and made a decision about the area that the boys could cover.  We also brainstormed about ways to source organic business, building incentives and freebies for anyone who refers a new customer.

4.  Admin.  We created and printed templates for keeping detailed customer records, payment records and a bookings calendar.  Since this was the least fun part of the exercise, I asked the boys to imagine how much harder it would be to run a business without keeping careful books… and the problems it could lead to down the line.  No thanks.

5. Goals.  Finally, we wrote down some basic short and long term goals.  I believe it’s important to teach children the art of simple, but specific goal setting.  Setting targets that were: quantifiable, measurable and dated.

Once again, with all of the above, the point wasn’t really about trying to set up a dog walking empire (insert poolside visions of my early retirement).    Whether this little venture does well, is almost irrelevant.  For me, the focus was on teaching principles; because principles, after all, are timeless and transferable.  I would rather lessons be practised and learnt within the confines of a little neighbourhood enterprise, than later on when their mortgage is on the line.

And so, the boys are soon set to open doors to their little gig… and I’m certain that the lessons to be drawn from this are still plenty ahead.  At the end of the day, however, the greater lesson that I hoped my sons would gain is:  don’t be afraid to have a go.  No matter who you are, what you have, what you think you’re missing, what anyone else is doing… take a chance.  And do it well.

Every success story starts with a dream.  Every dreamer was once a child.

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