NEW YORK (Reuters) - While most kids are zoning out to Nickelodeon or playing video games on their parents’ iPhones, 13-year-old Jack James is busy creating multiple revenue streams for himself.
Back when he was nine, James got the idea to do the dirty work of taking his neighbors’ trash cans out for pickup, for a monthly subscription of $5. (He has since raised his rate to $10.) That work led to other gigs, like pet care and picking up mail when clients are away.
Now a wizened 13, the San Jose, California, resident has already penned a book about his entrepreneurial adventures: “How To Let Your Parents Raise a Millionaire.”
He’s not quite there yet, of course. The cool million is still elusive, but older teens could learn from his example. Instead of waiting for someone else to give you a job, you’d be wise to create your own.
“Find out what your community needs, make a flyer, and go do it,” James says in an interview, before heading off to school.
Adds his proud mom, Ann Morgan James: “Parents need to teach their kids they can be business owners, not just employees.”
Indeed, the rest of Jack James’ generation may not have much choice but to follow his lead. Unemployment among teens aged 16 through 19 who were looking for work was a whopping 24.9 percent in April, according to the latest data from the U.S. Labor Department.
“You’re looking at one of the worst job markets for young people in 60 years,” says Scott Gerber, author of “Never Get a ‘Real’ Job” and founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council. “This is a global paradigm shift going on. It’s not going away, and young people are going to have to figure out how to create their own jobs.”
So how can today’s teens invent their own paradigms and forge new paths to career success? Here are seven tips on making this summer both productive and profitable.
— Monetize your tech prowess. Teens catch a lot of flak from their parents for being on Facebook or Twitter all the time. But knowing all the ins and outs of social media is actually a very valuable skill.
“With that Facebook and Twitter knowledge, teens can approach local businesses about updating their online presence,” says Matthew Toren, a serial entrepreneur and co-author (with brother Adam) of the book “Kidpreneurs” (www.kidpreneurs.org). “For a relatively small investment of time and money, a teen could make $20 to $40 per hour helping with Web development projects or updating blogs.”
That is a lot better than serving fries for minimum wage.
— Market yourself to other teens. Any employer advertising an opening these days is likely to be deluged with resumes. A smarter way to burrow your way into a coveted gig: Get the current jobholders to place you next in line.
After all, graduating seniors (or your older siblings) will soon be off to college and leaving their old high-school jobs behind — anything from lifeguard to camp counselor. Cultivate your network early, and you could land a job that’s been freed up by someone else’s departure.
— Offer a simple service and throw up a website. “Take an idea that won’t require much overhead, something that can grow organically, and go to Weebly.com to build your own website or blog for free,” says Gerber. Or if that sounds too taxing, put up a free classified (monitored by your parents) at craigslist.org. If you’re offering basic neighborhood yard work, for instance, at best you’ve created an entire business for yourself and your friends; at worst, you’re out the cost of a rake.
— Get crowdfunded. If you can get one employer to give you $5,000, great. But as politicians have discovered, if you can get 1,000 people to give you $5, the end result is the same. That’s why so-called crowdfunding sites have taken off in recent years. So if your idea of a productive summer is creating a short film, say, instead of sweeping up at the local Wendy’s, then create your own fundraising campaign at a site like Indiegogo.com and start getting the word out.
— Open a virtual storefront. Not that long ago, getting into the retail business required finding a location and signing a lease. Now you can do it with a few clicks of the mouse. At sites like CafePress.com, you can sell your designs — or even just funny sayings, if you’re not much of an artist — on more than 250 different products like T-shirts and coffee mugs. It earns you commissions on every item sold, with no set-up costs. Arts-and-crafts types might prefer Etsy.com, which specializes in handmade and vintage merchandise.
— Do market research on your neighbors. Everybody knows about old teen standbys like babysitting, lawn mowing or dog walking. But some proactive research might reveal other services your neighbors desperately need, like preparing dinner for busy parents, moving their cars when the streets are being cleaned, or picking up dry cleaning. A simple checklist distributed to your neighbors will reveal exactly what they need — and how could they ever say no to an entrepreneurial kid from down the street?
— Become a tutor. Everyone is skilled at something, and there’s always someone out there who wants to learn that skill. Maybe you speak Spanish, you are great at tennis, or you are a chess whiz. So instead of watching the neighbor’s kid and getting $10 an hour (and a headache), arrange one-on-one lessons of something you love and get $20 an hour. Or put together an art or chess class, and charge $15 an hour for each of four or five kids.
If you’re getting overbooked, hire friends to take on some of the workload, and take a cut of what they are bringing in. Or take things a step further by writing a quick guidebook and publishing it yourself as a Kindle Single — generating yet another revenue stream for yourself.
When you’re starting from scratch, the idea of creating your own job might seem a little daunting. But if 13-year-old Jack James can set up his own small business and write a book about it — in between his classes and drumming and fly fishing — then you can, too.
(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Editing by Jilian Mincer, Linda Stern and Lisa Von Ahn