Business lessons from my hustling 6-year-old


I wrote this a couple years ago, but I just love this story, and this hustling kid. Have a read:

Yesterday, Memorial Day, my kids and I joined some friends and my brother for a day of lounging in Central Park: playing catch, soccer, people watching, picnicking on cream-cheese-and-strawberry-jam sandwiches and otherwise enjoying the gorgeous late-spring day.

After an exasperated hunt for lady bugs, which had recently hatched throughout the city, Helena, 6, showed up with a delicate leaf-green winged insect captured in an empty water bottle. She decided to make some coin and proceeded to march blanket-to-blanket and sell her find. “Would you like to buy a bug? $3,” she said to surprised Upper East Side retirees and extended families speaking to each other in Spanish. When that proved fruitless, Helena didn't get frustrated or blame the customer. She switched up her product: a small, stuffed rooster she found in the grass.

“Would you like to buy my chicken?” she asked confused sunbathers who glanced over her shoulder, searching for the kids' parents/boss. The rejections didn't stop her. She kept going.

My brother Josh and I watched this show from afar, giggling at the prospective clients' confused looks and Helena's unwavering pluck. After a few unsuccessful sale she'd stride back to our blanket and Josh and I would coach her on sales tactics: “Try: ‘OK, if you can't pay $3, how about $2?'” or, ‘My normal price is $3, but because I like you so much I'll give it to you for $2,'” and she'd confidently head out to try again.

We noticed she was avoiding a big group of a dozen bright-eyed 20-somethings laughing and drinking beer. But I sensed this was Helena's golden goose and encouraged her to make a move.

She hovered on the edge of the party for a few moments, just far enough away for them to take immediate notice. She was for the first time that afternoon shy. When she hesitated and looked back at me, I gave her a big smile and thumbs up and a visual urge to carry on. And so she took a confident step forward and said, through the laughs, “Would you like to buy my chicken?”

“What's so special about your chicken?” called one woman.

“It makes a noise,” said Helena, giving the bird a squeeze. squeak-sqeeak

“What's your name?”

“Helena,” Helena said.

“How much?” called on straw-fedora sporting guy who was sitting next to a pretty blonde he'd been chatting up all afternoon.

“$3,” Helena said.

And from across the lawn we saw a hand shoot up waiving three $1 bills. A roar of congratulations rose from the group. The customer insisted Helena pose for an iPhone pic with him, holding the merch.

And Helena strode back to her family, a fan of dough in her hand, a smile stretched from ear-to-ear.

The rest of the afternoon was a giddy brainstorm of other ways she could make money. We landed on the ubiquitous lemonade stand, and we talked margins and location and net profit. She decided that homemade drink would be more delicious but also more expensive and labor-intensive. The powdered version tastes worst. But artificial drink with a fresh lemon slice would be a good compromise. Even her brother Lucas, 4, got in on the excitement, and  suggested: “I know! I will pour the lemonade and you can hand it out to the pee-pole!”

As a parent I was relived that all these business and money lessons that I aim to teach my kid taught themselves — organically. But as a business person I was inspired.

Here was this kid who figured out the most basic business lessons with out any hangups. She did not take rejection personally. When she failed, she tried again. When one product didn't move, she tried another. When a sales pitch bombed, she switched it up. When she got stuck, she accepted suggestions. And, most of all, Helena had fun.

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Naomi@business start ups on June 2, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Hi Emma,

    Great story. I really enjoy other mums encouraging their kids to be confident and take risks. Although she was reluctant at first, you gave her the ‘thumbs up’.

    So many parents hoover over their kids like hungry vultures. Panicking if they take 3 steps forward.

    I’m glad I’m not the only mum trying to create confident kids!


  2. DarthW on May 28, 2014 at 12:28 am

    LOL. Good story. I would hate a job in sales. Your daughter has way more ability at it than I would, yet I find myself wishing I, too, had some of her “go-getter” spirit.

Leave a Comment