Just in time for summer, the folks at Warren Buffett’s Secret Millionaire’s Club have condensed the Oracle of Omaha’s business savvy into a digestible book for kids. It is meant to stir the passions of teen and pre-teen entrepreneurs, and give them a meaningful alternative to video games and the swimming pool and, perhaps, the consequences of Mom and Dad’s mounting impatience.
Much of the wisdom in the colorful and animated How to Start Your Very First Business is already available online via the Secret Millionaire’s Club website. The site features 26 “webisodes” of animated youngsters grappling with the profit-loss aspects of things like lawn cutting, dog walking, and running the ubiquitous lemonade stand. But the book adds context, step-by-step instructions, worksheets, and goes beyond clichéd ideas.
Authors Julie Merberg and Sarah Parvis, with guidance from Buffett, serve up 21 business ideas for kids. Their suggestions include filming and editing highlight reels for student athletes seeking a scholarship, collecting yard waste to compost and later selling the soil, decorating skateboards, blogging about local events and selling ad space to local businesses, being a DJ at parties, and building and selling birdhouses.
Buffett is involved because he believes entrepreneurship at an early age introduces and reinforces habits that will breed long-term success, even if the summer venture doesn’t amount to much. “Learning the value of being honest, being willing to take risks and fail, and protecting your reputation are among the lessons that form the fabric of success,” Buffett writes in the forward.
These themes are explored in the book alongside basics like start-up and operating costs. Buffett’s guiding principal is that the best investment one can make is an investment in oneself. The book champions education, hard work, honesty, service, passion and presentation. The authors use plenty real-life examples of kids and their businesses, and call on Buffett frequently for inspiring “words from Warren.” In a section on growing your business, Buffett notes, “the more you learn, the more you’ll earn.”
This book is not likely to light a fire under the average 12-year-old. It has serious layers of business advice, albeit written simply and in practical terms. So it's best suited for kids who already have demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit and are looking to give their venture a real shot.
I could have used it myself. As a youngster in the open spaces of Missouri, I bought firecrackers and bottle rockets in bulk and intended to resell them to classmates before the Fourth of July. But when I made my bulk purchase in May I did not account for school being out for the summer at peak firecracker season. How would I market them? This book has a chapter on marketing, including how to use free advertising boards at the supermarket, community center or post office, how to use social media and build a free website, and even how to get a local reporter’s attention and write a press release.
The book also explains how to differentiate your product or service, find the right location, and grow your business—all major concerns to Fortune 500 corporations and adaptable to a lemonade stand (offer a variety of flavors, find a busy sidewalk). The idea here is not to make a lot of money; it’s about exposing kids to an experience that will offer valuable life lessons.
In words from Warren: “Can you really explain to a fish what it’s like to walk on land? One day on land is worth a thousand years of talking about it, and one day running a business has exactly the same kind of value.” Two days, or a week or a month, has even more value—and it simply cannot be found in a video game or at the swimming pool.