Autobiographical accounts of successful business people in their early days usually suggest they had a keen eye for opportunities as youngsters.
Alan Sugar and Richard Branson are two such examples where wheeling and dealing to earn pocket money was normal. These kinds of anecdotes always interest me. I wonder, to what extent do you think their enterprising childhood schemes affected the extraordinary success they went on to achieve?
Earning an Income
I had an interest in money-making when I was about 11 or 12, (selling toys outside my house after spotting a kid in my previous neighbourhood doing just that) and when our family moved house I set about flogging unwanted possessions to raise money for computer games.
I remember drawing sales banners with felt tip pens and setting out a stall in front of the house with my toys laid out. The money made was spent on computer games.
The venture did not last because I ran out of stock and the other kids on my street copied! This was my first taste of niche market saturation and competition!
A good way to make friends though. 🙂
After my short-lived career as a second-hand toy salesman, my new found buddies and I formed a car washing team.
Most weekends we solicited neighbours and other parts of town to clean vehicles for an agreed fee. It was fun, kept us out of trouble and taught us the value of money. I suspect many of our customers gave us the business because they were pleased to see children trying to make their own cash rather than begging parents.
Learning to be Independent
A child who is given things rather than “earning” their prizes will grow up feeling spiritually malnourished. What psychologists call “critical phases” in childhood have a lot to do with adult self-image, based on the perceived success or lack thereof in past endeavours.
Branson was certainly encouraged much and Sugar had what he described as “cheeky” projects that included making Ginger Beer and selling firelighters to neighbours.
Activities like this build confidence, independence and skills and ought to be encouraged in future generations of kids with an appetite for making money.
Even today, I still have an eye for various ways to earn money, even if it is just cashing in on fleeting windows of opportunity. But I must focus on just a few ventures and be good at these rather than being like the overexcited magpie going after all things shiny!
Kids are less burdened with responsibilities and have the luxury of being able to explore whatever takes their fancy.
Children are also generally less burdened by preconceived notions of failure. Assuming they are not the lazy types locking themselves away in their bedroom, it’s always nice to see a bright eyed bushy tailed individual be enthusiastic about the possibilities of young entrepreneurship.
In fact, I often have more respect for kids like this because they seem to instinctively understand life in a way that most adults do not.
Richard Branson recently has been talking about the Fiver challenge in primary schools, which is just great.
The Early Bird
Had I maintained my enthusiasm for business longer at a young age it may have put me ahead of where I am now. One thing most people would agree is that learning lessons and making mistakes while you’re young cannot be a bad thing. There is less at stake.
Of course, there are certain mistakes that we don’t want children to make. Yes, the fire really is hot, and busy roads can result in death. And stranger danger.
The upside is that minors are unlikely to make huge losses or be legally liable for things going wrong. Certain laws or restrictions are applicable but to a lesser extent.
I always smile when I see some media story about a schoolboy who has made a fortune selling sweets in the playground but I get a little annoyed when I hear of five-year-olds being fined for selling lemonade.
How Did You Earn?
Did you have a job, paper round, a money-making venture or business plan?
Has it kept you in good stead and what did you learn?
In today’s society, we worry so much about children that we’re preventing their development by attempting to protect and control them.
I wonder if the classic childhood business venture has been destroyed by mass media, the internet and hysterical parents? It’s a dangerous world but maybe that’s why kids need to grow up strong.