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The Next Generation of Small Business Owners

Five ideas to keep it simple


Michael A. Branham

I’m the son of a small business owner. I understood from a young age that to make a business successful one had to be all in; that long hours, hard work, and self-sacrifice were part of the entrepreneur’s tool chest. We didn’t have mini-MBA courses in my house to teach these lessons, they were simply observed over time. Children are incredibly inquisitive and impressionable, so how can we equip the next generation of small business owner with the skills they’ll need to succeed? In my experience, keep it simple and start with these five ideas:


Develop a Strong Work Ethic

One of the best gifts you can give your children, as well as one of the best tools for the future entrepreneur, is to foster a strong work ethic. Expect them to do various jobs around the house, hold them accountable if they don’t, and offer a reward (usually financial) if they do. Additionally, ask them to put in some effort for major purchases like a new bike or cell phone.


Foster Self-Motivation

The ability to work independently towards success is critical to any entrepreneur. There are some key components of self-motivation that can be unlocked in your children, and allowing them to witness these traits in your actions is a great learning tool. Maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adversity; curiosity and the desire for continued learning; the willingness to take risks (and to fail); and a keen self-awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses are all key to the development of a motivated business owner. It’s important that rewards extend beyond the financial, so be sure to highlight sense of accomplishment and other intangibles when communicating a job well done.


Encourage Creativity and Passion

My dad has worked in the elevator business, and owned elevator related businesses, for his entire adult life (and my entire life), and yet I have no mechanical inclination. Pushing the button for my intended floor is about as elevator savvy as I get. The opportunity for me to learn the requisite skills to be in the elevator business was certainly a possibility, but it never interested me. My dad understood that, and always encouraged my brothers and I to find our own paths. Giving kids the space, and freedom, to figure out what excites and interests them will allow them to run businesses that excite and interest them and give them the best chance at being fully motivated to succeed in their own endeavors. Be open to the fact that it may not be what you had in mind when you bought them their first “Future Entrepreneur” onesie—but then again, when did your parents know what you’d become?


Develop People Skills

The ability to communicate authentically, and to engage with people effectively, will be critical skills for any young business owner. Whether they’re approaching a neighbor for a lawn mowing job or seeking funding for their Silicon Valley start-up, your young entrepreneur will need “people skills.” Effective spoken communication, the ability to write an e-mail or letter, and simply maintaining eye contact are every day human interactive skills that are often overlooked. Make it a point to encourage your kids to do simple things like ordering for themselves at a restaurant or engaging in conversation with adults at parties and family gatherings. Push them outside of their comfort zone in social situations so they can learn how to think quickly and communicate effectively.


Teach Financial Literacy

This seems like the obvious one, but it’s unlikely your teen will be enthralled with learning to read a profit and loss statement. Instead, focus on the basics. Let them do work around the house, or in an actual job, to earn an “income.” Teach them the concepts of making wise consumption decisions to live within one’s means, and give them an education in debt management and creditworthiness. Show them how to build a small cash reserves, as well as to promote saving and investing in future opportunities. Give them an insight to how your household is run and possibly how your business makes financial decisions. If you want third party resources, volunteer in the classroom with curriculum from an organization like Junior Achievement USA, which has developed age appropriate money lessons for K-12, as well as educational opportunities specific to entrepreneurship and small business ownership.

As the American economy continually evolves towards a service economy built on small business, will your children have the tools of an entrepreneur? Obviously not all kids can, or will, run their own small business, but as parents we have the opportunity to help foster the skills and traits necessary if the title of “business owner” is in their future.



This article first appeared in the January 2016 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.

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