How to bring up an entrepreneur
If, like me, you tend to spend some considerable time on line, you have probably noticed by now, that young people are killing it in the entrepreneurs’ world. With no experience, they have no bad habits, and with the world changing too quickly for us to keep up, they are finding themselves being better equipped for this fast paced environment. Saying “You have no experience” to potential candidate for a position in our company sounds very dated now as young generation can easily catch up and go beyond all the professional experience we are proudly displaying on our LinkedIn page and CVs.
Should we be scared? Should we aim to give our kids the childhood we had or wanted to have, full of nature, outdoorsy weekends, knees bleeding after the football matches? Should we let them have what we consider “a real childhood”, or should we look beyond that and focus on preparing them for the world, where they are the employers not the employees? If you are aiming for the latter, the time is now to put the building blocks to support your child’s future.
Your kids may not be predisposed to become entrepreneurs, and it’s ok. In the wise words of one of Britain’s best interior designers and a mother of two boys, Beata Widecka-Estima: “There is no such thing as “tabula rasa” (blank slate). There are some things you won’t be able to drill into your kids. They come to this world with character, predisposed to certain things and with their set IQ. It’s up to the parents to help them find out what those skills and talents are and direct them accordingly to develop those further.”
There is no right or wrong way of bringing children as you all know (unless you are violent and abusive towards them, then obviously you should be sterilised and never have kids again). Some of the greatest minds in our history came out of broken homes of alcoholics, and on the other side of the scale we can find just as many screwed up kids from privileged families. There is however a much higher chance of bringing up awesome, independent children who are confident in their own abilities and much better equipped to lead others, when we concentrate on helping them develop some of the crucial entrepreneurial skills early in their life.
1. Let them be the leader.
In one of the interviews following the launch of her book “Lean In”, Sheryl Sandberg said about her daughter, that she is not bossy, but has got leadership skills. Some of us may laugh at this and roll our eyes, because we want our children to have childhood, instead of worrying about their future too early in their life. Instead, we trust our schools to bring them up to certain “socially acceptable” standards.
Looking at the direction of the flow of VC funds around the world, I cannot help but notice that a high percentage of this cash is being injected in companies dealing with education. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is the fact that our education system cannot catch up with the pace of development and current needs so instead of learning things off by heart and reading books that are mostly irrelevant to the current state of subjects we study, people are searching for alternative ways of educating themselves. We are looking for more hands on, practical knowledge. Standard homework is not cutting it anymore.
Children are taught in school to go with the flow, follow the archaic rules and never challenge the status quo. Of course none of the teachers would ever agree with this, they want to make the kids question things and come up with the answers themselves, but the curriculum they get each year needs to be followed and there is not much space for creativity and freedom of speech. Students are programmed to memorise facts instead of becoming independent thinkers. This is often cited as a reason behind abandoning school and starting companies: “University would have brainwashed me.”
I am not someone who agrees with this fully, even though it’s true to a certain extent. There is however another side to this story: not everyone who thinks they would actually be an amazing entrepreneur, will be one. They may be patient and hardworking, they may even have the billion dollar idea, but if they are not tenacious, it’s all worth nothing. Finishing university is great, because it gives you options: you can persevere and try your luck building your own business, but if for any reason this doesn’t work out as expected, you have plan B and can easily work for someone else and still be happy.
Regardless of whether you think your child is cut out to be an entrepreneur, teaching them leadership skills is going to be helpful in many situations in life. Force them to think “outside the box”, if you see them concentrating on a problem, try to steer them towards potential solutions. Don’t give them the answers, but rather ask questions.
Leadership doesn’t come easy even to adults, we often prefer to do things ourselves, rather than to delegate, so if we see even a slight sign of our kids having the ability to get others to do things without bullying them or force, lets not burry this ability but rather embrace it. Give your children the opportunity to lead their friends in fun activities such as small business projects (lemonade stand sounds cliche, but that’s how many great business minds started) or outdoor sports.
It may prove priceless later on in their life. Making your children leaders at an early age is likely to result in more income and self-confidence in their adult lives.
You can also encourage them to propose toasts and small speeches at family dinners and birthday parties to give them experience in public speaking. Even small things like getting your young kids to order their own food with the waitress at a restaurant as opposed to you playing the middle man and ordering for them will help.
2. Teach them the value of money
Financial independence is something we strive to achieve ourselves as young adults and there is nothing better than knowing that the only purpose of visiting our folks is to actually see how they are doing as opposed to borrowing money.
Teaching children about money at an early age will instill a financial foundation that schools rarely teach. The best way to teach your kids the financial responsibility and the value of a pound or dollar is by giving them the opportunity to earn their own money through chores. When they are older, it’s good to get them to try to make some cash in their own small business or by engaging in your business (if you have the opportunity).
I am a great supporter of kids making their own cash (do not confuse with child labour!). From removing snow from the drive, cleaning the car to selling home made cupcakes in our office building, my girl has done it all and together with her friends made a decent daily rate. They were quickly asked to stop harassing employees by the building administrator, but as tenacity is something we encourage at home, the three smart 13-year-olds put up a cupcake stand outside the premises, near the entrance to the building. By the time anyone realised what they were up to, all the cupcakes were sold. I do not encourage breaking the law in any way, but creative problem solving is something that will always get them brownie points in my book.
If you happen to be the parent of a child, who abuses the phrases: “I need that!”, “Buy me this”, “I want it!”, I strongly suggest implementing the above and making your kid work for their money. You will find a sudden shift from: “I need” to “I am not fussed”. Yup. Spending money you earned yourself is always harder than spending someone else’s cash.
When your children get their head around how much things cost and how much effort they need to put in order to get something, educate them about investing and how their money could be used to create more money in the future. Help them set up a bank account and learn about how to budget their income and savings. According to Wealth for Teens blog, even things that seem trivial, like playing Monopoly with your kids can help.
Depending on your finance, if you can afford to give your kids small pocket money: do it. It’s much better in the long run, than giving them ad hoc cash. Make it clear what the money covers. You can say: “I am going to give you this money, but this means you are buying your own sweets. If you spend all the money at once, there won’t be any more sweets for the rest of the month.” For older kids, alongside the extra money they can get by doing chores, set an amount aside that you are able to give them each month, and make it their clothes fund. If they really want that new jacket, they are going to have to save for two months and not buy a cheaper things in the meantime. It may feel harsh, but it’s the best way to teach kids the value of savings and money in general. Never make the amount too high, because your kids will quickly figure out that there is no point doing chores for money, if they get enough at the end of the month to cover all their expenses.
If you find it hard and cruel to get your kids to wash the pots or sweep the floor for money now, I guarantee you: it gets really hard when you get your children used to having you as a “family bank”, as this habit doesn’t just disappear when they reach 18. The only thing that changes is the amount. If you don’t want to do it for them, do it for yourself. Teaching children the value of money early in life may just be one of the most important things you will ever do for them and the rest of your family.
3. Support their goals
Not every goal is going to be reached. Yes, sometimes we may just not have enough energy or set the bar too high. The important thing is to realize what went wrong and why we did not get what we aimed for and rectify the mistakes that stopped us from celebrating the victory.
Getting your kids to accomplish their goals will be greatly increased by writing them down in the first place. It’s over 80% more likely that your children achieve their goals if they put them on paper and have them in a visible place. No entrepreneurs were ever successful without being committed to reaching their goals.
Whatever your kids’ objectives are: getting to the football team, cheerleaders group, saving the world or creating the cure for AIDS, it’s always important to write down the plan of action. What are the necessary steps to achieve it? Encourage them to be focused and to start taking action on those steps immediately Make sure the whole family keeps them motivated. Support network is essential for adults so imagine how important it is for someone with less experience and often less confident?
4. Selling “ice to an Eskimo” is a skill for life
If your child fails at being the brain surgeon or a lawyer, sales are always a good plan B, as no matter what profession you find yourself in, you’ve got to sell something. It may not always be tangible, like car sales. Entrepreneurs are often faced with selling their idea to potential investors and to their customers. Uber sold the idea of luxury travel to people who usually travelled by cabs, AirBnb sold the idea of couch surfing and making few extra bucks by renting your spare room to strangers. Selling is involved in every part of life, since it can be applied and is vital to all types of businesses and careers.
Encourage your children to start early with small projects like selling their old toys, starting a lemonade stand, or selling handmade goods. If they are older, introduce them to sites like eBay or Etsy, where they can independently start their own small ventures. Help them price their products, sell to customers, and facilitate the transactions when sales are made. Make sure they don’t get too eager and start selling things from home that you still use: drills, tables or computers. It sounds obvious, but you don’t want to find out how business savvy your child is, by walking into a house with no furniture and electrical equipment.
5. Imagination = marketing skills
It’s a well known fact that reading bedtime stories to your kids will fuel their imagination. This may be the plan, until we actually have a child and when trying to combine bringing up kids with work, the last thing we have the energy for is reading books at night. But what if this 30-40 minutes each day could get your kids a better chances for financially stable future? It may seem like a long shot, but research has proven that reading to your children improves imagination, as there are no images (unlike TV), the picture has to be formed in your head from the words you hear. There are many other benefits that come with reading: they enhance your child’s attention span and improve vocabulary amongst other things.
From great imagination it’s only one step to being great at marketing yourself and your brand, two skills essential for every entrepreneur.
Teaching kids about marketing is a great way to prepare them to attract customers to their future business. If they learn the basics of great marketing early in life, all that is left to do later on is adapt their knowledge to the constantly changing world of advertising. If your children don’t have the basics in their small finger by the time they leave school, there is a lot of studying to be done, and with a fierce competition growing at incredible pace, there may just not be enough time for catch-ups.
Ask your children what catches their attention about the marketing materials or printed advertisements in magazines and also quiz them on how to identify things like: the headline, subheadline, and “call to action.” Encourage them to create their own marketing materials for their business ideas or even for your work.
6. Communication skills will get them further than any diplomas
If your children can talk their way out of dangerous situations, or talk other people into giving them a chance at trying something, be it apprenticeship or driving their expensive car, they will probably be just fine. It sounds simple and we all may be convinced our communication skills are great, but the fact is only small percentage of us is actually right.
We may be great at winning small battles and being loud and it makes us feel confident about our conversation skills, but the true success lays in winning the big battles, making enemies think you are actually their friend, making people you have just met open up to you and trust you quickly. We need to have those skills in order to lead by example. If you believe the best solution to every conflict is punching your opponent in the face (even though it may feel like the best thing at the time), what are the chances of teaching our kids the value of good communication skills?
Most children today are terrible at face-to-face and telephone communication because of the increased popularity of social media and text messaging and decrease in book reading. To add to this, as parents, we have less and less time and energy to talk to our kids, ask about their day, sit together at the dinner table and simply talk to each other.
Successful businesses require that people actually speak to one another. Teaching your children to communicate effectively will provide them with the winning edge in business and in their personal relationships.
Being polite and respectful will always get them far. Most importantly, make your children practice maintaining eye contact when speaking to others. When using the telephone, teach your children to speak slowly and clearly. Great idea, especially for teens, is to watch speakers like Stephen Fry, and see how it can be done. Also, make sure to explain to your offspring the value of listening too, as a good communicators often listen more than they talk.
A bonus activity would be to practice communicating to your children with e-mails and text messages. Do not allow them to abbreviate words and phrases, but instead, write grammatically correct sentences that flow together and convey a complete message.
It will be excruciating at first, if your child is an avid texter. Having met my step daughter in her pre-teens, I was only partially aware of the extent of this issue. Even though I was under 30 years old back then, so perfectly in tune with the fast paced text world (or so I thought), there were phrases I simply had to Google. As English is my second language, I was convinced at first, that maybe I have gaps in my vocabulary, but quickly realised that this is totally new and “improved” version of the words I already knew.
Languages evolve, new words are being added, but in order to use those new words, we need to know the old ones. Unless chased by a bear or in a dangerous situation, I encourage my family to use proper words, instead of text English, so much in fact, that if the sentence resembles “word jazz” I respond only with “try again”. We are not fully there yet, but “Cn” turned into “Can” and “K” into “ok”, so I will take it as a progress.
7. Teach your children to give back and support others
No one ever gets to the top on their own. It’s important to teach your children to always support others in achieving their goals the way we would like to be supported. It’s pretty hard in this world when you are bringing up a young boy. Everyone will expect him to be successful, but rarely will anyone expect him to help others to reach their goals. If you are a parent of a girl, it’s totally different ball game. Women are ferocious critics of each other. Unless something changes before your children reach the age when they are working, things won’t look great for your daughters. Unlike boys, girls are expected to be helping everyone, and if they don’t put everything aside to make others happy, they are called names.
This can change only if as parents, we teach our kids to support each other, regardless whether we are bringing up boys or girls. It is important for your children to develop the characteristic of helping others. This attribute will allow your children to stay humble during periods of great success and hopefully provide a support network when times are tough. People that contribute to the success of others live happy and content lives.
Your children will never be great at leading and managing people, if all they care for is themselves. It’s also good to introduce your kids to charities and explain to them how the charity works and how they can contribute to improving the lives of other people. One of many good ways is Charity Water, which enables you to pledge your birthday to provide water for villages in Africa, where family members travel sometimes many miles every day to get drinkable water.