Four important business lessons I learned running a lemonade stand as a girl

I was six years old whenI discovered how lucrative a lemonade stand could be.

I wore my best Sunday dress to make a good impression – it was the periwinkle blue one that I was so fond of. Sitting, I would bat my baby bunny eyelashes and adjust my bright yellow hairband, trying to get them to notice I had secretly painted my fingernails sunset yellow to match.

I was refining my sales pitch, and I recall the exact moment that I perfected it. A woman had just flipped two quarters into my jar and smiled. Wait just a minute! She didn’t even want a cup of lemonade? Wow. I was blown away.

I’m not one to brag, but I was a rockstar. Before long, I had persuaded my older brother, Jimmy, (with the promise of profit sharing) to build a proper stand for me,except this time, I wasn’t only selling lemonade; I had expanded my offering.

The next morning, I scratched the words “LEMONADE & A COOKIE 50¢” on a piece of wood with some colorful chalk. That doubled my profits.

I would hustle all day and, as the sun set, plan it all over again because I knew I was selling to the same neighbors and friends tomorrow – I wanted to keep them coming back each day. I kept it fresh with new signs, slogans, food and drink ideas, crafts, artwork, you name it. I even rebranded the stand a few times throughout the summer.

There was one particular day (during a mid-August Texas heatwave, if I recall) when the lineup of people reached the end of the block. After about an hour, a local boy finally reached the stand, and, for the thousandth time that summer, I asked, “how can I help you?” and his answer was entirely unexpected.

“I was wondering if you might help me out? You see, I’m trying to save up for a new bicycle, and I thought I could do some lawnmowin’ and such.”

That’s when I knew I was born to do this; not the likes of selling lemonade, or even lawn maintenance. I wanted to help people with their ideas. Over the next ten years, I became a junior business consultant and helped dozens of local kids develop mini businesses and thrive.

It became thrilling for me, and I don’t know any other way now. I learned how to put myself out there with an awareness of self-worth at such a young age. That lesson has been vital in building my career, but we all have a different story, and none of us tread the same path.

The journey of an entrepreneur is challenging but worthwhile, so here are a few pieces of advice from the child in me.

1) Never underestimate the help of others

The right line of attack can mean a world of difference in the early stages of a new business venture. Part of creating a long-term strategy is knowing where the hurdles are, as well as which business solutions work best for certain industries. That’s why having a reliable mentor is so crucial.

I played the mildly-experienced mentor during some of my childhood years, but I also needed support later on. My mentor guided me through some of my most challenging days and offered me much needed perspective – an individual who has already tackled a similar challenge can mean the difference between tripping up or finding your way through the weeds.

A great mentor can also offer reassurance and honesty when needed – or a solid scolding, if necessary. Think of your mentor as a big brother that might help build your first lemonade stand or sales deck for you.

2) Loyalty is earned, not given

You’ll realize early on in your journey that, except for the charitable woman who donated 50 cents to my lemonade stand, the folks from whom you really learn are not generally warm and gushy characters. They are blunt, straight-forward, driven individuals with a clear sense of purpose that always seem to push you and your patience.

While being liked is nice (baby bunny eyelashes), being respected is equally essential. Those experiences are so enlightening because their will come a day where you will never again doubt that they don’t believe in you. 

You’ll be confident that you’re firing on all cylinders and that you’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish your goals. Even better, they will be there working alongside you. 

People no longer commit to corporations (I doubt they ever really did); they trust in other people. Remember, loyalty needs to be earned and relentlessly nurtured. 

3) Be ready – when it’s your turn

Life is full of endless possibilities and, if we’re fortunate, you’ll have the chance to grasp the opportunity, seize the moment, and make it your own.

Remember the boy who waited in line at my lemonade stand during the heatwave? Little did he know, he was embarking on a critical life lesson that day. He seized the moment and grasped the opportunity.

This may sound cliché, but my sincere advice is to give it your all when embarking on a new business venture, even with the hesitation that it may not work. You need to adopt the mindset that this entire ride is an experiment where ‘failing’ doesn’t exist because we will learn and grow regardless – focusing on the returns instead of fear.

Every challenge I tackle now becomes a brilliant chance to learn more. Don’t give up, don’t take anything personally, and, ladies, don’t take no for an answer.

4) Create the life you want for yourself

I like to think that I’ve been relatively successful while working for myself and at a marketing agency, but losing my dad to cancer early in my career led me to rethink the legacy I wanted to leave behind.

After more than a decade of mastering my craft, I was still an employee, and I most likely had reached a ceiling of how much money I could earn. I was certain that I didn’t want my boss’s job (poor Nancy), or any of the other c-level positions, or to slave away for 12-16 hours per day. I also knew I didn’t want to lose the life I had worked so hard to build.

So, remember to look after number one. That’s you. Even though entrepreneurship is truly a lifestyle, the 9-to-5 fad is finally over. Exercise, take care of your diet and find the time to relax, or you’ll end up burning out.

66% of full-time employees firmly believe that they do not have have a sufficient work-life balance. Fine-tuning your time management skills will really help improve your day-to-day stress levels and, in turn, enhance your personal relationships.

And remember: this life is one big fashion show, and you’re the designer in your best Sunday dress, baby! If there are bits within your day-to-day grind that don’t fit well, make the adjustments.

Never stop learning

Successfully running that lemonade stand had six-year-old me thinking that I knew it all, but girl was I wrong. Opening yourself up to the vulnerabilities of a start-up demands a constant flow of growth and learning – it’s important to deepen yourself professionally and emotionally. 

This year, I celebrate 40 years as a successful businesswoman and lemonade pusher. It hasn’t always been easy, but the fruits of my labor have been worth every sweet and tangy drop of effort.

Hayden Birchis a serial entrepreneur and the Senior Outreach Manager at SociallyInfused Media Ltd. She spends part of her days wondering how to combine her two passions, comic books and red wine. The rest of her time, she spends engaging with and consulting exceptionally creative business owners. 

Photo by Rod Long