Some of us played store as children.
But thirty-year-old Angela England’s childhood is filled with memories of a literal version of this game.
The oldest of eight children, England grew up watching – and helping – her mother grow an at-home business.
England’s mother, Karis Bellisario, decided to stay home with her growing brood when pregnant with her third child. She took on creative projects – like hand-painted comforter tops – with commerce in mind. It led her to a Creative Memories business she’s been successfully operating for 15 years.
Home-schooled, England and her siblings were active participants in their mother’s ventures. They quickly learned the concept of profit versus expenses, the intricacies of tax benefits, and the challenges of balancing the books.
“We learned (business) very hands-on,” England says. “It impacted our family finances.
“It prepared us for real life.”
As a result, England says she and her siblings were entrepreneurial early on. Her sister started an embossing business as a teenager; her brother parlayed his experience working at Radio Shack into eventually owning his own store.
“A lot of that early exposure to good, quality business practices and seeing it implemented in real life…made us more business savvy than the typical teenager,” England says.
Today, England is an entrepreneur herself. The mother of three children under five, she’s also a professional writer and blogger.
She’s started a website called untrainedhousewife.com to help modern homemakers learn skills their mothers may not have taught them, like cooking and cleaning.
England says she constantly uses the business skills her mother passed on, including how to effectively deal with people.
Stepmom and entrepreneur Kim Castle has seen the benefits of this kind of early teaching from the other end.
Castle and her husband – co-creators of BrandU, a business development company – raised his son Chris with an entrepreneurial spirit:
“Because we always worked at home, we always engaged him. If he had a school project, we’d approach it like we were doing work. We got him invested in the result.”
Castle says she first saw the payoff when Chris’s former supervisor commented that he had a lot of ideas. “I was quite proud,” she says.
After post-secondary study, Castle’s stepson has become BrandU’s head of operations. He’s currently developing new technology to help BrandU deliver its programs, as well as directing its social media.
Although Castle says passion for business is somewhat innate, she believes an environment that encourages free-thought fosters these smarts.
Founder of metromom.com, Kim DeYoung says parents can create such an environment. She offers three pieces of advice.
1. Bring them into your world.
As part of her business, DeYoung sends out CDs every month to her regular members. She’s thought about outsourcing this job.
After all, it’s a monotonous task of packaging and labelling.
Instead, she’s enlisted her three children, ages seven to eleven, as helpers.
“They love it,” she says. It’s right up a kid’s alley; sticking and pasting is playtime. But DeYoung says her children are also learning through their own actions that success is in the details.
While stressing the need for boundaries –“they don’t need to know how much you make” – she says including kids can be as simple as saying, “guess what happened to me at work today.”
2. Let them make mistakes.
Business is fraught with ups and downs. The best entrepreneurs can attest to that. DeYoung is incredibly candid about her own journey, crediting her “negative, crappy” experiences for her greatest growth.
Whether in sports, school or social activities, children’s early mistakes can help them prepare for the realities of the business world. “It would be awful for our kids if we take away their mistakes,” DeYoung says.
3. Encourage their curiosity.
As children and teens, many of us were asked continually what we wanted to be when we grew up. Wrong question, DeYoung says. “No one is any one thing.”
Rather, parents should give their children space to brainstorm and dream a little bit. “Being an entrepreneur is all about ideas,” DeYoung says.
Castle echoes this last point, and adds that ideas put into action enable children to fully understand the responsibilities and ramifications of being in business for oneself.
She says this is perhaps an important life lesson children learn while they’re ingesting business sense.
“Business is a great connection between another person and yourself,” Castle says.