How to Start a Business as a Teenager

Thinking about starting a business as a teenager? Not sure how to market your service or get your first customer? Then read this article because I’m about to share with you a quick story as to how I built a tutoring business back in my senior year of high school to go from zero clients to 20 clients a week by the end of my senior year.

Make sure you stick with me until the end of this article, because I’m going to give you the three big tips that were essential for my success.

First things first: what was my business? Pretty much I ran a tutoring business in my senior year of high school. At that point in time, I was pretty much done with all my college applications, bored in class and thinking, how can I make some extra for money to help pay for college? And so, I figured why not help some kids in the local area? So, the idea was pretty simple. Provide K through 12 private tutoring services for kids in my local area.

Lesson #1: Settle on an idea for a business that you know others have already paid for before

The first lesson I learned was to settle on an idea for a business that you know others have already paid for before. I knew that tutors existed because I had had tutors growing up. There was no reason to reinvent the wheel here. And so the next thing I needed to figure out was what my offer was actually going to be and who I wanted for my ideal customer.

I started by focusing on parents who had students that were getting B’s and C’s, but felt like their students were capable of getting A’s. These were students that weren’t necessarily doing too hot in school, but either they felt like they could be doing better or their parents felt like they could be doing better.

Something I understood about my customer here was that I knew that parents wanted their students to succeed, and that would be the main driver behind why they’d be willing to pay for tutoring services. I’m no stranger to what caring parents look like. After all, I had two strict Asian parents that instilled the value of education from before the moment that I stepped into Pre-K. Throw me a like the below, if you can agree with me here and relate with your parents’ parenting style.

My main offer when it came to my tutoring was an hour or an hour and a half session. This would allow me enough time to review what we had gone over last week while also introducing new concepts and having enough time to practice with the student before sending them along their way.

After a few weeks of tutoring, I also realized that there was another opportunity to do group tutoring in which I could potentially tutor two or three students at a time for $20 each for the hour, as opposed to just one student for $30 an hour. This was a great way for me to earn more for my time while not necessarily spending more of my time tutoring.

Lesson #2: Create an enticing offer that you know your customers are going to want.

The second big lesson is to create an enticing offer that you know your customers are going to want. If you don’t know what your customers want yet, just keep testing different ideas until you get three yeses. That means that you’ve create something that people actually want.

So, once I knew what my offers were going to be and what my business was going to be, it was time for me to create a website so that people had one place that they could go to and learning more about me. At that time, that was a Google site. But nowadays there’s tons it’s of ways that you can make a website. You can use something like Squarespace, or you can use something like Namecheap or Cloudways. I’ll leave a couple of links in the description below if you’ve never created a site before.

From what I can remember, I had five key pages to my website. The first one was my homepage, which just provided navigation for some of the other pages on my site, as well as a high level summary of what I was all about.

Next, I had an about page and that was essentially just sharing a little bit more about me, some of my test scores and credentials to be tutoring students. And then I had a services page in which that was my going rates, my group rates, et cetera. I had a policy page, which essentially outlined my different protocols when it came to needing to cancel, how much time I needed in advance, et cetera.

And lastly, I had a contact page, which essentially was a simple way for prospective parents to reach out to me, to see if they wanted to set up a tutoring session. Once I had this basic website set up, it was time for me to start marketing. So, I went to Craigslist and I essentially started listing my advertisement that drove traffic to my site.

At that time, it was free to list these sorts of classifieds on Craigslist, but I think it costs about $5 to do so today.

Anyways, the next two things that I did was I reached out to former teachers that I knew like me to see if they could potentially pass out some information about me to parents of students that they knew could potentially use my help. And I also provided some flyers in case they were willing to pass those out to those parents or hang them in their particular classroom.

Lastly, I got some card stock and printed out some business cards that I would give to the parents of my students that I started tutoring. In return, I would give them $10 off their next tutoring session if they helped refer a new client to me.

Lesson #3: Make it easy for your customers to understand the who, what, where, when, why and how of your business.

This pretty much leads me to the third lesson I learned when starting a business as a teenager, which was to make sure that it’s super clear for your customers to understand the who, what, where, when and why and how behind your business.

At that point in time, I pretty much just had to direct anybody that had interest in my tutoring services to my website. At this point, I knew what my idea was, I knew what my offer was and I also had my basic marketing setup. So, all I had to do was just simply start grinding it out in terms of finding my first few clients. It took me about two weeks to find my first client. And a lot of this was just relisting my ad on Craigslist until I finally got somebody to bite.

But from there, we essentially started meeting on a weekly basis at the local library for tutoring sessions, with the student. And I really made sure that in these early tutoring sessions that I was over delivering on the value that I promised.

In these early days, I made sure that I was always on time, if not early to the session, prepared with a ton of resources that we could work through with the student and that I was catering the session into whatever the parent wanted from me with their particular student.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to a service like tutoring, I knew that the parent can always go to a professional tutor and pay a higher rate to get a certain level of service. And so my main value add was if I could give them a steal for the rate at a lower price per hour, while also providing them with a lot of value for their particular student.

So it was only by over delivering consistently over time that I was able to build up the trust of these parents to give with me more work and also refer me to other friends that they knew had kids.

Building customer loyalty takes a ton of time and effort. So, if you want to learn some of my tips and tricks for doing that well, check out my article on that.

Lesson #4: Build brick by brick, one customer relationship at a time.

The fourth lesson I learned was to build brick by brick one customer relationship at a time. Inevitably, I had to graduate at the end of the year, and I had a ton of students at that point in time that wanted to make sure that they had a tutor in place to succeed me. And so, it’s really important that when you build these sorts of businesses as a teenager, that you try to think as much as possible about how to create a succession plan in the case where you want to keep running your business.

How I did this was I connected with a few lower class friends of mine that I knew I could trust. And from there, I asked if they wanted to take on some tutoring. If they said, yes, I facilitate the first tutoring session and ask them to do it for free. This way they could see whether or not it would be a good fit for both sides.

With service-based businesses, you can’t always find a perfect fit and swapping out people. So, some students stayed with the tutor that I introduced them to while others moved up.

Lesson #5: Make sure that you support your customers for as much as possible up until the point in which you close your business.

The fifth lesson I learned is make sure that you support your customers for as much as possible up until the point in which you close your business.

If I were to wind back the clock, something I would have done was probably set up some sort of agreement in which in return for the introduction to the new tutor, I would take a cut from my lower class friend that was tutoring them going forward, just so that I could still continue to make some money because I had invested so much time into that relationship and also facilitated that introduction. But that’s just something that I would learn later on in my business journey.

3 Bonus Tips

1. Always think in bundles when it comes to your offer.

The first bonus tip I can give you is to always think in bundles when it comes to your offer. Like I mentioned earlier, something that I learned early on was that if I could tutor more group sessions, I could make more money with that same hour of time. So, what you want to think about is how you can potentially bundle services or make more money upfront.

Another way that I did this was sometimes I would offer discounts for parents buying sessions in bulk. In other words, they might buy 10 sessions as opposed to one session at a time. This for me, allowed me to have some stability and my schedule, knowing that I was going to work with the student for a set period of time, as opposed to just working one off with the student, whenever the parent wanted to schedule a session.

This is an applicable tip that you can use in any business that you start. For example, if you’re starting an Etsy shop, you can also be thinking about how you can bundle your listings together so that you can have more listings in your shop.

2. Make sure that you’re creating positive feedback loops for your customers.

The second bonus tip is to make sure that you’re creating positive feedback loops for your customers. I shared with you how I would give my customers $10 off their next session if they introduced me to a new customer.

So, this incentivize them to make more introductions and see who in their network could potentially benefit from my services. It was a win-win for them as well as for me. When you’re running a small business, especially as a teenager, you don’t have all that much street cred. So, you need as many customer referrals as you can get.

3. Build an awesome library of testimonials.

The third bonus tip I can give you is build an awesome library of testimonials. Whenever one of your customers gives you some positive feedback. Ask if you can use that feedback on your website. Once I had a testimonial page up, I had enough social proof when combined with my credentials already that I was just getting natural customers from my original marketing efforts.

Big takeaways

There are two big takeaways if you’re thinking about starting a business as a teenager.

  1. The first one is don’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, think about something that your parents or you yourself have paid for in services lately. It could be a lawn mowing service, a car washing service, or even just helping people list things on eBay and taking a cut of every successful sale.
  2. The second thing to remember is you want to make sure that you create a central place where your potential customers can learn more about you. This could be a website, or it could be a brochure that you’re handing out. Whatever the case may be, make sure you’re answering the who, what, where, when, why and how of your particular service.

If you’re just getting started with your business idea, and you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to offer or how you’re going to offer it and more be sure to get my business jumpstart kit. In it, you’re going to get 15 questions that you can ask yourself to help nail down your offer and better position your new business.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out my YouTube channel to get new videos every single week I’ll help take you from zero to self-starter as you grow your business, get more customers, and hone your business acumen. Also, feel free to share this with anybody that you think might benefit from learning about these five lessons I learned starting a business as a teenager.

In the next article, I’m going to dig deeper into my tutoring business and tell you about how to start a tutoring business if you’re interested, as well as three things you’ll need to succeed.