How Running a Business Can Provide the Best (or Worst) Lessons for Our Kids

Every once in a while I am reminded that my kids are hearing, digesting, and filing away every single word I say.

At dinner a few weeks back, my 8-year-old son Nathaniel told me about his “Minipreneur” class, an after-school enrichment program where 3rd to 5th graders are taken through the step-by-step process of starting a business. This being the first day, the teacher had asked the kids to share and discuss businesses and business owners they know.

“Mommy, I told them all about you and Beastly Threads! I told them about why you chose your company’s name and how you want to save endangered species and block printing in India and how long it took you to find the right people to do it and how hard it is being eco-friendly cause it just makes things harder and how you don’t want to just have everything made by a factory in China even though it sure would be easier and how you thought you had a great first year until you calculated all the darn costs and…”

I listened with mouth agape. This kid had been listening to literally every word I said and was now reciting it all back to me. He remembered the tough vendor decisions I had made, the joy of my first sales, the incredible frustration that had accompanied disappointing production results, my goofy pride in a great Instagram post, and even the tears associated with the realization that I might need to start all over.

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It immediately became clear that starting and running a business in front of my children could be a very good or a very bad thing. If I did it right, my kids would have a fantastic example of how to build something from the ground up and successfully work with others to achieve a shared objective. But if I screwed it up, they would be witnesses to my failure and possibly even repeat my mistakes.

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Yikes!

For the parents out there who are considering going out on their own and taking a stab at running a small business and for those of you who have already made this big leap, we need to consider that the little ones are watching. Each step of the way, we need our actions and words to make them and ourselves proud. Developing a plan that encourages regular reflection is key. Without it, emotion, logistics, and brutal reality might rule the day.

To ensure that we will achieve our business and parenting goals, I recommend focusing upon and frequently revisiting the following four areas: goal-setting, communication, short-cuts, and priorities.

GOAL-SETTING

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My goal in creating Beastly Threads was to use fashion to make a difference and do so in an eco-friendly, ethical way. Yes, I wanted to make very pretty things that people would covet and buy over and over again. But to stop at pretty and coveted and money-making would, for me, be a failure. Good for the environment, good to people, and giving back were non-negotiables from the beginning. Drawing that line in the sand and sticking to it no matter how costly in terms of time and money has been worth it for me and for my kids. The commitment and the sacrifice are not lost on them. I think they understand that profiting without contributing is an old paradigm and being thoughtless about the environment and people’s lives is incompatible with our family’s values.

COMMUNICATION

There have been many bumps in the road for Beastly Threads. Calls have not been returned. Money has been spent on unsatisfactory work. Small delays have turned into big delays. How we choose to address such business disappointments with colleagues, vendors, and customers can have an incredible impact upon how our kids address disappointment with friends, teachers, siblings, and parents. When we react too quickly and emotionally, we are essentially telling our kids that it is ok to have a similar response on the soccer field, in the classroom, and at the kitchen table. When we take a deep breath, count to ten, and hold off from sending that frustrated email or making that angry call, we are showing (not just telling) our kids how to treat others with kindness and respect (no matter how pissed we are!)

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SHORT-CUTS

I have to admit that there have been several times when I have wanted to take a short-cut. I could almost taste how much easier it would make things.
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We use organic cotton for our scarves but do the gift bags really have to be organic too?
Maybe no one will notice that the thread should be rust instead of white?
It looks pretty good. That should be fine, right??

I’m not saying perfection is the goal and of course, compromises need to be made but taking unnecessary short-cuts will only lead to dissatisfied customers and unrealized goals. You will know, your fans will know, and yes, your kids will know. Just try asking them to put in a little extra effort with their book report or at swim practice… Why would they when they know you wouldn’t??

PRIORITIES

Starting and running a small business can easily push all other needs and responsibilities to the back burner. It is far too easy to treat one’s business like another child and refuse to step away to focus on what is most important. As we all know, this is the message kids hear the loudest. “I’m not as important as your next sale, your next product release, your next blog post.” If that message gets through too many times, they might actually start believing it. And that would really be a tragedy.

I think running a business and raising kids at the same time is a wonderful way to impart lessons about how to collaborate, the importance of hard work, and why giving back and making a good living go hand in hand. If we remember that our children are watching and listening, we just may become the business owners and parents that we always aimed to be!

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