The $1 Lesson From A Cambodian Child That Will Change Your Business Forever


I’m writing this as I’m flying from from Brunei to Australia but there is a story I just have to share. While in Siem Reap, Cambodia touring Angkor Wat last week, I realized that we could all learn a lot about business from a child who had virtually nothing.*

In large of parts of Cambodia (and many Third World countries), there is not much time for school or play for most children because leisure and education don’t fill the immediate need of getting money in their hands to put food in their stomachs. It’s a harsh harsh reality that never quite sits right in the mind.

So you have people of all ages selling whatever they can: trinkets, shirts, and paintings, etc., every day. This one particular girl, not older than 4, was selling 10 postcards for a dollar amidst a swath of other kids doing the same thing. She walks up to me and here was our conversation: 

Her: Hello sir.
Me: Hi.
Her: Where are you from?
Me: New York
Her: America! Welcome. You buy postcards? 10 for a dollar.
Me: No thank you.
Her: Look. (While thumbing through each postcard) One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Uno, dos, tres…., Un, deux trois….
Me: Wow, 3 languages that’s really good.
Her: You buy?
Me: No thank you. I already bought some.
Her: You didn’t buy from me though. Buy some more.
Me: I don’t need more than 10. I am sending one card to 10 different people.
Her: Send two to them. They would like that.
Me: No, sorry.
Her: No “sorry”. When you come out, you’ll want to buy. I’ll remember you.

At that point I stopped and thought, “Damn. This girl is hustling. I don’t think I’ve ever hustled this hard to get business, ever.”

She didn’t stand in the corner quietly hoping that people would come to her and ask her if she was selling anything. She didn’t try selling postcards in the middle of the forest where no one was. She didn’t walk up to people and say, “Hey, maybe if you needed a postcard, you can always buy one from me but only if you wanted.”

Here’s what she did:

  • Personalized her message. Where are you from? and Welcome. Hey, she cares about me! How nice.
  • Showed her knowledge and effort by using 3 different languages to count to ten in case I didn’t understand her in one of them.
  • Clarity. Showed me exactly what I would be buying by thumbing through all the postcards for me to see clearly what I would be getting for my dollar.
  • Had an in depth FAQ. She had an answer ready for each excuse I had not to buy.
  • Wasn’t concerned that I made a purchase before. In fact, she seemed to know that the best time to sell is right after someone buys something. The research backs this up, btw. If you’re willing to open up your wallet and spend money, you’re probably willing to spend more money on something similar.
  • Showed me that buying from her would actually benefit my life. She told me how nice it would be if my friends would receive two postcards from me. She’s right.
  • Followed up. Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengary Glen Ross would be proud.Always be closing. When I came back around to the entrance of the temple I was visiting, she did remember me and reminded me of that fact. 

I bought the postcards from her and gave her $1 extra, but there was still one more lesson for her to teach me:

  • If you don’t make the sale, don’t dwell on it. Move on to the next one.

I watched her pull the same tactics with a few other people. If people didn’t buy, she didn’t kick herself, she simply went on to find a new customer. She knew she had a good product, a good sales technique and she knew some people would buy.

How many of us (myself included):

  • Don’t try hard enough to connect with our customers and readers personally in some manner?
  • Aren’t describing what our added value is, or what our super power is as a person?
  • Aren’t clear what we are selling and for how much it costs (in money, time or attention)?
  • Don’t articulate the benefit of our product, services or website clearly enough?
  • Simply “hope” that people will come to our site?
  • Actively follow up with our potential customers?

Like I said, most of those bullets are up there for me personally but hopefully we can all take a look at what we’re doing online and how we’re trying to present ourselves, our company or our movement and see if there are any areas we can improve our offering.

Hopefully this little girl has her own sales, copywriting or design company one day. I just hope I’m not in the same space as her, lest she take all my business.

*The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m comparing people’s struggle to live, with our quests to build realities different than the ones we currently find ourselves in. I just hope that the story of her unfortunate situation can somehow help inspire us to do more with the opportunities we do have.

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