Lemonade stands and “stealing” candy – My Story

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner column_width_percent=”85″ gutter_size=”3″ overlay_alpha=”50″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ width=”1/1″][vc_column_text text_lead=”yes”]37 million — that’s how many people could lose their jobs due to Coronavirus.

And that number only takes American jobs into account. The impact on the whole world could be 10 or 20 times bigger. In times like these, there is fear, panic and uncertainty.

People are not only scared of getting infected (and possibly dying). But also of losing their jobs and not being able to provide for themselves and their families. This happens to millions of people right now, as they are being laid off due to the crisis.

That is probably one of the reasons you are trying to make it as an entrepreneur. To live on your own terms, work from anywhere and do what you want to instead of what you have to.

Today, I want to share my own story of starting from scratch and becoming a successful entrepreneur many times over. The goal of my story is to inspire you to start and, if you already started, to keep going.

So here is my story:

“I have always had an interest in starting my own company”, sounds like a cliche. But I guess I was an entrepreneur when other kids were playing football.

I started the classic kid lemonade stand. We lived at the intersection of a busy four-lane road but with a stop light and a two-lane residential street. My lemonade stand did great! I learned about the importance of marketing, fresh product quality, friendly customer service and, in this case most importantly, location. My friends were never able to do as well on their streets.

Then one day, the father of a family that shared our house came home from the convenience store where he worked. They had many boxes of extra candy that they had to get rid of. Once again, the entrepreneur in me saw an opportunity. The next day I was at school selling it for $0.50 a package.

I soon became popular with all the kids that had a sweet tooth. Some of the crates of candy were gone, but my volume was high enough, I was able to negotiate with the local stores to buy what they were selling for $0.25, for only $0.20. Then I found an ice cream truck that would sell to me for $0.15. I was selling so much candy at school, many other kids got involved but they couldn’t negotiate my discounts.

That’s when I learned about government regulators. In this case the school principal.  They called me down to the office and accused me of stealing candy and reselling it. I was not stealing! They even went so far as to call my parents and tell them I was stealing. So the school principal (aka the government regulator) shut down my thriving business and falsely accused me of stealing. I experienced the harsh reality of the cruel world we live in.

Then there was the story of me working at the local car wash. That doesn’t seem entrepreneurial, and it isn’t. It’s actually intrapreneuring — starting a business within a business. I ended up earning more money than the manager. But how? It was a minimum wage job, after all.

Well see, I worked at the back of the car wash, drying cars. Most of the other kids would do it as fast as they could. But I quickly learned that if I went above and beyond to carefully shine the customers’ mirrors and get rid of any extra bugs, clean their windshield etc, I would earn big tips.

When there were no cars waiting, I would spend 10 minutes on a car and the drivers were so happy they gave me $2-5 tips.  Soon I was earning over $15/hour at a time when minimum wage was only $3.25/hour. Again, I learned about customer service and happy customers will pay a lot more for almost the same service.

I learned to see opportunities where other people saw none. Those were not my only ventures as a kid, but that’s where it all started.

Then “real life” started. I worked in business consulting for some of the largest companies in the world. I worked for 6 days a week, 10-12 hours per day — and I enjoyed it. I liked the people I worked with and had some really good friends in the corporate world.

But it was very clear that corporations regularly cut staff. And sometimes it seemed like it was for random reasons. For example, I started working for one of the largest banks in the country. And three months later, they decided that all departments had to cut 10% of their workforce to look good on Wall Street.

The management team in my department felt everyone was performing well and they did not want to cut 10% — but they were told they must. The crazy part was that they just paid a big signing bonus to hire me and the other new employees.

Then they faced two options:

1) Let all new employees go. That would have included me and three or four other new hirees.
2) Let an entire level in our organization go.

They decided to let the entire level of management consultants go. My job was saved by a nearly random decision. The group they let go simply drew the short straw. Nothing they had done wrong and they were not low performing. Ridiculous, right?

The only goal is to do more with less so the stock price climbs. And then they wonder why people hate big corporations.

So I decided to leave the world of big corporations after many years…

My next step was to work for a startup that raised $15 million on an idea. I became part of the four-person management team. And I quickly learned that it was very different from the large corporate world.

Large corporations had policies on everything. And, for the most part, changes were slow and processes were set. In the startup world, I was the decision maker and I often had to make a decision in 10 minutes during a meeting. There was no bureaucracy and important decisions only had a brief consideration time. We had told investors that we would have a new product live in a few months and speed was of essence.

After it was clear that business would not succeed, I briefly went back into the corporate world. I worked for a company that was in the process of being launched on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). And they wanted to grow their employees quickly so growth numbers would look good.

It started in November in China and will last at least until May, especially in countries like Italy and Spain. That time on 9/11, a large number of people died in one day.

Anyway, the company that had hired quickly also decided to let 30% of their workforce go. Déjà vu! I volunteered because I was in a better position than many other people who had families with young children.

When the corporate legal team called to tell me about the layoffs, I asked how they were doing. I also expressed concern for what they had to do — let 30% of the company go in a single day. It so surprised the senior person, that she said she would rehire me as soon as she had a chance.

All that led me to start my own management consulting firm.  I decided to work with community banks within a 5-hour drive of my home. No more cross-country flights and being out of town for days or weeks at a time.

I quickly researched all my potential customers. And within days started making calls to the senior executives. Within a week I had my first meeting with a billion-dollar bank.  I quickly put together sales materials but I was starting from nothing and didn’t have a website or anything. Just imagine trying to sign a billion-dollar bank as the first client, starting from scratch — without so much a website.

The first sales call didn’t end with a sale. But that bank was the only potential client I didn’t end up closing in the following 12 months. Sometimes it took months of discussing and endless meetings, but every other prospect became a client in the next 12 months. One of those started off as a five-figure client but then grew into mid-six figures over the next few years.

I eventually sold that business to a couple of senior employees and sold intellectual property to a billion-dollar global consulting company.

The journey was wild and worth experiencing. I continued building other businesses, and am still doing that.

The money I made allows me to not have to work another day in my life. But I continue to work hard. Why? Because I love what I do! And working from home is a big part of that.

Whether you are already an entrepreneur, freelancer, remote worker or thinking about it, here are some crucial skills you need for working from home.

Lessons Learned

So here are some things I learned that may be relevant to people considering starting their own business. Especially in times like these, when millions of people are forced to work from home:

1) Define your business and your niche

Define what business you will be going into. I like the Business Model Generation one-page business strategy by Strategyzer (available in 30 languages). I love that it’s one page and they recommend creating it with post-it notes, because they know it will change as you learn more about your market etc.

a) Develop a business concept: What key skills do you have and what do you enjoy doing. I had been a consultant for more than 10 years, had a track record, and satisfied clients. Most importantly, I like solving business problems.

b) Define services you will offer: For me this was management consulting.

c) Define your target audience: In the last example, it was community banks within 5 hours of my home.

Then I defined this further into the size of community banks. I decided my ideal size client would have between $500 million and $5 billion in assets. That made them large enough to afford my services and small enough to buy from a small company.

After research, I defined my top 45 prospects. Over the next few years, I was able to get appointments with all of my top 15 and most of my top 45.

d) Define your business model: I chose a pricing/business model where I was paid based on the measurable value I provided to the company.

I felt this would be easier to sell and they would be willing to pay me more if it was based on the value I produced. That proved to be true. And I was confident I could produce value.

e) Understand what resources you need to succeed: I needed a website and marketing materials and a branded PowerPoint Presentation. You might ask why I needed these.

I was selling projects for over $10,000 and I needed a professional image to build trust and credibility. Don’t underestimate the value of this.

f) Think about strategic partners: For me this was bank associations. I joined two in my state and one in a neighboring state. That gave me access to key decision makers.  I became one of them.

2) Get to know your target audience

I spent hours researching my prospects and acquired their annual financial reports. I knew the names of all the top executives at the top 15.

And for many I knew what causes they care about, and where they volunteered, and which bank meetings they attended. You will be amazed at what information is available online about your prospects.

3) Build the key resources you need

Do it rapidly. They don’t have to be perfect, yet. Just get them done. You will continue to make them better over time. But if you have nothing, that is often a block for selling. Get rid of those obstacles fast.

4) Start selling

Don’t wait. I started making calls to my prospects in my first week, before everything was perfect. I spent about 1 to 2 hours every day, even before I had everything worked out. That was important.

If I had waited until things were perfect, 6 months later I would still be at the starting line. And I might have lost confidence, and people would have told me I was doing it wrong since I didn’t have revenue.

This way, I had a paying client when my old company called me to offer me my job back. But it was too late for them — I already had my first client and was on my way building a large profitable business.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]