Since the dot-com bubble burst four years ago, newspaper business sections are routinely peppered with stories about unemployment, layoffs, pay cuts, and overseas outsourcing. Many of today's teenagers may not even remember what the job market was like in the late 1990s, when high-paying tech firm jobs with unbelievable benefits packages seemed to be in endless abundance. Today, the job market is a more daunting place.
In more uncertain economic times, a position at a large, well-established company has its perks. Employees of such organizations usually receive health benefits, a retirement plan, and the relative security of knowing their employer has weathered tough times before. Then again, there are also advantages to being your own boss -- no one telling you what to do, the flexibility of creating your own hours and working conditions, and the knowledge that you control your own future.
According to the August 2004 Gallup Youth Survey*, a majority of teens think that running their own businesses is the way to go. Gallup asked teens, "Assuming you made the same salary in both cases, which would you rather do -- have a good job with a large corporation, or be your own boss in a small company?" Forty-two percent of teens say they would rather work for a large corporation, while 57% want to be their own bosses.
Why are teens more drawn to entrepreneurship than they are to the corporate world? "We've observed in our program that learning to be entrepreneurs really empowers kids and gives them financial control," says Steve Mariotti, founder and president of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship -- an organization that teaches business, academic, and life skills to low-income kids. "Being their own boss lets teenagers take a hobby or something they have a passion for, and make money from it."
Data from a recent Gallup Poll of adults suggest teens planning to become their own bosses may be paving the way toward enriching careers. According to Gallup's 2004 Work and Education poll, 72% of self-employed U.S. workers are "completely satisfied" with their jobs, compared with 49% of government/nonprofit workers and 44% of those working in private industry.
Why Teens Want to Be the Boss
Boys and girls are about equally likely to choose owning their own small company over working for a large corporation. Ryan, a 16-year-old from Terrell, Texas, would choose being his own boss over the 9-to-5 corporate world. "I'd rather have the privileges of owning my own business because it would let me incorporate some of my interests into my professional life," Ryan says. "Also I could decide when I go to work."
Susan, a 16-year-old from Wilmington, Del., agrees that having her own company at which she can make all the decisions would be the best job. "I'd rather be my own boss in a small company because knowing that I could suddenly decide to make my company sell stuffed knives with legs, disregarding that it would be a bad idea, would be much more exciting than having to follow orders from someone more powerful than me."
It's never too early for teenagers to begin testing their entrepreneurial acumen. Mariotti's advice for teens looking to start their own businesses: "Find your own niche. Find something that makes your business unique … Also, it's very important to understand [the business'] costs."
The Nov. 8 issue of People magazine features eight teenagers who have started successful small businesses. In addition to ice cream parlor owners, Web designers, and candy chefs, the featured teenage entrepreneurs include 15-year-old Coy Funk and 14-year-old Skylar Schipper. With their manure sales business, Manure Gourmet, Coy and Skylar have followed Mariotti's advice and found their own niche -- poop -- and even have a catchy slogan: "No. 1 in the No. 2 business."
*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 439 respondents, aged 13 to 17, Aug. 8-19, 2004. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.