During my Covid free time in 2020, I started an online thrift store through an Instagram account. I never realized how doable it is to start a (very) small business! Creating a business (no matter how small) is a great way for teens to make a little extra money.
I interviewed two other small business owners, Sarah Olguin and Sarah Smith to find out their advice for teens looking to start a similar business. Sarah Olguin sells clay earrings through her Instagram account, @daisyclaycreations, and Sarah Smith has taught violin lessons on and off since she was in high school. For my business, @thrifting_emerald (temporarily closed), I thrifted clothing and re-sold it for a slightly higher price through Instagram.
Before you look at our advice on running a small business, you may want to consider what kind of business you want to run!
- Are you good at making anything? Sell it.
- Do you have any unique skills, like playing a musical instrument, painting, or speaking a foreign language? Teach it.
- Do you or a family member have lawn care equipment? Sell your lawn care services to the neighborhood. Many people are happy to avoid some lawn work and support a hardworking teenager at the same time!
If none of the ideas above apply to you, anyone can make money by having garage sales or washing cars.
Now that you’ve thought about what kind of business you want to run, here are some pieces of advice from Sarah Olguin, Sarah Smith, and myself.
How do you advertise?
Sarah Olguin: “I mostly advertise over Facebook and Instagram. I have created business cards that I give out with purchases and during small vendor events.”
Sarah Smith used Facebook and word-of-mouth to advertise and also created a free website. Since she included her location on her website, people searching for violin teachers in her area were more likely to find her. She also asked local schools if she could post information in their schools about violin lessons, and although she did not try this herself, she suggested putting up flyers in college campuses for music majors hoping to learn the basics of a new instrument.
I mostly tried to gain customers by following Instagram users who followed similar accounts to mine, hoping they would follow me back or at least look at my page. I gained quite a few followers this way. I also followed all of my friends, family, and everyone that attended the same college as me.
How do you decide how much to charge?
Sarah Olguin found difficulty in determining a price for the merchandise she sells. She said, “I have kind of just been researching how much others are charging and doing my best. I do take extra time for details into account as well as if there are extra costs for details and charge a dollar [or two] more. Finding a balance between over and underselling yourself has been a challenge for sure.”
Since teens are not nearly as skilled as most professional music teachers and do not have a degree in music, Sarah Smith suggests charging as little as possible to start out, and then slowly charging more over the years as you improve in your ability to play the instrument and to teach it.
If I sold a popular item like Converse or Levis, I looked up the current prices of these items, then I would subtract money from that price for any flaws that I found in my merchandise. For my other items, I only charged a few dollars more than the shipping cost to make my overall prices as cheap as possible.
Where do you sell your product?
Here are the locations Sarah Olguin and/or I sell our products in addition to other possibilities:
- Instagram (you can use Venmo or Paypal for money transfers)
- Local vendor events
- Local Boutiques
What’s your favorite part about your business?
Sarah Olguin: “Just getting to be creative. Along with the last question, sometimes it’s hard to make what you want to make versus what you think other people want to buy. You do have to consider what others want, but I have noticed that as long as you stick with your own style, there will be a market for it. I also love just seeing people enjoying what I’ve created. It is always so much fun to see what I made being worn by them.”
Sarah Smith said, “It’s neat seeing other people enjoy learning” the violin, and Sarah also enjoyed witnessing the progress that her students made!
My favorite part was receiving messages from people on how much they liked the clothing. I also love that I get to find clothes that are on their way to a landfill and re-sell them to people who will really appreciate them!
Do you have any advice for a teen starting a similar business?
Sarah Olguin: “Find what you like to do and just do it! Even if you don’t feel good enough, just get started. But don’t expect to make a lot of money at the beginning … If you’re like me, and don’t want to make it anything full-time, that’s OK!”
Sarah Smith suggested that teachers should look for a quiet place to teach like a church building or a guitar center if you can find one that allows it!
- Don’t invest too much money in your business before you’re sure you’ll have customers.
- How your business social media or websites look is important. If you post your own pictures, turn up the brightness of your photos while editing to make them look more professional.
- Figure out what makes your business unique and why people should purchase your product. Stress this through your advertising.
- Be careful! Look out for scams, and don’t give anybody your personal information. If you come across anything unusual, ask your parents or another adult to check it out.