Every once in a while, I have the serendipitous pleasure of encountering someone who impresses me on every level. Meeting sixteen year old Sydney Sauer was one of those instances for me. She happened upon my blog, Personal Finance for Teens: The Ultimate Guide, and reached out, requesting to be a contributor. Her determination coupled with her writing talent position her for greatness. This may be the first time you have heard of Sydney, but I guarantee it will not be the last.
The typical reaction I get from adults when I tell them about my job is laughter.
I’m sixteen years old, making money writing about career advice for hair stylists, the best local gems in Los Angeles, and the history of marijuana. To an adult who didn’t grow up with Internet, this seems utterly crazy and downright illegitimate.
But thanks to the Internet, there are thousands, if not millions, of teens all over the world who do professional-level work online and receive a professional-level paycheck.
If your teen has brought up the possibility of working online, it’s important that you fully understand the teen freelancing option. Before you give the go-ahead to launch their online career, here are five of the most important things you need to know.
1. There are legitimate teen freelancing opportunities.
Working online requires a certain amount of giving up your privacy. Just like any job, you need to provide your personal information, sometimes including your bank account or Social Security number. Lots of parents are rightfully worried that these “companies” will take advantage of naïve teens and steal their information.
While this is certainly a valid concern, the good news is that there are plenty of legitimate teen freelancing opportunities out there. Whether your teen wants to be a writer, photographer, graphic designer, or crafter, there are well-founded websites where they can make real money. No scams involved.
Of course, you’ll need to do some research. I’ve found that the best way to check on a site’s credibility is through social media—look on Facebook or LinkedIn and verify that the company has a professional presence. A business with thousands of likes and reviews is a safe, legitimate place to work.
Another way to check credibility is by searching “working for [company name]”. Often times, you’ll be able to read personal blog posts about working for the company, or a Glassdoor review of the company’s business practices.
2. Teen freelancing pays well, in more than money.
In my first month of working part-time as a writer, I earned just as much money as a whole summer’s worth of minimum wage work. Needless to say, I was relieved. But this job pays well in so many more ways.
No matter what talent your teen is looking to profit from, they will learn how to act as an adult in the business world. They will learn how to manage deadlines, deal with difficult customers, persuade people to give them a chance, and keep their own financial records.
This is a big deal! Not only do these qualities carry over to employment later in life, but they also give you a huge leg up in the college admissions process. Colleges love to admit kids that take initiative, practice financial responsibility, and demonstrate professional skills. Teen freelancing checks all of those crucial boxes.
3. Yes, your teen is good enough.
I mentioned earlier that the primary reaction to my freelance job is laughter. The second most common reaction is skepticism—“People really pay…you?”
(I greatly prefer the first response.)
The truth is that companies want work from all levels. Some employers want name-brand, expert work and are willing to pay big bucks for it. That’s not really a market where teens can thrive. But the vast majority of companies, particularly small and local businesses, don’t care who does the work. As long as your teen’s work and behavior are both professional, they will sell their work to someone. Their customers might not be Fortune 500 companies (yet), but they can count on breaking into the small business market.
4. You can’t force your teen to freelance.
If your teen has never considered the idea of teen freelancing and you think it might be a good fit, let them know. Many kids will get excited about the idea of getting paid for their passion and go do more research.
Some teens, on the other hand, won’t be too thrilled about the idea. If you mention the idea once or twice but they never seem to follow up, it’s time to let it go. Unlike a traditional teenage job, freelancing requires a great deal of personal commitment, enthusiasm, and dedication. Teens who don’t take the initiative to dig into the idea initially won’t be able to stick around for the long haul and put in the long hours that it takes to build a profitable business.
No matter how badly you want them to become a successful freelancer, they are the ones who will be doing the work. And if their heart’s not in it, the product will never be successful.
5. Your ambitious teen still needs support.
If your teen has taken the freelance idea and run with it (or, potentially, is still in the process of begging you for permission), it may seem like they have it all figured out. But in reality, even the most ambitious teens need someone to support them.
Support comes in many levels. For some teens, the best thing you can do is respect their privacy while they are working; I put a sign on my door when I’m “in the zone” and my family knows not to come in. Others will want a little more help. They may reach out to you to provide financial advice, proofread their op ed, or beta test their software.
Above all else, be excited for your teen. When they feel like their work is appreciated by those closest to them, it’s a powerful motivation to keep doing great things.
Before you leave, let’s try something.
Close your eyes and take a moment to remember what life was like when you were a teenager. Think about your first job, card catalogues, video stores, and mix tapes.
When you open your eyes, take a look at whatever device you’re reading this article on. Maybe it’s a phone, a computer or a tablet. Look at the people around you and notice their smartphones, Bluetooth headsets, and Apple watches.
The world has changed a lot since you were a teen, right?
Now you’re officially ready to see the world through a lens that will help you encourage, support, and allow your teen to take hold of their financial future and try something new. Congratulations!
Sydney Sauer is a part-time freelance writer and a full-time high school student. She’s about to launch her new blog Adult(ish) that gives practical career advice to teens and answers parents’ burning questions about what their teens are up to. Sign up here to be notified when it goes live—you won’t want to miss out!
Would you like the Business for Teens blog delivered directly to your inbox? Complete the simple form for Business for Teens content, special offers, and exclusive tools.