The great thing about being a parent is that you made a human (or humans). In the olden days that human would be sent out to work at the age of seven, to bring in income for the family. And while I’m not advocating for encouraging your six-year-old to become a chimney sweep, I do think that many small business owners could benefit from employing their children in their business.

My son started early, licking stamps and stuffing envelopes. Now he’s my full-time social media marketing manager. Here’s how we got there and what we learned.

At age 12, my son already had a keen interest in videos (he’s from the TikTok generation), so I started off teaching him how to use my video editing software and asking him to edit some testimonial videos for my business.

He did an excellent job, improving on my efforts and learning new tips and tricks I hadn’t known existed (thanks to YouTube); and he was fast, so fast. I’m not sure if this was down to less overthinking or if modern children are just built better.

I shared a few of his videos with my customers and a few offered to give him some work. He then went on to make several videos for other people, which he enjoyed. He even scored a regular social media job for an Aboriginal Education company, Koori Curriculum (thanks Shannon and Jess).

But he didn’t like the budget-quoting bit, the back and forth and the amends. (Welcome to freelance life, buddy!) He also didn’t want to go to the effort of building a website and all that jazz, which is totally understandable.

Setting my son up as an employee

Kate’s son years before he turned 13 and started working for his mum as an employee.

So, after he’d shown this wasn’t a passing fad, I decided to take him “in-house” as a proper worker in my business. At first, he just did bits and bobs, and I gave him extra pocket money. But then I decided to make him a full-blown employee.

Why? Well, because he was racking up more hours, and it was becoming a legitimate business expense that I could claim. Also, I saw it as a way to give him a better understanding of money.

We took the following steps to get him set up:

  1. We went to the bank and got him an online bank account (he can’t use his card for online purchases until he’s 14 but was able to set up an everyday and savings account).
  2. I set him up with a tax file number (for the non-Australians, this is how we register with the Australian Taxation Office to pay tax).
  3. I helped him implement a simple Profit First-style money split: 50% into long-term savings (for car and university), 25% into short-term savings (he puts some of this into a Raiz account, which I set up for him) and 25% spending money.
  4. We agreed on a set number of hours he has to commit to; he wanted to do eight, but I thought it was unrealistic, so we settled on five. So far, that’s worked out just right.

As a salaried casual employee, he gets paid twice a month upfront, so he must learn to put away the money and budget for things he wants. He also has to keep track of his hours in a time sheet so he doesn’t go wildly over or under—if he does, we balance the time in the following month.

With the videos, the social media and work from me—as well as some money from his grandparents—he was able to save up enough for a computer in about a year. He built it with my partner over a long weekend and the result is kind of amazing. He also managed to save more to buy a new desk and chair and even fancy bedding. His bedroom is now a state-of-the-art gamer’s paradise and much the envy of his friends—and, better still, he has the LED glow of knowing that he paid for every little bit of it.

The positives of hiring my son

I have found so many good things in employing my son in the business:

1. Financial literacy

My son has better financial literacy at 13 than I had in my late 30s. He has the ability to split out his money and know exactly what is his, an understanding of long and short-term savings, and a grasp of the differences between investing in shares and in a traditional savings account.

2. Confidence

My son is confident talking to other members of my team: He filled out his tax file number declaration form online via Zoom with my bookkeeper, my digital manager Kat takes him through his social media jobs and he interacts with everyone via our Slack channel. He’s also happy to go to the post office and chat to staff, which is a biggie for a teen boy.

3. Communication

Although still occasionally a monosyllabic teen, my son has learned the art of writing a short, polite email, of explaining his processes and of articulating anything he’s struggling with in a clear way.

4. Ease

On my side of things, I know I’m providing my son with great life lessons, but I don’t have to drive him to and from a job (saving me a lot of time); this also gives me huge peace of mind given I’m a bit of a helicopter parent.

5. Quality time

You might not think sitting together addressing envelopes or working out why our social media tool isn’t connecting properly is quality time, but it most definitely is. We’re working together on a common goal, working out issues, arguing sometimes and having a giggle.

6. Reduced workload

My son working five hours a week is now five hours I don’t have to work myself. Obviously, at first it wasn’t a huge time saving—I could have done it quicker myself and I was investing time in helping him through things. But now he’s up to speed and much faster than I am. My post (I send a lot of parcels) was always last on my list, and physically having to go to the post office felt like a huge drain in my day. So, as well as it being a great bonding experience, it genuinely helps me day to day.

The challenges of hiring my son

Of course, not everything is smooth sailing, and there have been challenges along the way:

1. It’s a bit of a faff

Him doing the odd job and me giving him pocket money was, of course, easier than setting him up as a casual employee. We had to organise tax, WorkCover, time sheets and payroll. It took some time for us to get all our paperwork ducks in a row and I needed the help of my bookkeeper to do it all properly, which was a cost to my business.

2. We don’t always agree

Obviously, at 13 my son knows everything about everything and often questions why I’m telling him to do things a certain way. This can be challenging when you just want to get things done, and even more challenging when you realise he’s right and has far better ideas than you.

3. I sometimes have to nag

While my son is mature—possibly because he’s an only child—he is still a teenager and, while he talks a big talk about wanting to work five hours a week, in reality, when the work needs doing, he’d much prefer to be out with his friends or gaming. I do sometimes have to remind him to get it done, which causes friction when he’d rather lie on his bed, but generally we work it out.

4. It’s too easy

Having been brought up with a “you won’t have it handed to you on a plate” mentality, I do sometimes feel I’ve made it a tad too easy for my son. He hasn’t had to apply for a job, work with odd people or deal with a difficult boss. (Okay, scratch that last one—I’m a super difficult boss.) And perhaps he’ll have a rude awakening when he goes out into the “real world”. Or possibly not; even working in my small team he’s learning how to be diplomatic, communicate and meet other people’s expectations. I guess we’ll see in a few years’ time.

5. It’s not social

Other parents have questioned my plans because of the lack of social interaction and the fact that the work is majority screen-based. My belief is that my son gets plenty of social interaction at school, and plenty of exercise both there and in our gym visits. As far as the screen is concerned, I don’t see working in a shop or café as any more wholesome than working in front of a computer.

Edited extract from Six Figures in School Hours (Major Street Publishing) by Kate Toon.

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