Children and the natural business of life

Entrepreneurship is a natural part of life in this house. Just about every day someone comes up with a new idea for making their fortune, or one of the ideas that has been buzzing around a while takes on a new angle and springs back into life.

I’ve always loved putting ideas into action. When I was a child, I found my perfect match in my good friend Jonathan who lived across the road. Together, we spent our Saturdays organising events, from bring-and-buy sales in the parish hall to sports days and garden parties in our big back garden. Once, we managed to convince some traders to come and sell their wares at one of these events. We must have done it all by phone because my mother remembers they were surprised to find it was organised by two 12-year-olds, but impressed nonetheless by our cool efficiency. We didn’t make any money as most of our events were in aid of charity—but we did get the glory of having our photos in the local Gazette.

Since my mid-twenties, and after a thankfully brief stint in the corporate world, I’ve run businesses and been a freelancer. My partner Mariano has worked freelance for a long time too. So job stability has never been on our family’s radar, whereas the dreaming, planning, number crunching and creative problem solving of small business has always been a big part of our lives.

So I’m not sure how much of our children’s relentless business thinking is nature and how much is nurture. Certainly, not being made to labour over things they’re not interested in creates plenty of time and mental space to pursue the ideas that do interest them. I also think that being self-directed in their daily activities gives them the confidence that they will always be in charge of their own lives. They easily imagine themselves creating the life they want to. They don’t worry about what they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at. They just let their imaginations run in whichever direction makes sense to them, and they invariably end up in interesting and creative places.

There are lots of fun TV and online resources about business. We went through a phase recently of binge-watching The Apprentice (UK not US!). It has some fabulous examples of disastrous management styles plus tons of sales and marketing—much of it old school but all excellent fuel for discussion. Another favourite is Gordon Ramsay visiting hopeless restaurants and hotels and putting them to rights in Hotel Hell and Kitchen Nightmares.

I can’t think of a more complete learning ground than small business. You’re unlikely to cover history or chemistry (though you could), but there’s always numbers, reading, writing, marketing, web design and problem solving, just to name a few. Depending on the idea, there can be all sorts of ethical issues to look at, from people management and copyright to ecology and sustainability. When an idea advances it inevitably bumps into the less fun but just as necessary stuff, such as financing, taxes and licenses. There’s not much missing.

Most of the children’s ideas take shape through conversation, and many never get beyond that point. They’re just interesting to think about and that’s their purpose for now. Others are more advanced but seem to defy being pinned down. They probably still need time to develop and perhaps even morph into another shape before pen hits paper. D’s (13) future video game company fits this category. It’s had a name for a couple of years now, and a number of details have been painstakingly discussed. We once attempted to get it onto paper, but that didn’t really work. 

How the idea does or doesn’t develop depends on the child and how they tend to work. D has a couple of other ideas in his head that have also been there a long time. They pop up in conversation often, always a little more polished and detailed. He likes to consider the logic and how everything fits together, incorporating new things he’s thought through. These all form a complex mindmap that I have to try to follow when we have these conversations. That can be pretty challenging.

E (11) prefers to gather his information together in one place. His most advanced idea is a beverage company (I’m sworn to secrecy on details). He’s done a lot of market research into prices and competitors, has decided on the name and is designing the logo. The beverage is made with organic plants and it would be a Fairtrade product, working with local producers around the world. We’ve talked about business plans and what steps he’d have to take to get this enterprise off the ground.

We’re certainly not short on ambition here. Other ideas the children have mulled over for a while include a yacht that transports people from Barcelona up the coast, a luxury taxi service to take people to their private jets, setting up a hotel, opening a cafe, having a dog kennels in the garden, and inventing a healthy fizzy drink. 

More down-to-earth ideas include making and selling jewellery, a recipe website, selling lemonade to the cyclists and walkers in the natural park where we live, selling homemade cookies, and having a stall at the local market for our fruit, vegetables and eggs (when we finally get that chicken coop made). This last one is C’s (6) favourite.

I have a few ideas of my own that are ticking away. These also include both the ambitious and the more down-to-earth. One of the more realistic plans is to open an Etsy shop with some of the handicrafts we’ve been indulging in since moving here. This will be open to any of the children who want to get involved and there are lots of interesting things to do. Before launching, we’ll have to research costs, set prices, buy materials, write product descriptions, take photographs and work out shipping costs. Once we’re up and running, tasks will include checking for sales, answering customers and preparing and sending packages. It will hopefully be fun and challenging, and up to us if it works or not. The children may get involved in the bits that interest them, or they may prefer to work on their own ideas and channel their energy there. Either way, I can’t think of a better or more satisfying way to prepare for working in the real world, than figuring out how the real world works.

 

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