I was really good at “doing school” when I was a kid. I knew all the ins and outs of the academic world and was able to breeze through most of my coursework. I enjoyed the process of learning new things and pushed myself to understand concepts as deeply as possible. Looking back, there is little surprise that I became a teacher.
Fast-forward to my early thirties when I found myself entering into the world of entrepreneurship as a writer. For all my successes in the academic sphere, nothing in that experience had prepared me for the world of business. In particular, when it came to a critical business skill like marketing, I quickly realized I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.
In the 21st century, entrepreneurial skills are crucial to a successful future. Unfortunately these skills are not explicitly taught in schools or addressed by stakeholders in ways comparable to core content mainstays like math, reading, and science. Instead, these skills are often relegated to elective classes or one-off lessons designed to simply address standards without allowing students to wholly unpack them.
Thankfully there are ways for students to acquire this type of knowledge; but, as I have learned on my own entrepreneurial journey, sometimes you just don’t know what it is you don’t know.
So where do you start? To help, here are three marketing skills that most kids are not being taught in school that parents, teachers, and other mentors can start addressing today.
1. Social media is a modern marketing tool
Perhaps the steepest learning curve I had in creating my own business was realizing the importance of social media.
To be clear, I was in no way a stranger to social media platforms: I had joined Facebook when you still needed a college-issued email to join, I had been a part of LinkedIn since before even landing my first job, and I joined the “hashtag revolution” in the early years of Twitter. Despite such a deep familiarity with social media, I didn’t actually understand how to effectively wield it as a marketing tool.
Today’s students face the same conundrum. They are largely digital natives who have grown up with social media, but the only guidance they typically receive about it in school deals with preventing issues like cyber-bullying. It probably doesn’t help that (for valid reasons) many teachers and administrators view social media as a scourge.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Teachers and other influential adults can make it a point to demonstrate the ways social media can be used responsibly as a way to market ideas and products:
- Share with them stories and strategies from entrepreneurs like Gary Vaynerchuk who have turned effective social media usage into multi-million dollar businesses.
- Find examples in your own social media accounts from colleagues using social media to share and market ideas.
- Share links to inspirational stories about teens who were able to lean on their social media followings to build successful companies.
Regardless of the approach, finding ways to instill the value of social media as a marketing powerhouse could pay off (literally!).
2. The art of win-win negotiation
Simply put, a win-win deal is one where each party involved stands to benefit from the resulting arrangement. It is an easy concept to understand, but it can be a tricky thing to actually accomplish.
This skill is crucial for anyone (teen or adult) trying to get a business off the ground. It is rare that a potential partner will offer you support or help promote your business without something of value in return. As a result, entrepreneurs need to be able to find ways to assess what a potential partner might need from a partnership and find ways to deliver on those needs given the resources at their disposal.
For most startups, cash flow is limited. This means that things like social capital and marketable skills become the key currency in making a win-win deal work. Driven entrepreneurs find the way to make these types of deals happen, but most never learned how to do it in class.
Traditionally, schools tend to focus on binary evaluation models. Answers are correct or incorrect. Behavior is acceptable or unacceptable. As such, there is rarely much room for negotiation.
While this may make running a school full of students and faculty go more smoothly, it does little to promote some of the most essential social skills required to achieve success in the business world.
You can begin priming students’ negotiation skills by practicing win-win dialogues both in school and at home. Negotiating with a child may seem like a frustrating and fruitless exercise (and in some cases it is!), but it is crucial to make an effort to find appropriate times to allow kids to practice negotiation skills.
Please note, this is by no means an endorsement of allowing children the opportunity to negotiate hard-and-fast adult choices and boundaries that affect their safety and well-being; but by giving children a voice in negotiating decisions like use of family time, structuring a classroom environment, or accessing shared resources, you can reinforce positive ways of achieving win-win outcomes.
3. Customer service (a.k.a. basic social etiquette with strangers)
Unsurprisingly, one of the most timeless and important marketing skills is customer service. It doesn’t matter how great a business’s product is; if the customers are put off by how they are treated, they won’t stay customers for long. What’s worse, word of their negative experience could lead other potential customers to look elsewhere, too.
Why then, do schools routinely fail to prepare students with the skills to effectively deal with others?
The reality is, explicitly teaching morality and social graces in schools will forever be a hot-button issue. Consider the fact that even some of the most basic questions about what is socially acceptable or not tend to have answers that fall in gray areas (read: the types of issues teachers and administrators like to avoid).
While schools tend to shy away from explicitly teaching these types of moral issues, successful businesses have to take them into account when trying to build a client base.
A large part of being effective in business ventures comes down to how well you can sell yourself to total strangers. Thus, it is very rare that entrepreneurs can become successful without a certain degree of charm and grace.
What this means for the adults in students’ lives is that it is important to realize that they are kids’ most important role models for social skills like respect and empathy. Whether they admit it or not, children look to how adults treat each other when forming their own patterns of behavior.
If you, as an adult, are consistently kind and courteous to the people you interact with, the kids in your life will pick up on that. Conversely, if you are dismissive and rude, it will likely be will see as an endorsement of that type of negative treatment.
While school isn’t explicitly teaching students how to attract and retain customers, the behavior of the adults within their spheres (for better or worse) is.
When all is said and done, schools need to provide students with a wide array of skills and understandings that they will need to be successful throughout their lives. However, when it comes to certain business skills, they are going to need some help. All the stakeholders in a child’s educational journey must play a role in helping develop the entrepreneurial mindsets required for successful participation in a 21st century world.
What ways have you tried to help students or your own children learn key entrepreneurial skills? Share your experiences with our readers in the comments below!