Recently, I was thinking about how long I’ve been selling and this brought back memories of when I was 13 or 14 and started a car-washing business. Shamelessly, I started this business with no business plan, no real strategy and with zero capital.
One Saturday morning I simply grabbed my dad’s bucket and sponge, and filched some washing-up liquid from under the kitchen sink and headed to the last house at the bottom of the street. I started door-knocking and within half-a-dozen houses someone agreed to let me wash their car. This was in England and I charged two shillings and sixpence, aka two and six or half-a-crown. This was pre-decimalization and I chose this amount as it allowed people to pay with just one coin. In today’s currency that would only be 12.5 pence or a little under 21 cents, but back then it was half what my parents gave me in pocket money.
By the end of that first morning I’d washed four cars and after lunch I went back to door knocking and did four more. My day’s wage was the princely sum of £1 or today a buck 66 and I was proud of myself.
After washing each car, I asked whether my new customer would like me to come back at the same time next week and most said yes. Over the next few months I became quicker and more skilful at washing cars, in part because of purchasing new equipment and real car shampoo.
Then a challenge cropped up; some of my customers asked whether I could clean the inside of their cars too! This caused a problem as I was already booked for the day with washes. It was then I hired my first ‘employee’ – a friend who was happy to wash, or detail a car for a shilling (I’ll spare you the lesson in currencies again) a little less than half what I was charging.
I remember, at the end of one particularly busy day arriving home with my pockets bulging with half-crowns (quite a heavy coin) much to the surprise of my father, who I am sure immediately cut my pocket money!
One of the lessons I learned back in those days was that honesty pays off. I was detailing a car one day when I found a bunch of change down the back of a seat. When I handed it in to the owner, I noticed my tip (yes, I usually got a tip as well) was higher than it had ever been.
Unfortunately, as a young teenager the lesson got a little warped. Realizing that I could get larger tips, I started planting small change in cars to hand back to the owner! As I write this, I am a little red-faced but what can I say, I was a budding entrepreneur.
So, what can we take from this story that’s relevant to today? I suppose the biggest thing is that simply getting out there and knocking on doors is a great way to bring in business. That, and pricing well and working hard.
Business doesn’t have to be complicated; all you need is a good idea, a service or product people need, hard work, and of course the supreme confidence of a child!