20 Small Businesses A Teenager Can Start And Earn More Than A JOB

This summer our 9 year old nephew has become really interested in money.  I’ve got him mowing lawns at our rental houses and he has become quite good at it. We’ve been brainstorming a lot about different jobs he can do now, and when he is a teenager with the ability to drive.  Because our child labor laws in this country are ridiculous starting a small business or a side hustle is the best option for teenagers to make money.

Why Should Your Teenager Start A Small Business?

I love the idea of kids and teenagers having their own small business. I love that they can contribute to a Roth IRA and the compounding with a 50 year time frame gets crazy.  What I love even more than that though is that they learn through the process that running your own business is a normal way to make money.  Here’s some of the many reasons why your teenager should start a small business.

  • Employers don’t want teenagers.  If under 14 there are extreme limitations for employers to hire, another set for under 16, and another set for under 18.  These limitations include break requirements, ridiculously low total hours, and restrictions on equipment they can use.  Most employers also specifically don’t offer retirement account participation to employees under 18.
  • Earned income will allow them to contribute to a Roth IRA: Most likely your teenager will have either no income taxes owed or a very small amount of income taxes owed. This is perfect for opening a Roth IRA.  They don’t need the tax deduction now, and will receive several decades of tax free growth.  $1,000 invested at 15 with 10% yearly growth will be $145,000 at 65! And that money since it is in a Roth will be tax free.
  • Social Security Earnings: Their earnings from a small business will force them to pay Social Security taxes. As a self employed individual they will be required to pay 15.2% on their earnings into the self employment tax.  This will allow them to earn up to 4 credits per year towards the required 40 for full coverage of Social Security benefits.
  • Thinking Like A Millionaire: Starting a small business will show them that it doesn’t take a lot of money or talent to start a small business. It will get their mindset away from hourly pay rates and corporate benefits to scaling a business and calculating profit.

Starting a side hustle is important for teens and adults alike.  The best way to keep motivated while doing it is to have a solid WHY.  This might start off as saving up to buy a car, but what then? Funding a Roth IRA? Paying for college? The Down payment on a house?  Setting long term goals for side hustles and small businesses is extremely important, especially for kids and teenagers.  Personally for me, I run our side hustles to build generational wealth and to change the economic possibilities for my children and grandchildren. That’s the why that keeps me motivated.

20 Small Businesses A Teenager Can Start:

Lawn Mowing: The tried and true business of mowing lawns never goes away.  At $25 per lawn and each lawn taking less than an hour to mow and travel to the next one leads to a $20+ profit per hour of work.  $20 an hour and the ability to make your own schedule isn’t a bad deal.  Getting 20 lawn accounts equals $400 a week. The people who don’t want to mow their own lawn are also good business leads for people who don’t want to shovel their own driveways. It is possible to earn more money than this by concentrating on getting lawns in the same neighborhoods to minimize travel time and increasing mowing efficiency.  There are 1 person lawn care companies that earn over $1,000 a week.

Trash Clean Up at Businesses: Years ago I read about a guy who offered to pick up trash in the parking lots of a large business.  It would increase their curb appeal and allow their employees to focus on their core competencies.  A flat fee of $20 per business per Saturday morning led to him ultimately earning 6 figures with a business he started with a roll of trash bags and a grabber stick. Check out the website he made at cleanlots.com You can make some really good money and improve your community at the same time.

eBay Flipping:  We do eBay flipping with toys.  Buying stuff at yard sales and thrift stores and reselling on eBay can be a great side hustle for a kid. This can turn into a full time job with scale.  At our peak we made around $250 per month doing this, but we only sourced from thrift stores.  Adding in garage sales would give a much bigger inventory and the ability to scale to north of $500 a month.

Tutoring:  Are you pretty good at any given school subject?  You don’t have to be an expert to be a tutor.  You need the heart of a teacher and marginally more knowledge than the person you are helping.  Parents are willing to pay big bucks for tutors to help their kids do a little bit better in school. 1 on 1 attention is something the kids don’t get at school and that parents often don’t have the time, the skills, or the patience for.  Beyond tutoring for a specific subject becoming a test prep “expert” by preparing kids HOW to think for the tests for SATs and ACTs can be extremely lucrative and can continue into adulthood.

Car Maintenance: An oil change takes about 15 minutes.  The supplies cost around $30 and shops often charge over $60.  Doing 2 oil changes an hour for $50 all supplies included (typically each client will have 2 to 4 cars), will result in a profit of $40 per hour.

Candy Shop: A little girl in my state set up a candy shop in her yard from a converted old camper.  Be creative! This of course will only work in a densely populated area with high foot traffic.

Web Developer: This is much easier than you are thinking.  Most anyone can learn how to build a simple website.  I built my first website when I was 13.  Now, 20+ years later websites are easier to build than ever with programs like Wix.com.  The opportunity here is that many small businesses are ran by experts in their field and not by web developers.  Develop a business template that describes WHO the business is, what they do, and how to contact them.  It doesn’t need to be elaborate and can be a single page.  Contact business owners who don’t have a website, show them examples of your work and charge $250 for it.  It costs you 2 hours of your time and you get paid! It’s well worth it to them.  Often just 1 or 2 new clients will allow them to recoup the cost of the website.  Then repeat.

Sell Cold Water / Gatorade: You know what sucks? Being HOT.  I see people all the time going to beaches and events unprepared for the scorching heat.  Having a large cooler in a truck and a cooler on wheels allows you to sell ice cold water all day on a beach. Selling water bottle for $1 each that you paid 10 cents each for is a high margin money maker.  Sell 100 bottles make $90. You could then add in hats you buy at thrift stores and cooling towels to your inventory as you grow.

3D Printing: Using a $450 3D printer I made a profit of over $800 per month 3D printing ear savers.  I spent roughly 1 hour per day on this, plus a few minutes every hour to reset the machine.  At 30 hours of work for the month I was earning $26 per hour.  There are other products with higher margins and higher demand that could be designed leading to much higher earnings.

Selling Popcorn: I’m so beyond frustrated with the Boy Scouts that I think its time to steal their gig.  Making popcorn is really inexpensive and the packaging for it is inexpensive as well.  Going door to door scouts typically sell $200 of product an hour.

A 50 pound bag of unpopped popcorn costs $25.  We bought a small commercial popcorn popper for $20 at a garage sale, you can get a really nice new commercial popcorn popper for under $250.  Trails end sells a 7oz bag for $15.  If we sell a 16oz bag for $10 and sell the same number of units as Boy Scouts instead of $200 per hour we would be selling $130 per hour.

A 50# bag will make 800 ounces.  This would be 50 16 oz bags putting the popcorn cost at 50 cents.  Add in another 50 cents for packaging, butter, and salt.  We are at $1 per bag.  This gives a 90% margin on a $10 bag.  At $130 of sales per hour our gross profit would be $117. 2 hours of popping and packaging followed by 6 hours of selling would equate to a total profit of $702 across 8 hours. You’ll need a good story like saving up money for college, similar to how Boy Scouts uses the idea of “funding adventures” to justify the sky high prices. Say I’m half wrong and you can only sell a non- trails end bag of popcorn for $5 each.  Selling 13 packs still results in gross sales of $65 per hour and a profit of $58.50.

Power Washing: Power washing makes a world of difference in how a deck, sidewalk, driveway, or house appears.  You can buy a decent pressure washer for a few hundred bucks and it will pay for itself the first weekend you use it.  In addition to advertising on Facebook and Craigslist, walk down a street pushing your machine and knock on doors of anyone with a weathered deck or grungy siding.  Show pictures of your completed work.  You can get a really nice pressure washer for only $300.  Don’t have $300 to get started? Rent one from a tool rental company for the first weekend for around $75.  Use the profit from the first set of jobs that weekend to buy your own machine.

Curb Address Painting: All this takes is a set of $20 stencils, and a couple $5 cans of spray paint to get started.  Go door to door in neighborhoods that have curbs.  Let them know the importance of easily identifying the house for visitor and emergency services.  Leave business cards with a link to website.  For $10 spray paint their numbers on the curb and for $5 extra add in a decorative logo of their choice.  Buy a bunch of stencils with popular items such as local sports emblems. Paint the section of curb bright white, then stencil the numbers over it with black.  Repeat.

Bird dogging housing leads:  Drive around and find ugly houses and abandoned houses.  Do the research on them to find who owns them. Compile recent pictures of the property, an overview map of its location, the tax information, current tax status, how much the current owner paid for the house and/or has a mortgage for, and any other pertinent information.    Look up property investors in the same neighborhood.  Introduce yourself and give them 1 free lead, then sell them additional leads at $100+ a piece.  This is one step below wholesaling and is a great way to enter the real estate market.  Once you get a few good leads to clients they will come back for more.  Make sure they understand if they don’t buy your leads, one of their competitors will.

As time goes on and you build up your wealth at 18 you could start wholesaling, by negotiating a purchase from the seller, getting the contract, then selling the house the same day as your scheduled closing to a buyer for a markup.  You have to wait to be 18 because under 18 year olds can not enter a legally binding contract.  Alternatively, a parent could be enlisted to serve as the contract holder on the sale, with the teenager still providing the funding and doing all the work. As an example, Get a house under contract for $15,000 and using the investor relationships you have already developed bird dogging, offer to sell the house to them for $25,000.  You took on more risk, but instead of making $100 are now making $10,000.

Create Art: Some kids have phenomenal artistic talent.  Find a way to focus this talent into a small business enterprise.  Make a website, sell direct on it and through FB, craigslist, eBay, and etsy.

Food Trailer: I love the food trailer business. You can get started with a few grand into a used trailer and sell elephant ears and pop at the fair for sky high prices.  Going from fair to fair can result in making a huge amount of money only working in the summer.  Having a product that can be made quickly with high margins is imperative.  In the off season food trailers can scout out large employer parking lots at lunch time and make a killing working less than half the day. An elephant ear trailer during the fair season can turn into a hot dog and burger stand with minimal changes during the off season.

Junk Removal: People need crap gone and often don’t have room for it.  A typical truckload costs $40 to drop off at the dump.  If you charge $100 a truckload to remove junk you make $60.  For this one you need a beater truck, an appliance dolly, a ramp, and tie down straps.  Repeat. You can also reduce your costs and increase your income by selecting items from the junk piles that may still have some value and selling them.  Rather than an old dresser going into the dump and costing $10 to dispose of, add an hour of your time and $10 of paint to it and sell it for $50. Any metal items can be recycled and most wood items can be burned, further reducing your disposal fees.

Couch Flipping: Couches are heavy and difficult to move.  Having a truck is necessary for this side hustle.  Buy low priced sectional couches for $100 to $200 on craigslist / FB marketplace.  Take it home and spend an hour detail cleaning it.  Then Sell for $400 with free delivery.  Flipping 1 couch a day at $200 profit could be $1,000 a week. You will need to employ a helper for this.

Pop Can Returns:  In Michigan we have a 10 cent deposit on pop and beer cans.  It can be a pain in the butt to return the cans.  Sometimes the machines are down, and sometimes lines are long.  It can be a sticky process and takes up a decent chunk of time.  During the peak of the Corona Virus our Governor shut down pop can returns for 90 days, which led to people having huge stock piles.  Then when it became legal to return our cans strict limits were put in place to how many you could return at once.  One of my friends put up listings to buy pop cans for 5 cents a can from people and would pick them up or accept drop offs 24/7.  It’s possible to physically return the maximum of $25 of cans in about 10 minutes.  IF you have a system of bouncing between stores and an infinite supply of cans,  then one could make $75 an hour!

Fence Painting: Paint is cheap and painting wood fences is often a neglected job of home owners.  Buying a couple cans of exterior barn and fence paint and going door to door looking for houses with a fence that needs refreshing could be a great way to start a small business.

Video Game Assets: I played the game Animal Crossing for several months, and I found it really interesting when I discovered that people were selling Animal Crossing currency and items on eBay.  For someone willing to learn how to make a fortune in the game, the opportunity exists to turn this into real money.  Event though Animal crossing growth has slowed, there are still over 25 transactions per day on eBay of people selling in game currency.  The deal is made on eBay and the seller visits the buyers island in the game and drops off the supplies.  Rare items are also sold on eBay.

The only limit to your kids and teenagers starting a business is their imagination, and perhaps a little parental guidance.  I highly recommend the book Kid Start-Up: How YOU Can Become an Entrepreneur to get started.




John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John is the author of the book For My Children's Children: A Practical Guide For Building Generational Wealth.

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