7 ways to raise an entrepreneur

Recently, one of the young girls on my block  rang my doorbell. She was selling homemade cupcakes. The price was reasonable, the treats looked delightful and my neighbor was beaming with obvious pride. Of course, I bought a few.

Half an hour later, her sister rang the doorbell. She was selling homemade dog treats. These things looked amazing — mini-cupcakes filled with peanut butter, fresh apple and yogurt. 

Willis, my dog, must have sensed they were for him because he eyeballed the interaction with ears erect. Another couple bucks seemed a small price to pay. Willis loved the “pupcakes,” and I loved the whole transaction.

These same girls have set up a lemonade stand several times the past couple summers. They’ve also distributed fliers for dog-walking and pet-sitting services. 

I’m not sure what they’re saving up for, but I’m a fan of their initiative, creativity and follow-through. 

By planning these mini-businesses and earning, spending and saving their own money, they’re learning core financial skills at an early age — skills that will help them grow up to be financial wise gals.

Whether we want our kids to be entrepreneurs or not, it’s nevertheless a good idea to encourage entrepreneurial attitudes. A kid who’s thinking about money in concrete ways, trying ideas and following through, is a kid who’s developing the skills to succeed. 

Here are a few things we can do to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit:

Give them space. If we hover less and let our kids play and explore, they learn to be independent. Independence is a key characteristic of successful businesspeople and, of course, it’s a characteristic that most parents want for their kids. An independent kid is a confident kid! This doesn’t have to be just in terms of entrepreneurship: You can also remember to let your kids try that skateboard trick, that walk on their own to the neighborhood store or that messy invention. They’re all independence merit badges.

Encourage them to set goals. Goal setting teaches skills like brainstorming, planning and perseverance. Ask your kids to come up with a handful of goals, both short-term and long-term. Writing them down is important because it increases the likelihood that they’ll be accomplished. Ask your kid to choose one and write down the steps it will take to pull it off.

Talk about failure. It’s an age-old axiom that we learn from mistakes, but as parents it’s sometimes easy to forget that. We want our kids to succeed, and we hate to see them suffer. But when our kids fail, they have the opportunity to look at what they did and create new ways to accomplish their goals. 

So when kids fail or make mistakes, help them figure out how to prevent them from happening again. The road to success is pitted with wrong turns and false starts. Help your kids be ready.

Pay attention to marketing. Make a point of noticing and talking about advertising you see.

Ask kids what the ad is trying to tell them about the product. Is it true? Is it appealing to emotion or intellect? What’s the ad’s call to action? 

If your kids are running their own business, ask them what they can learn from the ads. Encourage them to create their own ads.

Teach them to notice problems. And create solutions! Is there one foursquare court and too many kids who want to play? Do siblings fight over screen time? Does little brother keep wrecking big brother’s train tracks? 

Does fidgeting get your daughter in trouble during story time? These are all opportunities for kids to think up solutions and put a plan into action. Focusing on positive solutions, instead of the problems themselves, plants the seeds for entrepreneurial thinking.

Teach delayed gratification. You may be familiar with the famous Stanford marshmallow test (tinyurl.com/marshmallowmn), in which kids were told they could eat one marshmallow now or wait and get two marshmallows later. 

Those who were able to wait grew up to earn better grades and generally be more successful. The ability to delay gratification is a social-emotional skill, and one well worth teaching. But it applies to finances and entrepreneurialism, too. 

If your son earns enough money for a video game, encourage him to bank that money instead — or at least some of it. You’re teaching him determination and forward-thinking as well as showing him how to build his savings.

Teach them financial literacy. Give kids chances to earn their own money through chores or their own business. Teach them about budgeting, setting up bank accounts and investing. Even very young kids can have piggy banks for saving, spending and donating. 

Eric Braun is a Minneapolis-based writer, editor and dad of two boys. Send comments or questions to ebraun@mnparent.com.