I have a theory that seasoned entrepreneurs are not just pure talent and luck. Sure, there are some elements of that, but I believe that many come from entrepreneurial families. Someone in their past gave them a chance to fail early on and learn with no real repercussions. Until they are 18, they have a place to live, they have food, and they don’t have many responsibilities. What better time than to risk everything?
I’m a father now; I have an 8 year old daughter and a 6 year old son. I decided to test this theory by having them start tiny businesses early. Essentially, come up with something and try to sell it. The worst case is that they are no longer intimidated by the idea of taking a risk and it won’t be a mystery to them. The best case is that they might actually make some money and help pay for college. I know this isn’t something taught in public school, and it is one lesson that I can hand off to them at an early age that can influence them for the rest of their lives. WIth this in mind, I set aside a couple hours a week to be with my daughter, Tessa. She can draw and is a good storyteller, so we decided to make and sell a book.
The rest of this article is an account of how I worked with Tessa and her entrepreneurial journey creating https://www.tessapaulin.com/ together. She had a whirlwind tour through how products and businesses are put together.
Step 1: Write a book: 2 months.
I would say that this was the most straightforward step. Tessa had read books and made simple ones before. The only difference was that she was going to have to do this in a digital format so that I could help her publish it properly.
To start, we made an outline and talked about how to tell a story. Tessa made up the characters and we put together a loose story around what they were doing. At the time she was pretty heavily influenced by Minecraft, but she has her own take on it.
Once the story was outlined, she drew the pictures to illustrate it. To do this, I had given her a “magic pencil” that she could use on an iPad to create the digital drawings that we needed. She would then share these with me through a Google Drive, where I could pick them up and put them through a coloring program. Finally, we imported the drawings into Sketch and added the text to it.
- For outlining: Google docs
- For drawing: https://www.fiftythree.com/pencil
- For coloring: http://paintschainer.preferred.tech/index_en.html
- For putting it all together: https://sketchapp.com/
Step 2: Publish the book: 2 months.
Once we had the book, we decided we should publish it and see what we get stuck on. I choose to publish through Createspace since I had self-published there before. Our first challenge was figuring out how to turn all of our images into a pdf. Once that was done, we uploaded the pdf and found out that we needed at least 20 pages to publish. Tessa was a trooper at this point and if you get her going she can generate about 8 images an hour. It didn’t take long until we reached the required amount of pages. Once that was done, we created a cover, uploaded the book’s interior, and told them to mail us a proof.
The proof was great, and we immediately realized the images looked fuzzy and the text didn’t line up right. Back we went to Sketch to figure out how to adjust the resolution. We also had noticed several typos, and Tessa had some ideas on how to change the sentences to make the story flow better. Needless to say, it needed more editing before it was ready.
A couple other things stood out, though. Tessa needed a logo and to add copywrite. These became great lessons about what she could or could not own. It also became a lesson in how branding works and why people find brands so important. From that she created her Tessa Studio Logo on my whiteboard, and I took a picture so I could clean it up with Sketch.
Finally, Tessa and I had to talk about pricing and how that will work. To print the book, Createspace takes $3.65 and for distribution Amazon takes $4.10. We settled on the price of $10.24 so that she would earn $2.49 for every book purchased.
Then, Tessa pushed the button to publish, and we waited a few days to get approval from Amazon.
- For adjusting the images: https://sketchapp.com/
- For publishing: https://www.createspace.com/
- For distribution: https://www.amazon.com/
Step 3: An online presence: 2 months.
The book was published back in May, and the first question Tessa asked me was, “How many have I sold?” The answer of course was zero, but I love that she responded so quickly with the most obvious question. Thus, the work begins to find people who are interested in what she had created.
I think you should realize at this point that we are talking about a child who hasn’t ever been online before. This became a pretty high level discussion into how websites are created and why people use them. It is very easy to get too detailed too quickly, so as a parent you have to keep yourself from overwhelming your child with too much information. My advice, keep it simple, there will be lots of time to explain the finer details of hosting and computers.
The way I approached this was to explain to Tessa that she needed to tell people about the book, and it needed to be something they could remember. This also became her first introduction to the internet and how websites are named. After some thinking, we decided on naming it after her, Tessa Paulin. She bought the domain name and then we got to work on creating a website.
Website creation became another discussion about how much it will cost to host her website. We settled on https://www.squarespace.com/ after some attempts with other sites that we didn’t like as much. It had a simple enough interface and was a good starting point.
Now, all of this costs money. The website was about $120/year and a domain is $12/year. Here is a great opportunity for a discussion about financing. I offered to loan her the money, but she had to choose how to pay it back:
Option 1: As debt? She borrows the money and pays me back from her profits.
Option 2: As a shareholder? I give her the money and she gives me a share of her profits.
She choose Option 1, so we created a spreadsheet and started putting in the numbers.
The last step was that she needed to see how many people were visiting her website. This became an introduction into how websites collect data so they can do a better job of understanding who is visiting them. We created a Google Analytics account and connected that back into her Squarespace site.
Finally, everything was setup.
- For domain registration: https://domains.google.com/registrar
- For website hosting: https://www.squarespace.com/
- For analytics: Google Analytics
Step 4: Marketing: 1 month.
After we could see how many people were visiting the website, our conversation turned to how to get more visitors. Tessa and I did a brainstorming session and then prioritized what would cost the least and what would be the most effective. Some of the ideas were to do a book signing, hand out cards, or to go door-to-door.
Tessa decided to make posters with tear off tabs. We found out that to print nice ones would cost a few dollars each, so instead she drew her own and used our color printer to make them. Then she put 6 posters up around the neighborhood.
The result was about 45 people visiting the website, and two more books sold. We started tracking everything on the spreadsheet.
It was really fun for Tessa to see how putting up flyers attracted visitors to her website and every now and then someone purchased a book. One customer even wanted her to sign it! I can’t think of any better way to start off.
You can visit her website, https://tessapaulin.com, and maybe even buy a book. As of this date, Tessa has sold 9 books and that helped her pay $22 on her debt. She only has about $110 to go and then she will make a profit. Tessa has many ideas for what to do next. She is considering doing a collaboration with one of her friends to make more books and doing a book signing at her lemonade stand. She also has a Twitter account so she can announce new books she comes up with.
A book really was the perfect starting product for Tessa. I had written one several years ago and knew how to work with the tools. Thanks to Createspace and Amazon, she wouldn’t have to do any of the manufacturing or distribution. She could concentrate entirely on the product and marketing.
This probably isn’t the case with every child. I think it really depends on them and what they like. For instance, I’m thinking of trying to do 3D printing with my son and then possibly selling the resulting products through Shopify, Etsy or Zulily. The goal is the same, though, I want them to try so this never seems scary for them later.