Lessons from a Lemonade Stand

​My kids had a lemonade stand and we all learned a surprising amount about what it takes to run a successful small business.

Juicing lemons by hand with a four-year-old and two-year-old is not for the faint of heart. Especially when you’ve got to do thirty-five of them! But, on this occasion, it was worth the mess in my kitchen because my kids wanted to have a lemonade stand. Elliot, the four-year-old, was really the instigator but our two-year-old Oliver really got into the family enterprise as well.

While some may think of a lemonade stand as a childhood right-of-passage or something to keep their kids busy for an afternoon, I experienced it as a window into entrepreneurship and small business ownership. I suppose I can’t help but think about what makes successful businesses tick but this sweet afternoon with my kids was kind of eye-opening actually. Here are some of the truths I was reminded about.

Lemonade stand

Making something (especially of quality) is almost always harder than you anticipate.

The idea that lemonade had more ingredients than just lemon juice and would require SO MANY LEMONS was baffling to my kids. But they plugged along anyway. Anytime you’re making something yourself (whether a product itself or a product and a business), it is going to take longer, be harder, and have more challenges that you expect. But those aren’t reasons not to do it.

Different people are meant for different roles.

The two-year-old kept squeezing long after the four-year-old lost interest. He quietly made things happen during “production” and then took a back-seat when it came to sales. He didn’t charismatically market the lemonade but he did faithfully collect the money. Everyone is different and we need different strengths to make a business work.

Keep your user experience in mind before you even start.

My kids couldn’t understand why I held a few lemons back for “merchandising.” I’ve been around the block enough to know that not all lemonade is created equally. I really do think that having a few fresh lemons piled on the stand made people realize they were in for a quality beverage. I might even go as far as to say that the visual cue made the lemonade actually taste better.

When marketing your business, consider your message.

We could have made signs that said “Lemonade” and maybe included the price. We could have emphasized that they were raising money for “coins for missions” at church. We could have lead with any number of messages. But we felt like the most effective first-impression hook would be “Fresh Squeezed Lemonade.” This is not that powdered stuff… we were selling the real deal.

Use all of the channels you have available to you to market your products.

These days, you can’t just stop at signs. Not even signs on both corners. You’ve got to take your message to the cloud. Facebook, Instagram, messages to family, and texts to neighbors were all part of the effort to drum up some business. And boy am I glad we did all that.

Never start a small business without a support system.

The kids’ very first customer was Auntie, followed shortly by a family friend, and then Grandma and Grandpa. You just can’t beat the encouragement, enthusiasm, and excitement my kids got from those first few “wins.” Without some early success, their entrepreneurial dreams may have fizzled out quickly.

A Story and a Cause can validate your brand.

Almost every lemonadey transaction began with the customer asking “How much?” Elliot’s answer? “Seventy-five cents… Or more.” He was raising money for some missionaries to buy a new car. Once he told people that, he didn’t have to lead with price. He didn’t have to convince them that his product was worth it. Instead, they offered him more than he asked. In fact, he got as much as $4 per glass! While I’m not suggesting this tactic will transfer precisely to your event rental business, I think it is true that people are less price sensitive when they feel like they are supporting a cause or group they believe in.

Supporting local businesses in your community is a big deal.

I found it totally heartening when a neighborhood family came to buy three glasses. The mom had passed in her car but walked back with her husband and son. As they drank their cups, they told us about the lemonade stand the boy had recently hosted to raise money for a band he wanted to start. They knew the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to drum up business and they supported a neighbor with similar drive.

Entrepreneurship is full of disappointment. Expect to hear “no” and keep on persevering.

Despite the fact that Elliot ran to the street smiling, waving, and screaming, “Fresh Squeezed Lemonade!” at the top of his lungs every.single.time a car went by, many did not stop. Most, in fact. I’m sure some didn’t hear, or were in a hurry, or weren’t particularly thirsty for lemonade. The reality of business is that not everyone wants what you’re selling. You’ve got to keep taking the risks though and hear a lot of “no” in order to be around for the “yes.” The flip side of that is the thrill and elation that came when, as Elliot put it, you “catch” one.

You’re going to want to give some away.

When a woman walked by with her dog but didn’t have any money on her, Elliot gave her a cup. Later, two boys asked how much and then left without buying. Elliot wanted to tell them they could have some for free. I found this sweet and hope my boy never loses his generosity. But at the same time, I was reminded of how many business owners I know who don’t make it because they give away A LOT. I think giving in business is great— as long as you’ve planned for it when you set your prices.

Marketing doesn’t stop when you close up shop at the end of the day.

Our lemonade stand success didn’t end at the edge of our yard. In fact, as my proud dad told the story of his entrepreneurial grandsons the next day, a woman who was interested in their cause asked how much they’d made. She quickly offered to double their earnings in support. I don’t know that you can expect that kind of ROI on every marketing effort but it was encouraging to remember that people talk about you and your business. Hopefully the story that is being told moves others to support you too.

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