Getting Started

7 big startup lessons from a 13-year-old business owner

- August 26, 2022 5 MIN READ

When digital marketing expert Kate Toon‘s son wanted a new computer, she suggested he start a video editing business to fund it. And boy, did he learn some fast startup lessons even old-hands can benefit from.

My son needs a new computer. And the kind he wants – with see through sides and colourful internal bits – doesn’t come cheap (I actually gasped when he told me the price).

I told him that his dad and I would chip in, but that if he really wanted it, he’d have to earn the cash.

He’d have to get a <shudders> job.

We debated dog walking – too risky.


McDonalds – too young.

Lawn mowing – too difficult.

And then we realised it was obvious.

He’d helped me with a little video editing before, why not offer that out to more people?


And so, my son’s video business was born.

It’s been illuminating watching him work through the early steps of set up, dealing with clients, managing money and motivating himself to get the work done.

And many of the startup lessons he’s already learned for sure apply to any small business owner, so I thought I’d share.

Lesson 1: You don’t need much to get started

While some will tell you, you need to have a polished brand, a schmick website and a sticky funnel to start your business, you really don’t.

Truth is, your first customers will likely be friends, family and colleagues.

We only did the following:

  1. Installed Camtasia to edit videos
  2. Set up a Google briefing form
  3. Created a Google drive folder for assets and finished work
  4. Popped some posts on Facebook

Now my son is, of course, lucky enough to be the offspring of a rather successful Digital Marketing Coach, so finding him his first clients wasn’t too tricky. But the truth is, many of us are afraid to announce that we’ve started a business and ‘put it out there’ – and it really is the first step.

I’m so grateful to the friends and business colleagues who offered him work too. Lovely humans!

Lesson 2: Pricing is tough

My son is savvy. He was Googling minimum wage when he was nine to ensure he got paid fairly for washing the car (he does household chores for nothing of course, just the privilege of being in our family 🙂), but pricing his services was difficult.

We took in account minimum wage and added a bit, and ended up with a $25 per hour rate.

But as we all know, hourly rates are rarely helpful, unless you know exactly how long something is going to take.

We estimated an hour per video, but it wasn’t accurate at all as it didn’t take into account:

  • Briefing
  • Amends
  • More amends
  • Admin
  • Invoicing

Also, all jobs are not created equally, a 60-second video with simple end-frames is far trickier than a video with dozens of transitions. He learned the hard way on this second job, spending hours on it.

And quickly decided to put up his prices.

Lesson 3: We all have mindset barriers

So at 13, my son has that painful teen confidence that we lose as we go grey. He’s good at EVERYTHING. And also knows EVERYTHING.

But his first thought when I suggested upping his rate was, “well I’m only a kid”.

And we all have a “well I’m only…” statement embedded in our head somewhere.

Or an “I’m not the kind of person who…” statement.

Or a “who even am I?” question.

I had to explain that the price of his work had nothing really to do with age, or even experience, but rather with the quality of the work and the value it has to the client.

A lesson for us all, right?

Lesson 4: Processes matter

As a process queen, I am a little ashamed about this one.

We started rashly, our first job came through on email and we:

  1. Started without giving a quote
  2. Didn’t get a clear brief
  3. Worked for hours on the video without consulting the client

The result: it wasn’t what the person wanted, they weren’t willing to go through the amends process and they didn’t pay!

This was a real slap in the boob for me personally, and a shock for my son. But a great lesson to learn.

Now we have:

  1. A clear briefing form that sets pricing and timing expectations
  2. A work-in-progress tracker with details of all jobs and where they are up to
  3. A folder structure for all our bits and bobs
  4. Standard email templates to cover off quoting, amends, invoicing

While often we get excited about projects – we must never abandon our processes. That way, disaster lies.

Lesson 5: Admin sucks

While my son loves the video editing part, the admin, the back and forth isn’t so much fun.

There are also fiddly forms to fill in (like tax file numbers) and invoices to send.

One of the most important startup lessons is that as business owners and freelancers, admin, selling and managing clients is often 50 per cent of the work.

Lesson 6: Investment is hard

Obviously as a webby human, my first instinct is to ensure my son builds a website. Not necessarily to lure lots of traffic via SEO (although I might be able to help there 🙂), but as a place to show his services, prices, samples and testimonials.

While he’s only just starting, I’m a big believer in setting up for success; who knows where this could take him, right? Hopefully to buying me a house with a pool when he’s 17…

But when I told him the rough price of registering a domain (around $20), he wasn’t keen. He just saw that as money off his savings for the computer.

And he also wants to upgrade to Adobe After Effects but is holding off on that too.

It’s hard when starting out to spend when you’re earning so little, but you also need to be realistic that you have to spend to grow. Hopefully, when he has a few more jobs under his belt and feels confident about future work, he’ll be willing to take the plunge.

Lesson 7: Time management is tough

Obviously, with only a few hours after school and on weekends, there’s only so much work my son can get done. So setting client, and his own, expectations is important.

I’m impressing on him the need to stay in contact with clients; if he misses a deadline or things go wrong, don’t hide!

And remember one of the biggest startup lessons: if a client has to chase you, you’ve officially lost the project management game.

Overall, it’s been a great experience

Lots of squabbles, as I try to explain to my son that I’ve been running a business longer than he’s been alive, so my advice is kinda worth something.

But also so much pride when he sends the completed video and his client is happy.

I too, am positively glowing with pride at his work ethic, his keenness to do the right thing, he attention to detail and his general get-off-his-bottom-and-do-his-own-thingness.

In my years as a business coach (of sorts), I genuinely think that it’s not the most talented people who succeed, or the most passionate. It’s the ones who are able to turn up, day after day, and do the do.

And if a teenager can do that, you can too.


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How to tackle the dreaded parental guilt in your small business