Put Your Kids to Work

In elementary school, we typically had 2-3 fundraisers per year. The object was to sell as much product as possible in the course of 2-3 weeks with a portion of the proceeds going to the school to support field trips and new playground equipment. We’d sell odd things, like chocolate, popcorn or wrapping paper. My favorite fundraiser was for my floor hockey team or 4th & 5th graders. Once per year we’d sell boxes of M&Ms for 50¢. We’d each get a large cardboard box with 20 boxes of plain and 20 boxes of peanut M&Ms and marching orders to sell them to anybody who’d buy them to pay for our uniforms and travel expenses. When you sold your box, you’d hand in the money and get another box with the same orders. If you sold the most M&Ms, you’d win a prize like a radio or small black & white TV. I’d always envision how those things would look in my room and how I’d be the envy of all my friends.

Each night after school, I would take my cardboard box and head out into the neighborhood. I’d walk down the same sidewalks, knock on the same doors, and ask the same people if they’d like to buy M&Ms to help support North School’s floor hockey team (my school). On the third day, I realized that while I was successful on one side of the neighborhood, the other side of the neighborhood was buying almost nothing. I figured out that even though the neighborhood was split between two school districts, I kept using the same pitch. On the fourth day, I changed my pitch from mentioning the name of my school to just asking if they’d like to buy some M&Ms to support my school’s floor hockey team. They assumed since I was in their neighborhood that I was selling on behalf of their school. That day I almost doubled my sales.

I learned several things from selling M&Ms door to door that have helped me every day of my career. These things include:

  • Look people in the eye
  • Ask for what you want
  • Be direct
  • Smile
  • Be nice to everybody, because you never know when you’ll want their help
  • Rejection hurts, but it’s temporary
  • Responsibility for myself, my team, and my product

The lessons I learned from selling door-to-door as a kid were invaluable. So the next time your son or daughter comes home with a pamphlet in their hand and their eyes full of excitement and possibility, don’t just take the brochure to your office and sell on their behalf. Allow them to go out on their own. Let them feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. Let them feel that competitive spirit and the sense of pride that comes with being successful. Let them feel the sense of disappointment that comes with losing a sale or a contest. Let them feel the same gratification I felt as I plugged in my newly-earned television. It doesn’t matter if they ever sell professionally… what matters are the lessons they learn from that experience. Those lessons will build a foundation not only for a successful businessperson, but also for a successful person.