My oldest daughter was eight when the business world came knocking at her door. She joined the Girl Scouts and we all know what that means: cookie sales. Then, two months after cookie season, she and a friend ran a bake sale to raise money for the local food bank.
In both cases, her mission as a somewhat shy, funny little second-grader was to sell delicious baked goods. But her method? Well, that was yet undetermined—and that was, in fact, her biggest challenge. She knew she wanted to sell and be successful. She just didn’t know how.
As a business exec who’s had the fortune of helping build several world-class brands and companies throughout my career, I could have stepped in and given her a formal business plan or step-by-step instructions on how to get her fledgling baked goods businesses off the ground—but not only would that have been way too advanced, it was unnecessary.
She didn’t need a business plan; she needed basic business skills. (Very basic). And I was quite happy to stand back, let my wife be the mentor and watch the situation all unfold.
I knew this selling experience was going to be a significant opportunity for my daughter to begin learning the important things I wanted her to know—lessons I want every young girl to know, really: that it’s okay to fail as long as you try your best and you get back up to try again. That basic business skills will help you succeed in life even if you don’t want to be a business person. That grit and a growth mindset are essential tools for success in life, no matter the path you choose.
We taught our daughter three skills during her first foray into the business world (mostly thanks to my wife) that I would love for every girl to learn, whether she goes on to become an entrepreneur or not. These are skills that will serve every child well on her journey.
Say “good morning” to get people’s attention.
Translation: Have a script to make conversations easier. This was my wife’s advice to my daughter as she stood at the end of our driveway, unsure of what to do while fumbling around with her boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas and Peanut Butter Patties. She was a little wary of talking to strangers—not necessarily a bad thing, but neither is it conducive to successful selling. Even when your product is cookies.
Shyness is common among elementary-age girls, so encouraging them to be bold enough to initiate conversation and prepare in advance what they want to say may be the first step in empowering them to get out of their shell and simply connect with others.
Look people in the eye when you talk to them.
Translation: Be confident. This is a tough one, right? Making eye contact with an adult can feel intimidating to a child. Notice where many kids look when they’re talking to you—at their feet, at their parents, off to the side, maybe at a friend next to them. That’s because making eye contact requires a certain amount of self-confidence, which is something many elementary-age girls lack. But sometimes you have to fake it till you make it. By instructing our daughter to look people in the eye when she talked to them, my wife knew this might feel unnatural at first, but it would help her grow in her ability to communicate confidently and effectively. And speaking from experience, my wife has perfected this skill. Trust me.
Make sure to tell people the money goes to charity. Even if they don’t buy, they might make a donation.
Translation: Know how to appeal to your customers. During her charity bake sale, my daughter wasn’t just selling cookies and brownies; she was selling an opportunity to do good. Positioning your product and appealing to your audience is not a skill that’s necessarily innate for a grade-school kid. But when it’s learned, it can help them not only become entrepreneurs, but also help them succeed in life by knowing how to convince people to buy what they are selling (be it a physical good or a something less tangible, like their point of view).
It also helps them recognize when others are doing the same to them. It’s about articulating your position and convincing others to do what you want them to do–an essential skill for becoming a savvy teenager: “Mom, you wouldn’t be just buying me a new car. You’d be buying your independence. I’d be getting a car, but you’d be getting your freedom from having to cart me around.”
It’s a skill that could work against you—just be aware! But if your child gets so good that they’re able to actually sell you, congrats! Your kid is poised for a successful career.
This experience of watching my daughter fumble around with baked goods, trying in earnest to sell her wares but not actually knowing how, was a big part of my inspiration behind The Startup Squad. She may not grow up to start her own business, launch anything beyond a bake sale or become a CEO.
But the experience of entrepreneurship–learning those basic business skills, knowing it’s okay to fail and learning the importance of grit and a growth mindset–will help her succeed in life no matter her passions.