Entrepreneurs start young. At 12, Tony Hsieh sold customized photo buttons by mail. He went on to found an advertising network and sell it to Microsoft, and now he's CEO of billion-dollar shoe retailer Zappos.com.
Jenny Craig (yes, she's real!) got her start at 7 catching hard shell crabs and selling them for a penny apiece. In 2006 she sold her weight loss empire to Nestle for $600 million. If you are lucky enough to parent a budding business tycoon, get ready for adventure.
Given a little space and encouragement, kids can amaze us with their ingenuity and drive. Here are four traits of highly entrepreneurial kids and ways for parents to nurture their natural instincts.
1 Entrepreneurial kids use their imagination. Entrepreneurs are an imaginative bunch, so all of those picture books and arty-crafty projects might pay off some day. Encourage children to think creatively about things outside of story time and the art room, too. Play games, break routines and discuss everything. Don't worry when your child challenges the status quo. Big thinkers always do. And lay off the over-scheduling. Sports, music lessons and play dates are great, but young entrepreneurs need time to wonder. They need mental space to plan those big ideas.
2 Mini-moguls are smooth negotiators. Whether over bedtimes or allowance, most kids naturally learn to negotiate. Your budding entrepreneur might be especially skillful. Instead of getting frustrated, look for ways to direct these skills productively.
3 Kid entrepreneurs are involved. The stereotypical tycoon may be all about the money, but the most successful businesses are based on unique solutions to a specific human problem. To come up with the best ideas, you need to think about others. Get kids involved in the wider community through civic groups and charitable projects. Doing so will help them gain insight into life beyond their own. It also lays a solid foundation for networking. People do business with people they know and like. Networking might just be the most undervalued business skill. Kids who learn this early on will be ahead of most of their competition by the time they get to college.
4 Biz kids find mentors. Help children find entrepreneurs to emulate-the younger the mentor, the better. A one-time experience will be helpful, but an ongoing relationship is even better. Television is another great source for business role models. Counterintuitive, perhaps, but reality shows give kids insight into worlds they otherwise would never see. Sure, the vast inventory of reality shows are made of human suffering, but a number of them are surprisingly informative, even inspirational. Set the DVR for The Apprentice, Fashion Star or Cake Boss. Then sit back with a snack and watch your child's inner capitalist emerge.
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