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How to negotiate: Learning from the natural entrepreneurial skills of a kid

A five-year-old can show you where the money is
By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes |



It seems like my five-year-old almost always gets what he wants (within reason of course).  He is not spoiled. He’s a good negotiator. He’s perfecting the science of wheeling and dealing and in the process unwittingly taught me a few things on the art of persuasion, invaluable lessons that I have learned to apply when interacting with people.



If we’re paying attention, children can remind us of truisms that are so simple and common that we’ve forgotten them. They can teach us a lot about business and the art of dealing with people. They’re the experts.  After all, who can resist a cute toddler behind a lemonade stand or a chubby cookie-bearing cub scout knocking at the door?


Turn on the charm

Over dinner one night, my son sweetly asked his grandfather if he wanted iced water. After fetching a glass and giving his grandfather a hug, the little entrepreneur came up to me and whispered “that’s how you get a dollar.” During the entire duration of my father’s visit, my boy earned a dollar each day. And he never even asked for it.


When you look up the word charm in the dictionary, it tells you about the power of giving delight and being able to control or achieve something. This is one of the secrets to a successful business, the power to convince people that you have their best interest in mind, showing them that you’re approachable and sincere. And although a hug may not work as it did for my son, always strive to offer a little something extra. For instance, if you’re starting a bakeshop, ask clients who come to you for a birthday cake if they need assistance in other things like party favors or entertainment and refer them to trusted partners.  Throw in some cookies for new customers.




Crawl, walk, run

Like my son, every infant learns to crawl first before they endeavor to get off on their feet to take their first steps. And just as it is a fact of life, the crawl-walk-run approach is a proven business strategy for success. Start small and slow especially when you’re new in the industry. The idea is to master the market and your products before going out there in full force. While some may think of this marketing approach as old school, it makes sense to start slowly but surely when establishing your business – because it’s better to crawl, walk and run rather than boom, burst and sink.



Ask anyway

After school, my son knows he isn’t allowed on his tablet, but he asks anyway, saying so sweetly, “I’m guessing, no iPad?” Once, when candy was being passed around in the car amongst the adults, he asks “I hate to say this, but can I have some candy, too?” Even when he knows he’s not supposed to, he asks anyway. Innocence urges him to look at the possibilities even when they’re bleak. That one time, we couldn’t say no. Similarly, don’t be so quick to dismiss markets that you think have little promise. Never overlook unlikely leads until you’ve checked them out.




Don’t talk down

While walking my child to school one day, I told him for the nth time that his lunch money was in his backpack, spelling out the instructions slowly and carefully. “I get it!” he snapped rather impatiently. Sometimes I forget that he’s no longer a baby.


We forget that children can be smarter than we give them credit for. And so are our customers. Just because they’re not familiar with your business yet, doesn’t mean they’re stupid. In fact, never assume that you know more than your customer.  By treating your prospects with arrogance, you are alienating them or even worse, putting them off. Always remember that when no explanation is required, don’t give one. That’s a mark of good marketing. It’s even better to leave room for questions to encourage dialogue.  



Know your limits

During a long road trip, after asking how much farther and being told over and over again: “almost there,” our magnate in the making burst out “If I hear that one more time, I’m done. I want out of this contract.” We’ve been driving for hours and finally decided to pull over for a rest stop. While our son is used to travelling, we forget that he is after all still developing in many ways and has his limits.


So does your business. By knowing and setting your limits, you know when to put your foot down and avoid being taken advantage of, because it’s hard to say “no” especially when you’re trying to win prospects. Setting limits gives you power. 



Business on happy hours

Reasoning with my little one when he’s tired or still trying to rub the sleep off his eyes is a futile exercise. The right timing is crucial when trying to get through a young mind. And so it is with business. Knowing when the best time is to launch your business or new product is an important factor for success. The strategy of timing is also valuable when approaching a client. Schedule client calls in the morning when everybody is still fresh of mind.


But don’t set it too early either. Give your customer time for a caffeinated waker-upper. Believe it or not, hunger affects decision making, too. Aim to schedule sales calls before lunch or better yet, set a lunch meeting. We all know that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Similarly, energy levels greatly affect people’s thinking. Knowing this, it’s not the best idea to schedule meetings at the end of the day or on Fridays when people are already half out the door to start the weekend. According to studies, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to present your business.








Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes left her job as editor-in-chief of asianTraveler Magazine and as a travel columnist for a local paper in the US to answer to an even bigger boss: a demanding five-year-old. She continues to contribute for various Philippine and international publications while pixel stitching and light chasing. She has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, a master’s in Creative Writing, and a doctorate in play dates and arts and crafts.

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