By Cliff Ennico
Today’s entrepreneurs keep getting younger and younger.
I just read an article in my college alumni magazine about an entering “freshperson” who created a smartphone app while a high school sophomore, sold it for $2 million, and used it to prepay for his Ivy League degree. Heck, this kid doesn’t NEED college – he already knows what it takes to succeed. All those classes on theoretical, academic liberal arts subjects taught by minimum-wage professors who need help crossing the street will merely sap his entrepreneurial vigor and give him a big head.
If I ever doubted that today’s kids are getting the entrepreneurial message, though, my wake-up call came last Sunday afternoon. My front doorbell rang and when I opened it, there were five kids – three boys and two girls — that looked to be third or fourth graders. Two of the kids – both boys – held rakes that were twice their size, while the two girls carried wicker baskets. One of them said “hello, we are the Hollyhocks Lane Lawn and Gardening Service” and handed me a professionally printed business card that read:
Hollyhocks Lane Lawn and Gardening Service
Marcia, David, Jon, Alicia and Brandon
•Picking Apples From Your Tree in Your Front Yard
(The One Near the Mailbox)
Serving Hollyhocks Lane Since Last Week!
Like most of you, I’m sure, I thought it was the most adorable thing in the world – “The Little Rascals” brought to life (for privacy reasons, I have changed the kids’ names and the company name). It certainly brought me back to my days as a grade school entrepreneur, which lasted about a week — between the week I wanted to run for President and the week I wanted to be a nuclear physicist.
Now, of course, I wouldn’t want to do anything to discourage a child’s naturally entrepreneurial spirit (not if I expect to have readers 20 years from now). But if I had really wanted to bore these kids to tears — something a person my age finds absolutely irresistible at times — here’s how I would have critiqued their business model:
- Marketing. Your service mix is all over the place, and you don’t spell out your pricing in your marketing materials. The customers looking for apple pickers are very different than the customers looking for weed pickers. You must know the difference, and go where the profits are.
- Competition. There are tons of lawn services in this area providing a full range of services, and you have a competitive disadvantage in this marketplace. Because their employees are grownups they can work seven days a week. You can only work evenings and weekends after school, your dinner and homework.
- Management Structure. A five-member partnership is highly unstable. You kids are splitting your money equally, and as long as you stay friends, that’s okay. But if there’s a falling out, you will divide into cliques. If two of you want to do something and two of you don’t, the fifth partner will end up running the company and will sell his vote to the highest bidder. One of you should be elected President of HLL&GS with responsibility for project management decisions and organizational development. Preferably one of the girls, who tend to have more advanced leadership skills and emotional intelligence at your age (sorry, fellas).
- Finance/Capitalization. You need more equipment, especially for the apple picking. I’m sure you can pick up apples that have fallen on the ground, but the tallest of you is about three feet and you will need a ladder to pick my apples that haven’t fallen yet. No one will pay you to do only part of the job; you must make the investment in the tools necessary to do the entire job.
- Legal Issues. Kids, your spirit is admirable, but the plain fact is that nobody is going to hire you to do work on their property. In this part of the country, homeowners are liable for injuries sustained by “licensees” and “permittees” – people you invite on your property or who work on your property with your knowledge. If one of you kids falls and breaks his leg, I’m liable, and I can’t afford that. To say nothing of the fact that you don’t have workers’ compensation insurance (required for self-employed people in a growing number of states), and I’m probably violating at least 10 child labor laws if I hire you.
So what did I actually do with the Hollyhocks Lane Lawn and Gardening Service? I apologized and told them that I already used a lawn service, but I gave them a dollar each anyway for giving me a great idea for this week’s column. Hey, these are probably my neighbors’ kids. Also, that memory of getting a buck for taking an entrepreneurial risk may start them thinking about other, more profitable, ventures. Like maybe a smartphone app that pays their college tuition.
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of “Small Business Survival Guide,” “The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book” and 15 other books. Follow Cliff at @cliffennico.