One of the benefits of starting and owning a small business is that I am presented with numerous teachable moments for my kids. While I am only 6 months into this particular venture, I have run my own small enterprises in the past. In high school a friend and I ran a window cleaning business and later a woodworking business. Both were great opportunities for me to learn a thing or two about business that have served me well over my variety careers to date.
Now that I am again running my own business, all be it a very small one when I get home from my day job, I hope to give my daughter opportunities to learn some of those same lessons that they will be able to draw on throughout their lives.
Success Requires Hard Work
I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who has succeeded in their business by being lazy. Even those who seemingly luck into a winning idea typically get there through hard work and focused effort. In my current venture I haven’t broken even yet. That said, I am making sales and I feel like every day I am succeeding at some aspect of the business. These successes are due to a lot of hours of thinking, planning, designing, building, marketing and learning.
Now that things are moving in the right direction I am starting to look for opportunities to bring my daughters into the enterprise. So far they have discovered that they like painting, but are not fans of sitting around and sanding wood. Admittedly running a woodworking business does require a certain amount of sanding.
Sanding requires patience
Actually it isn’t just sanding that requires patience. Success does too. Building a business does not generally yield immediate results. That said, the thing I enjoy about the work I am doing is that it generates results for me. In my day job I work in a field where results take a long time to be realized, so I find it tremendously satisfying that I can go from idea to finished product in a day or two.
I hope to bring my girls along through various stages of the process from idea to sale so that they can learn how each stage works and the work required to get from stage to stage. I also hope that they will learn to value success at each stage. It is always easier to achieve big goals by taking small steps. There is value in each of those steps. Giving them opportunities to be involved in the process will help them to see the value in those steps and satisfaction in completing each step. They will also learn that it is best to take the time to deliver quality products.
Learning from Mistakes
There is a saying in woodworking that I am reminded of regularly: measure twice, cut once. I often get ahead of myself and don’t take the time to measure again before I cut. This sometimes results in mistakes. Sometimes this mistake results in the loss of work already done and having to start over. Actually one of my products came about as a result of a measurement mistake I made when building the girls’ beds. I was building the steps for their loft beds and cut the steps too short. This meant sanding another couple of 2×4’s and cutting them to the right lengths. I generally keep all of my scrap materials that may have some use later and in this case I was able to take those incorrectly cut 2×4’s and turn them into letters. Four of those letters from a mis-cut step are now living in California.
Someone told me once that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. This is a lesson I have carried with me. I am constantly looking for lessons learned from experiences whether something went well or was an abject failure. There is something to learn from all of them. This past weekend I participated as a vendor in what I thought was going to be a craft show. It turned out to be a used clothing and toy sale. I didn’t sell much since my products all cost more than $0.25 which is what a lot of buyers were planning to spend. My 6YO came with me and we sat at the booth together from 9 to 1. We sold very little in the way of products.
While the sale was unsuccessful I learned not to do those types of sales again and took advantage of the time to talk with my daughter about what I should make next. I also paid her for her time and gave her the choice of spending her money at the sale or saving some or all of it. She opted to buy a toy that she and her sisters could all play with. I was glad to see her thinking about her sisters and making sure she got something for all of them. Each show I go to I learn a little more about exhibiting my products and about the audiences who come to each show.
I hope to teach my girls by example that as they help me develop, make and sell products that there will be products that have design failures or don’t sell and that is OK. We will learn from those products and either make them better or get rid of them if they aren’t working. We will learn from each one and each experience.
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Money has Value
I have started to pay the girls for the work they do in support of this business. Admittedly their hourly rate is considerably below the minimum wage. It is however more than I am making per hour and I also cover their room and board. They are at ages where they are starting to want their own money to do things, even if it is just to buy popcorn at school on Fridays. Now I have a way for them to earn those funds and learn to see the value in money and value their own time and labour. As their skills grow and the business grows and we see profits I will give them a raise. Once we get going and I am paying them a little more money we’ll have more conversations about the value of saving and how to do that.
I am not a mad man. I do have a little experience with marketing and communications though. Starting with joining me to exhibit at shows and gradually growing in to other areas I am going to give them opportunities to learn how to market products and find new sales channels. First up though will be direct sales to customers and learning to ask questions that will inform future product development. We will also talk about how to set up booth and displays for optimum visual appeal and hopefully sales. Then they can take on the role of setting up the displays and ideally doing most of the actual sales which will also give them good practice making change and applying math in practical settings. Strategy is built on a foundation of understanding our customers and target audiences and face-to-face contact is a great place to begin developing that knowledge.
I think entrepreneurship is something that is learned by doing and has very little to do with book learning. Certainly there are certain technical skills that can be learned from books and formal training. A lot of entrepreneurship is about risk tolerance and taking calculated risks. Entrepreneurs have to be willing to fail and learn. It is about understanding your market and customers. In my experience it is about hard work and trial and error. If I can help my kids learn something about entrepreneurship by engaging them in my latest venture it will be a success regardless of how many millions I make by sanding wood…
“Success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.”
– Thomas Edison
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