By John Hall
I had drinks the other day with a couple of friends who’d recently had kids. They wanted to know what encouraged my interest in the business world – and what prepared me for success within it. I started thinking about what impacted my entrepreneurial skills, knowingly or not. You don’t need to teach your kids complicated bookkeeping services, or how to code a website at the age of five. There are simple tips that will make a difference. Here are the conclusions I came to; each tip will strategically prepare your kids for a successful business career (without anyone being the wiser).
Cheese and Sausage: Teach Them How to Sell Early
Starting in the first grade, my school held fundraisers selling cheese and sausage. If you aren’t familiar with this concept, I am referring to the cheese-and-sausage gift packs that nobody really eats but gets by the truckload at Christmas time. My parents observed me while I went up to each door and tried to sell a product that I wouldn’t consider eating myself. They allowed me to do the work on my own, rather than rely upon them to pass it around at work to meet the minimum quota. The best way to teach your kid business isn’t to do the work by using your superior status at work to get people to buy your kids’ cookie dough. Most people hate to see you pimping out your work relationships to help your kid not truly earn something. I wasn’t worried about that because I had the overall goal in my head. I had a Schwinn on my mind. Motivation comes in all shapes and forms, but there aren’t many things more motivating than the idea of getting your first bike when you are a kid. If you can get your kid motivated to be successful in the cheese-and-sausage programs, then you can break down the fear of selling very early in life.
Golf and Rosetta Stone: Give Them Opportunities to Differentiate Themselves
What are the skills and experiences that will help your kid differentiate himself and stand out among others? If I could go back 20 years, I would probably put a golf club in my little hands. Being a good golfer can open up numerous opportunities, from networking with clients to always being handpicked to be on your boss’ team. Along with the golf club I handed to little John, I would include a Rosetta Stone Value Pack. Understanding a foreign language can open up doors all over. These are just two examples of ways that children can build a niche for themselves in business. The challenge is being strategic with how you introduce these skills in their everyday lives so they enjoy them. There is a major difference between the parent who makes his kid do sprints after everybody’s left practice, and one who can successfully implement sprinting in his kid’s life without burning him out. Make an effort to introduce these skills in fun ways and reward your kids when they accomplish something.
Packed-Lunch Business: Teach Them How to Negotiate
Everybody remembers the days of school lunch, where trading food was like the NYSE for grade school. I was fortunate to have the Berkshire Hathaway Class-A shares in my packed lunch. I always had some sort of treat that all the other kids wanted. After a couple of deals that ended with me taking another student’s money for an item, my parents got wind of my little “business.” The issue wasn’t so much that I was trading as it was my ripping off other students and leaving them with hardly anything. Reputation is everything in business, and if you learn at a young age to negotiate mutually beneficial deals, then it comes naturally to you later. Show your kids early how to look at both sides of an arrangement to understand the benefits and downsides for each participant. Chances are, not all kids will form their own packed-lunch businesses. However, when given the opportunity, make sure that they know that no matter how much it benefits them, lopsided deals usually aren’t the best option.
Create a Chameleon: Surround Your Kids with a Variety of Experiences and People
The business world isn’t made up of one type of person. On any given day, I deal with multiple cultures and personalities. If you keep your kids at the country club and at private schools their entire lives, they will probably only be exposed to a limited number of personalities and cultures. Being around a variety of people allows someone to become a chameleon and adjust his actions to ensure different people feel comfortable around him. If you try to control everybody your kids interact with, it’s likely to backfire on you. However, if you simply guide them to different activities, they will have opportunities to be exposed to different cultures.
Keep Your Warren Buffett Friends Around: Give Your Kids Mentors
Ask Warren Buffett how important Ben Graham was to the success of his company. Great mentors are an extremely important part of business, and you’re never too young to develop a solid relationship with a mentor. The friends you surround yourself with will have an impact on your kids. Provide them with good role models.
Your kid may or may not have the innate business sense of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. However, the skills that will make them successful in the corporate world are the same tools that will enable them to be successful elsewhere. Ensuring that your kid is successful is what every parent dreams of – and getting a billionaire in the bargain just sweetens the deal.