Richard Branson's Advice to a (Very) Young Entrepreneur
Many start-up dreams begin young. Some begin very, very young.
From babysitting ventures to the archetypal lemonade stand, those with entrepreneurial ambitions often begin experimenting with business before they're even out of middle school. Case in point: Richard Branson, the legendary founder of the Virgin Group.
In his book Like A Virgin: Secrets They Won't Teach You at Business School, Branson offers the wisdom he's accumulated building his business empire, and it seems the learning process started early. An excerpt from the book recently published on the mogul's blog outlines Branson's very first, failed efforts at entrepreneurship, including an ill-fated attempt to breed budgerigars (bird lovers, avert your eyes) and a less-than-successful attempt to cash in on the annual Christmas tree business.
Because of these early ventures, Branson explains, he was sympathetic when a father from Texas wrote him asking for advice on behalf of his young son whose lawn-mowing business wasn't taking off. It may seem like a question far below the likes of Branson, but it turns out that for the surprisingly down-to-earth billionaire, owning your own private island doesn't put you above offering advice to 12 year olds. In fact, he offers the boy five tips that might help any entrepreneur tune up his or her business. They are:
Is the pricing right? "Are you charging too much?" asks Branson, who offers a surprising suggestion. "If you are unsure what to charge, you might try the radical Like a Virgin approach: Offer to mow people’s lawns for free, and tell them that if they are happy with your work, they can pay whatever amount they think is appropriate. You never know--you may end up making more money than you expected."
Is the equipment up to date? "Maybe you need to invest in a better lawn mower to help your son woo customers," writes Branson. "It is amazing how a loan from one's family will focus an entrepreneur's mind."
Do some research to find your most likely customers. "If old Mr. Smith next door has just hurt his knee, he might love to have someone do his mowing. Are there other people nearby who might need extra help for any reason? A young couple with a new baby, or someone about to go on holiday?"
Can you broaden the services you offer? "Some people like to mow lawns themselves--could you also offer to weed gardens, clean cars, or remove rubbish?"
Offer to donate some of your proceeds to a local charity. "That may help you persuade people to try out your services, since you will also be doing some good for the community," suggests Branson.
What, if anything, did you learn from your earliest experiments in entrepreneurship?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.