The Clever Quarter-a-Pencil Salesman

It was mid-morning, and the halls of the middle school were packed, as usual. I was a guest teacher for a six-week program that took up the first four hours of Wednesday’s Home Economics class.

white notebook and yellow pencil
Photo by Dom J on

Once the tardy bell rang and the students took their seats, one of the students needed a pencil. Another student, an easy-going kind of guy, pulled a new pencil from his pencil bag and handed it over to the other student, who exchanged a quarter for it.

This little story came to mind when I thought about my business venture. I wish I had started learning all the ins and outs of running a business earlier in life because it is hard work, and I often get overwhelmed.

Significant benefits would have behooved me had I learned to wade in the shallow water to learn some skills before I first jumped into the deep side of the pool.

This leads me to this: if you have a student at home, helping them begin a business would be a great way to educate them about making money and other valuable responsibilities, even if it were only a six-month project for the value of learning how to manage money.

Let’s dive in.

What A Teen Learns

A business venture seems scary, and it is. There’s so much to think about and questions that can’t be answered fast enough. Where to start? How to start? Who to trust? Who can help you? But starting with a tiny idea won’t be overwhelming.

Pre-teens or teens will learn life-long skills. Skills in marketing, communication, money management, product order, and distribution. Even a pencil salesman implements all these skills.

So, selling something familiar will make it easier for a student. The example above is a boy who knew he could sell pencils. His customer base was all around him. Every student in the school needed pencils, and he knew he could sell some here and there. He filled a need.

Every child, pre-teen, or teenager needs to build a business at some point in their early years, even if it’s small and only for a few months.

Students Learn Marketing

Find a need and fill it. In the case of my pencil salesman, he used the organic, word-of-mouth type of marketing around him. I don’t think he created flyers and distributed them. Instead, I believe he told every class he attended that he sold pencils, and it organically spread. He truly found a need to fill and knew he could capitalize on it.

Communication is key

To sell products or services, students learn communication skills for client/customer relationships outside their peer group. Not only does it involve actually speaking to other people but learning how to do it confidently. For example, part of their communication may be emailing customers, putting together a flyer and handing it out to prospects, or calling someone.

a female professor teaching her students
Photo by Antoni Shkraba on

Time and Money Management

To sell something, a student most likely has to buy or make something. A business needs to make more money than it costs to run it; this is part of money management. All money must be calculated and logged, or a student may assume they’ve made a profit when they really haven’t.

Some of the profits go back into the business for product and marketing. Some money will be kept for a salary, and some for taxes. For time management, a student must factor the time into their week to work on the business.

Just a Few Ideas

Because I like to help, I thought of a few ideas.

Playground Photography: Students will pay and pose to have their picture on the playground, a fantastic memento for the year.

Classroom Photography: Ask the teacher if it’s okay to snap a few shots during free time.

Clean Classrooms– ask a teacher if she’d pay for services once a week to clean the classroom after school (straighten, sharpen pencils, wipe down desks, dust, etc.).

Tutor– help a student in a lower grade to excel in a subject they struggle in.

Artist-for the art student, make art for notebooks with a plastic cover or fun items that can be magnetized to lockers.

Repurpose Old Items– a friend of mine’s handy son fixed broken items and added the picture on his Facebook page to sell.

My mother once helped a friend’s ten-year-old go door-to-door to sell old magazines his dad read and stuffed away. She said they got the strangest looks from those brave enough to open their doors. Hum. I wonder why?

I have no idea what either one of them was thinking! Please, this isn’t something anyone should do.

I hope this has inspired a few thoughts. And by the way, I am a copywriter. So, if a student needs to hire me to help with a few words on a flyer or help structuring an email, I can help with that.

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