Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Money, Entrepreneurialism, and Children

I didn't grow up in a very entrepreneurial family.

My Dad was an Air Force officer from well before the time I was born until just before I graduated from high school. My Mom wasn't the entrepreneurial type, either; I don't ever remember her trying to run a home business on the side. She would occasionally take short teaching jobs on or around the Air Force bases, but that was about it until more recently. (Some time ago she started making and selling crocheted blankets, and donating the money to church organizations and other worthy causes; but I don't remember her doing this when I was growing up.)

Basically, Dad would go off to work in the mornings (or evenings, or weekends, depending on his assignment), and my brothers and I would go off to school, and my Mom would do whatever it was she did at home the whole time. That was just the way it was.

Perhaps as a result of all this, the idea of going into business has always seemed a bit like voodoo to me. I have vague ideas about what might be involved; but I've never seen first-hand what a home business or what a owner-proprietor small business is like, or what it takes to run them.

Furthermore, I've never been of the particularly gregarious sort. I occasionally was required to sell candy or Christmas greens or whatnots for various high school and college functions; but even there, I wasn't in business for myself, I didn't get to keep any of the money, and I hated every moment of it. Even when I was in the San Jose State University Choraliers, and our big money-makers were the Rent-A-Carols we did every Christmas season (where people could rent a quartet or octet of really good singers for a half-hour gig), this kind of thing got really old after a while.

I've always been fascinated by those people who have the sheer gumption to start up a business of their own--especially those people for whom their business becomes their major (or their only) source of income. Talk about working without a net! It takes people who have the vision to see some unmet need in society around them. It takes people who have enough confidence in their abilities that they are willing to demand a price for their work. It often takes people who have the unmitigated gall to hit up friends, relations, acquaintances, and banks for seed capital. It takes people who are willing to work very, very hard, for many more hours than those of us who decided to enter the corporate work force. And they have to make sacrifices, too: my impression is that it's not always easy for entrepreneurs and small businessmen to acquire health insurance, for example.

But for those who choose this lifestyle, often they wouldn't have it any other way. There's just something more satisfying about answering directly to customers, than to a boss; there's just something more satisfying--and more daunting--about knowing that the buck stops with me, that I alone have the responsibility and the authority to fix this problem; the personal challenges are frequently greater, but the rewards--financial and otherwise--are often higher, for those who have the vision and the fortitude to make it work.

I never had the gumption to try, let alone the vision or the confidence. I took the route that increasingly is seen as normal in our society--I got a college degree to prepare me for a professional job, and then I got jobs in my chosen field. It's a comfortable life, no doubt, with a good salary and benefits. It's much less risky one than the life of an entrepreneur. Still, I often wonder about The Road Not Taken. What if, while I was in high school I'd had the vision to ask the church elder at my old congregation--the one who had his own stained-glass business--if he'd take on an apprentice? What if, instead of engineering, I'd decided to go into cabinetry instead, and then started my own business?

(Have you seen how much those guys make?)

Even to this day, I find myself thinking about taking up a hobby that could be used to pull in a little more income--like making and selling chainmail jewelry and armor, or stained glass. Or I'll start thinking, If I can just get a little more practice in on my harp, I'd be able to start doing paid gigs. Of course, if I ever decide to do these things for real, you'll be the first to know, because I'll have to stop blogging. :-(

(And I've run the numbers on making a living by playing harp. Let's just say my family would have to get used to eating lots and lots of ramen....)


But my wife and I have been thinking about how to go about teaching our kids the value of money and the value of work. It's not an easy thing. And ironically, it's harder in our case precisely because we don't have a TV (by choice--but that's a different post).

(One of the most effective ways to get kids to learn the value of money is to let them get their hearts set on some toy they've seen--often in an ad--and then make them earn the money to buy it themselves. That's right, leverage their greed! But with no TV in our house, there are no commercials; and with no commercials, our kids don't often start whining for toys they don't already have, because they aren't aware of what all is out there to be wanted. But we notice that when we visit someone else's house where the TV is on, "I Want That" becomes the mantra for just about every commercial that comes on. And this in turn validates our decision not to get a TV....)

So my wife and I were noting that the Pillowfight Fairy loves to do craft projects. Could this love become a home business some day? You bet. One common business plan is to craft pretty things--baskets, pottery, quilts, dresses, sweaters, costumes--and sell them on Ebay or on Amazon. (We ourselves picked up a couple of costume items that were marketed this way.) We can see Mommy and Fairy, in a few years or so, making and selling pretties for a little extra cash--and for the educational experience, which is more valuable than the cash.


Which brings us to something of interest I saw today, that I'd like to pass on to my readership. Check out this post over at Dr. Helen's site. It contains a link to a podcast (for those of you who aren't fully hip to this new-fangled internet thing, that's an "IPod Broadcast"--something like an online radio show recording) with an author of a book entitled Young Bucks: How to Raise a Future Millionaire. This book deals with the teaching of money skills to the young--not just how to save and manage the money, but how to see opportunities to make money. That is, if you're a kid who needs $100 to buy some electronic gadget, but you're completely out of funds, what kinds of things can you do to get the money? Among other things, the book has a long list of business ideas--everything from yardwork and cleaning, to the baking and selling of goodies, to the marketing of a skill like drawing or painting--that many kids are capable of. And it encourages people to always be on the lookout for other opportunities that just happen to wander by. The book also includes scripts for approaching potential customers, which can be helpful for kids (like I was) who aren't naturally gregarious and silver-tongued.

I found the podcast interview (about 30 minutes long) to be very interesting, and I have to admit I'm tempted to find a copy of the book. As I mentioned above, I want to instill something of that entrepreneurial spirit in my children, so that if they do develop a passion and a talent some area--even an unusual area--they can find a way to market that talent into a career or a calling.

And be sure to read through the comments at the end of the post, too, even if you don't have half an hour to listen to the interview. Some of them are quite wise, in my opinion.


Theresa said...

Really like the name of your blog and most recent post.
I am signed up for google alert, set on the word "craft" and your site came up. Glad I found it. Interesting read.
I'm a full time crafter and there sure is a lot of BS to contend with in trying to feed a family without depending on Ramen noodles
lately, I can tell you that much!
Oh, and by the way, Chainmaille is very popular at a lot of the shows I do. Not too many people do it because it is a lot of work and lately people are acting like their money is glued to the inside of their pockets (myself included)
Anyway, wanted to stop in and say HI! Come visit my blog:

Timothy Power said...

Hello, Theresa! Welcome to my blog. I managed to get over to your site earlier today. Very interesting; I've been wondering what the economics of the craft career look like (and I'm afraid your take on it reinforced my forebodings....) Nevertheless, it still looks like it would be very satisfying, if the money part of it could be made to work.

I wish you the best, and I hope your business picks up soon.

(Oh, and I don't particularly like the look of dreads on white people, either. Cornrows can work quite nicely; dreads, not so much.)