My maiden venture yielded a number of useful lessons that have stayed with me throughout my entire working life but even more so now that I leave my former employer and begin a brand new Real Estate business. Perhaps you resonate with this or perhaps there is a young budding entrepreneur in your family who may like to hear my story.
My customers or “targeted market” as I’ve since learned to call them lived on a small dirt-road in a quiet country town - the same one I lived on. By summer’s end, I had more than a dozen regular buyers to whom would teach me so much about business without me even knowing. To me I was just having fun!
My “delivery fleet” was a single bicycle with a basket on the handlebars which I piled high with vegetables and flowers before I made the neighbourhood rounds.
My “investor” was my mum. I had persuaded her to provide $2 and to drive me to one of the local farmers in the area. Then after buying my very first box of tomatoes came home where I weighed them into pound lots and bagged them ready for sale. So not only did she advanced me the capital for the “stock” and provide my transport but she provided a “no-cost equipment lease” – that is, she let me borrow her scales. My “supply chain” was the farm on the other side of the creek and my only outgoings was to pay off my “loan” and provide peddle power!
After selling my first box of tomatoes and paying out my $2 loan in full, on the same day, I asked my mum to provide transport to the farm to buy more tomatoes. I still had more houses in the street to approach. As my customer base increased over the weeks so too did the number of boxes I would buy. Each time I would invest back into my business from the profits of my sales. The rest of the money was banked! As an 8 year old I didn’t really have any need for money.
One day while serving my customers a woman asked if I had any beans. “Of course I do” was my reply knowing very well I could get them from the same farm that supplied the tomatoes! As a result, I offered beans to all my existing customers and my profits doubled. This then gave me another idea! To approach my existing customers with a third product half way through the week. I noticed red Gladioli’s growing wild in a paddock next to the rail line and decided to harvest them. Not without risk either as the grass was up to my waist and I was afraid of snakes! I bound 10 stems together with a bit of string and they sold like hotcakes! Then, something really exciting happened! I found a small patch of pink Gladioli's with the biggest blooms! Wow .... I instantly knew I could sell these for more and decided to bundle just 6 of them together for the same price as the red ones!
The summer holidays had finished and so too had my small business. I had banked all the profits and there it sat until the next winter when my mum advised us we didn’t have enough money to enjoy firecracker night! Not knowing exactly how much money I banked that summer what I do know is that we had a great firecracker night that year with more than enough fireworks. (Not a bad effort for a kid who just wanted some fun over the summer holidays).
This early taste of success was both exciting and rewarding, and I wanted more. Forty years later, I’ve worked across a number of industries including accounting, radio, newspapers, motor, cosmetic, food, hospitality and now real estate - all the time growing and expanding the businesses I worked for. But most of what I know about developing, nurturing, and running a business I learned during my preteen years in a sleepy country town, Dora Creek in 1972.
So, here are some principles of good business that became clear to me then and have only grown more important since.
- Don’t expect immediate results. Start with just one box!
- Listen to your customer and fill their need. Give them beans when all you have is tomatoes.
- Keep your customers happy by delivering fresh product before it’s needed, not after. Keep up supply - anticipating & timing the market is all-important.
- Look for sweet opportunities - the Pink Gladioli in the back paddock.
- Pray for sunshine but wear a raincoat if you have to and exceed your customers expectations. Do what you say you’re going to do. Never disappoint them.
- Harvested flowers don’t keep long. Sell them the same day even if you have to discount the price or you’ll end up binning them.
- Don’t be afraid to ask top dollar - customers will pay the price if it’s worth it and they see the value.
- Sales is everything. Sales is not a dirty word - Its just as important to sell as it is to buy.
- When you’re out of cash, you’re out of business; reinvest and bank.
- Have fun! Customers only buy from you for 2 reasons. Either you have what they want or they like you!
- Make sure your investors get a return – and don’t forget to thank them. Without backers, there’s no fireworks for anyone.