Things My Five Year Old Has Taught Me About Business
My daughter Bridget just started kindergarten. On that first day, I watched her march into her classroom, her backpack bouncing side-to-side with each step. I smiled, thinking that during the year Bridget will come home filled with stories and that backpack filled with glitter...and both will fill our house.
These are the days.
When you’re a parent running a business, there’s always something to learn, from everyone, even your kids. In the spirit of back-to-school season, here are some things that Bridget has taught me about business:
Be persistent. Kids rarely take no for an answer, even when they’re toddlers and you’re telling them that it’s not ok to play with the toilet brush. Their eyes are constantly on the prize, no matter how full of fecal matter that prize may be.
And when they get older, they begin to negotiate and they rarely accept your first offer. My dad took Bridget to a toy store recently and, being a doting grandfather, he offered to buy her a treat. She meandered around the store for about a year, touching every single item as if taking inventory. And then she finally held up a stuffed animal. “How about this one?” she said. He nodded and took a step toward the register. “And this…?” She pulled another stuffed animal from behind her back. Worth a shot, right?
"We can get that one the next time we come here," my dad said.
"But we're already here. If we get it now, we won't have to come back," Bridget replied, not budging. And that's how it became a double-toy day.
When you’re in business, you’re going to be told no a lot, but if you remain persistent (and know your audience), you will eventually get that yes.
Make friends. Have you ever noticed how two kids can meet for the first time on the playground and they’re fast friends? Friendliness comes naturally to them.
Bridget and I were on a flight and she kept leaning over saying, “Mommy, say hi to that lady next to you. She looks like a nice friend.” So I finally said hi to the nice lady. The nice lady grunted and kept reading her book. Ok, so you may not be able to win them all over (especially on an early-morning flight to New York with your loud child), but it helps to be friendly and open to meeting people.
I once knew a plumber who was so overworked that he had to turn down jobs. I asked him why he didn’t hire someone and he told me he didn’t trust anyone to do as good of a job as he did.
“My name is on the truck and it’s my butt on the line if anything goes wrong.”
“But what if you get hurt or sick and can’t work one day?” I asked.
“Not going to happen. I’m fine going it alone.”
If you close yourself off from people and don’t trust anyone, you won’t be in business for long. It pays to make friends.
Think outside the box. When Bridget and I were on that same flight, she looked out the window and said matter-of-factly, “Boy, I hope we don’t hit the sun.” How’s that for a unique perspective? Kids are creative thinkers, but reality tends to stifle creativity as we age.
So what if you brought some of that imagination into your marketing? A contractor I know decided to do just that by sending birthday cards to every boiler he installed. The message inside would go something like this, “Happy Birthday, Boiler! I’ll bet you’ve had a great year keeping the Smith Family warm and cozy. I’d love to stop by and see you soon for your annual maintenance check up.” The homeowners got a good laugh out of this and scheduled those appointments.
Take risks. Bridget learned to swim this summer. One day at the pool, my husband took her over to the diving board. She stood there for a few minutes, peering over the edge of the board into the deep water below. And then she jumped and swam...and jumped and swam for the rest of the afternoon. She later said to me, “It was really scary, but I did it. And then it was really fun.”
Before I started my first company, a marketing and design firm in the Washington, DC area, I was working a full-time job during the day and would do freelance work at night. When my freelance work built up, I took the leap and quit my full-time job. Most people were skeptical of my plans, but I forged ahead. I even convinced my old boss to be one of my clients.
And Bridget was right. It was really scary at first. But then it was really fun.
Have a backup plan. Bridget has been asking us for a pet and to test the waters, so to speak, we decided to get her a couple of goldfish. We made a nice home for them and were settling into domestic life as a family of five. On day two, however, Bridget went to school and both fish went to heaven. The thought of her coming home to an empty tank broke my heart, so I went to the pet shop and asked for three fish. It couldn’t hurt to have a spare, right? The salesperson scooped them out of the tank and asked if I’d like to sign up for their rewards program, figuring she’d see me again soon. Another customer on the hook.
In business, as in life, things aren’t always going to go the way you’ve envisioned them. It helps to stay informed and have several backup plans and a flexible mindset. Just don’t get a goldfish for the office unless you’ve joined the rewards program.
Learn every day. Did you know that the blue whale is the largest animal on Earth? I didn’t either. Bridget taught me that. She’s like a little sponge, absorbing information about the world around her.
I once saw a guy wearing a shirt that said, “I don’t need Google. My wife knows everything.” Good one, right? If his wife was there, Bridget probably would have asked her if she knew about the blue whale.
When you’re in business, you’re going to learn lessons whether you like it or not. In some ways it’s like kindergarten all over again, but with a lot less glitter.