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3 Lessons from the Lemonade Stand

Children at lemonade stand. Photo by Bsivad on FlickrWhen I was 8 years old, I asked my mom if I could have my very own lemonade stand in front of our house on Sherwood Drive in rural Brockport, NY. She smiled and told me to go for it, but that our location was less than ideal. You see, we lived in a neighborhood that was off the beaten path and we were way in the back of the neighborhood. The only cars that passed by belonged to people who lived nearby and we likely averaged a dozen or so dog walkers during a span of 24 hours. So Mom knew my chances of making a profit from my lemonade stand were pretty dismal.

One summer afternoon I made lemonade (from concentrate), made a sign, set up my table and sat patiently at edge of our yard for people to pass by so I could sell them my lemonade. Now this was years ago, but from what I can recall, I think about two cups of lemonade were purchased that day, one being purchased from my Mom.

Many can relate to the story of my failed lemonade business. It truly is for most our earliest form of entrepreneurship. And to this day, when I see a child with a lemonade stand, I hope he or she doesn't lose their drive to start their own business and to contribute to our economy. There are some great lessons we can gain from these young entrepreneurs with lemonade stands. I hope the following will be good reminders and motivators to entrepreneurs everywhere:

Lesson One: Make a great first impression, professional presentation is key.

Lemonade Stand Story:
My husband and I were walking around our neighborhood and we saw the cutest sister and brother duo with their mom on the corner of Wilson Avenue and one of the fancy side streets that dead-ends with most of the homes hugging the Chicago River (aka you have to be rich to live there). The cute kids sitting at a table was what first caught my eye, but then I saw a nice white table cloth and their sign that perhaps Mom had helped to create. It read “Fresh Squeezed Lemonade”. I mean… who could resist? So of course we stopped and bought a cup. And on the way back we stopped again… because they asked us again if we wanted lemonade—forgetting they had already served us. Aren’t they adorable!

Questions to ask yourself:
What truly attracts your customer to your business or product? Is your branding professional, attractive and unique? Is your messaging making a good first impression?

Lesson Two: Connect your business to a greater good or civic responsibility.

Lemonade Stand Story:
One afternoon last summer, I was riding my bike on a popular Northshore bike path and there was a child and his father with a lemonade stand at one of the sharp corners in the path. It was a great location because us bikers had to slow down or risk crashing. I didn’t stop, but as I rode by they yelled out that a percentage of the profits went to charity. I was shocked. Thinking back to when I took a leap into my lemonade career, I never even thought about being civically responsible. But here was a father and son who had. And it likely increased their sales and hopefully helped a charity as well.

Questions to ask yourself:
Is there a way to contribute to your community or to a greater cause through your business or product? Will adding a component of civic engagement increase your revenue flow or customer base?

Lesson Three: When opportunity comes a knocking… answer!

Lemonade Stand Story:
Back in May, Northwestern celebrated its annual Northwestern-University-students-go-crazy-and-party-day better know as Dillo Day. I didn’t specifically witness this, but a colleague of mine was monitoring the streets and student social fun in the Evanston neighborhoods. She shared with me later that there was a family selling cookies and lemonade to all the students who were thirsty and hopefully hungry too. My first reaction was "smart, very smart". If the students are going to be out and about and looking for food and drink, why not be the provider and make the most of a normally disruptive and loud day in the neighborhood.

Questions to ask yourself:
Are their golden opportunities for you to sell your product, meet your customers, advance your reach? And even better, is there one day a year when you can hit many your customers in one location and increase your revenue stream—resulting in the ability to feel more secure other times of the year when things are slow?

Inspiration for starting a business and developing your plan are all around you. The next time you run into a lemonade stand, look for another lesson to learn from a very young entrepreneur. Or if you had an experience like me as a child, harness that motivation you had to start a lemonade stand and apply it to your more recent startup efforts.

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