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5 Low-Cost Business Ideas for Teens

Sept. 7, 2016
Small Business, Starting a Business
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Zandra Cunningham loves lip balm — so much that she used to ask her dad to buy her a new tube every day. Exasperated, he joked that she should make her own.

So she did. She was 9.

Six years later, her Buffalo, New York-based business, Zandra, sells 37 natural, homemade skin products in stores in six states and online at, Etsy and Amazon.

“I want the company to be as big as it can,” says Cunningham, who earned $50,000 in net profit last year. “I think Zandra should be in stores across the world.”

Cunningham proves that even young people can start successful businesses.

Entrepreneurship gives teens and younger kids “an opportunity to test themselves,” says Ed Grocholski, senior vice president of brand for Junior Achievement, a nonprofit that helps K-12 students learn entrepreneurship and financial literacy. “It’s a really great way for kids to learn self-confidence.”

Finding small-business funding is a concern for entrepreneurs of any age, but teens can focus on businesses with low start-up costs. Here are five small-business ideas for teens:

  1. Web/app development. Small-business owners often have little time to develop their online presence. Teens can harness their tech knowledge and coding skills by creating websites and apps for local businesses. Show potential clients websites you’ve already created to come off as professional and prepared, Grocholski advises.
  2. E-commerce. Online marketplaces are a great outlet for crafty teens. Selling online means access to a national, and sometimes international, customer base. Cunningham, for instance, used her Etsy page to generate wholesale deals. But keep your products unique. The downside of online marketplaces is that everyone can sell his or her jewelry/scarves/pottery.
  3. Social media. You might speak emoji like a second language, but not everyone does. Use your skills to help clients, such as small-business owners, spread brand awareness by establishing a presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  4. Traditional services. Classic summer endeavors, such as mowing lawns and babysitting, are still great options. Take your business to the next level by spreading the word beyond the neighborhood. Online marketing is an inexpensive way to promote your business, but word of mouth is still the best tool. “When you have an established customer base,” Grocholski says, “start asking for referrals.”
  5. Tutoring and music lessons. Do you excel at school? Turn studying into profit by forming a tutoring company, either alone or with studious friends. Consider focusing on a specific subject area, such as a foreign language or SAT/ACT prep. If you’re a trumpet aficionado, offer after-school music lessons.

Tips for starting a business if you’re a teen:

Get a parent onboard. Your mom or dad can help with logistics, such as registering a website, shipping and fielding tricky customer complaints.

Check legal requirements. offers insight into registering your business and points you toward regulatory information for each state. If things get tricky, you might need to consult a lawyer or accountant.

Think ahead to tax time. If you make more than $400 in untaxed net income, you’ll have to file self-employment tax. Try reducing your tax burden by tracking deductible business expenses throughout the year.

Make sure you’re covered. If you’re running a business out of your home, your parents should check their homeowners insurance policy to understand any potential liability issues. This is especially true if you fix other people’s property or watch children.

Jackie Zimmermann is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @jackie_zm.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.