‘By May I’d made over £1,000’: teen entrepreneurs defy the Covid slump

The pandemic has made life difficult for teenagers who want to earn some cash. Many of the weekend jobs in retail and hospitality they would traditionally have looked for have fallen by the wayside as new coronavirus measures restrict opening hours and customer numbers. Meanwhile, babysitting gigs are less frequent as parents have fewer opportunities to leave the house.

Saturday jobs were already on the wane, with teenagers increasingly prioritising their schoolwork over weekend employment. But those who want to work may face competition from older teenagers and adults for the casual jobs that are out there.

Rising to this challenge is a new generation of teen entrepreneurs who have set up their own businesses. We spoke to some to find out how the pandemic had spurred them to go it alone.

‘I spend money as if I don’t have a lot of it’


Laurence Moss says his business snowballed in lockdown.

Laurence Moss says his business snowballed in lockdown. Photograph: Laurence Moss

When 16-year-old Laurence Moss heard that his GCSEs had been cancelled as a result of the Covid crisis he decided to throw himself into the social media marketing business he began two years ago. After working several hours a day during lockdown, the Kent-based teenager is on target to hit £20,000 in revenue this year.

“I had so much time I thought it would be a shame not to,” he says. “Growing the business by winning new clients takes up the time, rather than maintaining it. In lockdown it snowballed and by May I hit over £1,000 for the first time and it almost doubled the next month.”

Moss’s business, Greedy Growth, grew out of a hobby he began when he was 13, curating content he found on Instagram. “I had pages about motorbikes, niche travel, cars, cats and dogs. I gathered viral content and pushed it on to the pages. It was purely for the fun of it,” he says.

While his peers were “playing Fortnite” Laurence found himself being approached by brands that wanted to buy sponsored posts to reach the 350,000 followers he had built up in his Instagram communities.

Rather than settling for earning the occasional £100 here and there, Laurence decided to launch his own company to offer Instagram-specific marketing services. He offers advice to firms that want to increase their reach on the platform.

At the age of 14 he launched Greedy Growth’s website and began earning a few hundred pounds a month, paid into his personal bank account. About a year later, at the end of 2019, he was earning £500 to £1,000 a month.

Now back at school studying A-level philosophy, maths, history and economics, Laurence hires freelancers via the gig economy platform Upwork and the jobs site Indeed to do the operational work while he focuses on securing new accounts.

He is honest with his clients about his age but has put measures in place to ensure he is viewed as credible.

The age at which you are allowed to be a company director is 16, so when he became old enough he made a change. “I’ve been operating as a sole trader but recently registered Greedy Growth as a limited company,” he says. “I have also recently managed to open a business bank account.”

The majority of his earnings are reinvested into the business, meaning he has not profited enough to pay tax. Although he may occasionally splash out on a pair of shoes, he says: “I spend money as if I don’t have a lot of it and I would never tell my friends the amount of money I’m making.”

‘I went on to YouTube and looked at making T-shirts at home


Sidney and Ozzy O’Neill turned their doodles into a T-shirt business.

Sidney and Ozzy O’Neill turned their doodles into a T-shirt business. Photograph: Sidney O’Neill

Brothers Sidney, 17, and Ozzy O’Neill, 15, from Brighton, began designing and making T-shirts when the work they had planned for over the summer dried up.

“I was supposed to have paid work experience but it fell through,” Sidney says. “It is a lot harder to get jobs these days, so it was definitely motivation to start something ourselves.”

After months of boredom during lockdown, the pair decided to turn their doodles into a business.

“I showed a design to a mate and he said: ‘That would look really good on a T-shirt’. I went on to YouTube and looked at making T-shirts at home and launching a T-shirt brand. It seemed really easy,” Sidney says.

In August the brothers launched Sapiens Clothing selling T-shirts printed with three designs they created on Adobe Photoshop. A monkey on a skateboard was the central brand concept.

Using £100 saved from birthdays, pocket money, babysitting and selling clothes, they bought 40 plain T-shirts for £80 and spent £20 on packaging, shipping stickers, heat-press paper and tags. Using their home printer, filled with ink by their parents, kept costs down.

Next they borrowed a heat press from a friend, set up Instagram and Facebook pages and an online Shopify website, charging £20 for each T-shirt and an additional £1.99 for first-class shipping. To create a buzz around the brand they offered giveaways and discounts on social media, working closely with local skaters.

The made-to-order stock sold out within a month, creating a profit of £500 from £620 of revenue. “Shopify is free for the first month, then it’s £30 a month, but we haven’t had to pay it yet because we sold out. The money goes straight into my bank account and then I move half to my brother’s account,” Sidney says.

The boys, who are now back at school doing A-levels and GCSEs, plan to invest £200 to buy a heat press and spend about £175 on more T-shirts.

“Now we have got a lot of schoolwork it is a really good way to passively earn money as it only takes 20-40 seconds to press a T-shirt and the post office is 30 seconds down the road.”

‘I set up a Facebook group and started selling toys in mid-August’


Olivia Bassett

Olivia Bassett sells her dog toys for between £2.50 and £8, plus shipping. Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian

Spotting a gap in the market, 17-year-old Olivia Bassett started selling affordable fleece toys for dogs in August. Since then she has made and sold more than 75 through her brand, Knot Normal, making more than £230 profit.

“I have been a dog trainer all my life,” says Olivia, who has four dogs of her own and is currently fostering two more. “We go to shows and I was always looking at the dog toys and the ridiculous prices. I thought there was no need for them to be so expensive, one toy can be £20.”

After competing at Crufts at the beginning of March, Olivia decided to try to make her own toys, researching the process on YouTube. “Fleece is really good because the toys don’t snap, they stretch,” she says. “The way I braid them, if the dog pulls on either end it becomes tighter.”

Olivia sourced fleece from her local market in Birmingham and soon found interest from other dog trainers. With one £5 metre of fleece she can make three long toys.

“I set up a Facebook group and started selling them in mid-August. I also started advertising on different pet Facebook groups and went to dog club events to sell directly.”

Olivia makes five varieties of toys ranging from £2.50 to £8, plus shipping, and accepts payments via PayPal or cash. The toys can be made to order, allowing clients to specify the colours.

“People typically ask for reds and blues or colours of football teams. One guy said the toy was not going to the dog, it was going in his West Bromwich Albion room,” she says.

Now in her second year of A-levels, studying biology, chemistry and psychology, Olivia is able to fit her business around her schoolwork. “I make the toys while watching TV, or even while I am having an online college lesson from home. They take between 10 and 45 minutes to make depending on the design.”

She hopes orders will grow in the run-up to Christmas, as she continues to save for driving lessons. “It’s been hard because of Covid. I haven’t got any work experience, which makes it harder to find a job, and anyway there aren’t any jobs going in my area.”

Rules for running a business as a minor


Girl using laptop

The minimum age to be a director of a limited company is 16. Photograph: Alamy

Under-18s have the same annual tax allowance and liabilities as adults. You can earn up to £12,500 in the current tax year and will pay tax on everything above that. The rate will depend on how much you earn – from 20% of the first taxable income to 45% if business booms.

You can set up and operate as a sole trader at any age and have to do so once you are earning £1,000 a year. You will need to inform HMRC and fill in a self-assessment tax return.

The minimum age to be a director of a limited company is 16. A limited company has tax advantages over being a sole trader, and it can be easier to borrow money, but there are also more responsibilities.

Applying for credit or finance is difficult if you are under 18. Credit cards and loans are not available. You may be able to apply for grants to help your business expand or have to turn to family to help.

Most business bank accounts require a company director or sole trader to be 18. However, the challenger bank Monzo accepts applications from age 16 upwards without a parent or guardian acting as guarantor.

The Guardian

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