But this year (being the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts and all), as I’ve been enjoying those delicious factory-baked goods, I also got to thinking about the valuable lessons that cookie sales taught me. As a Girl Scout who sold cookies for 10 years, I learned some important things about business, responsibility, and life in general from all those brightly colored boxes:
1. Use your Networks
Back in the day, door-to-door fundraisers were still the norm, but you only had so many neighbors to sell to—and a boatload of other neighborhood girls to compete with. So if you wanted to win that stuffed tiger or week-long trip to Girl Scout camp, you had to expand your network. The girls who made the most sales took their cookie sheets everywhere—school, sporting events, volunteer locations, churches, their parents’ workplaces. They weren’t shy about getting out there, because they knew it got them results.
Now in my career, and especially as a freelancer, I know that creating and fostering a strong network is more important than ever. I’ve learned to put myself out there, to get creative about how to meet new people, and to bring my business cards everywhere I go.
2. Fun is Contagious
One of the most dreaded parts of the cookie season was store sales: standing outside of a local grocery store selling cookies directly to shoppers. But after a few hours of misery, we realized that this event was only as boring as we were making it—and then came up with songs and dances to have some fun. This not only passed the time, it also grabbed people’s attention—and helped us sell more cookies.
This is a great lesson not only for the workplace, but for life. People react to fun and optimism, and I’ve found that eliciting a smile can have the same effect as a silly dance in a Brownie uniform. Whether you’re pitching a tough new client or dealing with a difficult colleague, try a smile. You might just be surprised by the results.
3. Don't Take it Personally
Store sales also meant getting ignored or snubbed. A lot. Some people don't like Girl Scouts or Girl Scout cookies (crazy, I know), others didn’t have cash, and many had already ordered them from someone else. We had to learn early on that they weren’t rejecting us as people, but that they just didn’t need or want any Samoas.
As an adult, this lesson comes in handy all the time. There will be jobs you don’t land, assignments you don’t get, and sales you don’t make. No, it’s never fun, but you also can’t let it keep you down. You take a deep breath, tell yourself that it’s not the end of the world, and try again with the next shopper.
4. Change is Okay
While Girl Scout cookies come around reliably year after year, the products themselves have gone through changes. And they weren’t always welcome—anything from a packaging re-design to price hikes to flavor changes could ignite customer backlash. Of course, as with anything, initial shock will die down to a new norm (people now happily pay $4.50 for a box without remembering it used to be $3), but in the meantime, those product changes taught you that you had to be flexible, communicate with your customers, and change up your strategy from year to year.
In business (and in life), learning how to roll with the punches—and help others do the same—makes it much easier to ride out the inevitable changes you’ll encounter along the way. So does remembering that not all change is bad—hey, those new Lemon-ades are pretty darn good.
5. Always Deliver on Your Promises
In this day and age, it's almost expected that anything you order will show up on your doorstep in 7-10 days, but Girl Scout cookies are still hand-delivered by those Daisies, Brownies, and Cadettes. After all, it’s a great way to stay connected with your customers and keep them coming back next year.
Keeping that personal touch is just as important in post-Girl Scout life, whether you’re taking the time to bring a meal to a friend in need, handwriting a thank-you note after a job interview, or personally following up with clients. Don’t underestimate the power of a little extra effort and human connection—it may be this finishing touch that sets you above everyone else.
Selling Girl Scout cookies brought many benefits—being able to snack on Tagalongs and raising money for fun troop activities, to name a couple—but these life lessons are the ones that have stayed with me the longest. So next time you’re asked if you want to buy some Girl Scout cookies, remember—these girls aren’t just enabling your addiction to sugar, they’re also learning a lot about life in the process.
Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks.