I suspect if you were to take a poll of 100 business owners, all of them can pinpoint the main reason why they took the plunge into entrepreneurialism. I also know that being their own ‘boss’ would most likely rank in the top 5 answers to that question. For me, my entrepreneur ideas took root when I was 8 years old, literally and figuratively.
I was born and raised in an 18 room farmhouse situated on 200 acres (more or less) of relatively fertile ground, located in a fairly remote rural area of New Brunswick, alongside the coastline of the Northumberland Strait. My father was a self-employed business man, who held down 2 demanding jobs: that of being an owner of his own front-end loader/backhoe during the day, and in all the hours before 8:00 am and after 5:00 pm, he toiled at his true love, that of farming.
As most of the people in the area did, we too, grew our own vegetables and harvested them for winter. The trouble was my Dad thought that a ½ acre of garden simply wasn’t enough to feed our huge family (including myself, there were only 4 of us children), so therefore a second ½ acre or more was ploughed, seeded and tended which grew only potatoes, turnip and cabbage. For those of you who’ve never tended gardens of that size, let me assure you that it takes a LOT of hoeing, weeding, tilling etc. to maintain something of that size.
Over the years, people from nearby towns constructed cottages along the beautiful coastline and my older brother had started what we called the ‘vegetable route’ supplying the ‘cottagers’ with fresh vegetables once they came into season.
The summer I turned 8, my brother decided he was too old to be doing this piddly work and passed the baton down to me. My father sat me down at the end of June and said, “I’ll make you a deal. If you take over the cottage route, I’ll split the money we make with you at the end of August.” Well, to an 8 year old girl, in 1965, the promise of actual dollar bills seemed like a tremendous idea, so we shook hands and a deal was struck. All the monies collected were to be deposited in an old tobacco can which sat at the back of the sideboard in the kitchen and divided just before school started in September.
I still didn’t have a bicycle yet (although I should add I’d started nagging my parents 2 years prior for one!), so twice a week I’d either walk the 2 mile route, knock on the cottager’s doors, smile and ask, “Do you need any vegetables this week?” and proceed to rattle off what offerings were available, or on the odd occasion my Mum would drive me in our family car. I’d write down their orders in a tiny coil-bound flip-top book, move on to the next cottage and repeat the process. When the last cottage was duly asked for an order, I’d walk back home and then my mother and I would tally up how many bunches of carrots, beets, radishes, pounds of peas, beans, or potatoes etc. we’d need to pick, wash, and pack to deliver later that day.
I should also mention here that a ‘bunch’ of carrots consisted of 12 firm, bright orange beauties, all nicely washed and tied with a piece of left-over baler twine, which sold for the princely sum of $.25/per bunch. (Yes, I’m that old!)
The hazy days of summer quickly passed and the garden once again yielded a wonderful crop. I cannot tell you how many trips I made down the cottager’s route; the tons of weeds I pulled from those rows of vegetables; the mosquito bites I received from pushing through the thorny raspberry bushes in search of the bigger, more tastier morsels, or how happy I was to hand a brown paper bag full of produce to the respective buyers and say, “That comes to $ 1.85 please” and run home to stash the cash into the tobacco can.
Cooler days rolled in and September 1st arrived. Dad decided that the Saturday night before Labour Day was to be the big reveal and division of funds. I could hardly wait.
With both of us sitting at the sturdy weathered farmhouse kitchen table, he dumped the contents of the tobacco can and started counting. After 20 minutes or so, we had the grand sum of… $ 60.00 (give or take a few pennies). Woo hoo! I would get $ 30.00 for working the entire summer!
And that’s when I learned my first lesson in entrepreneurship from my Dad.
He looked at me and said: “Before we split this money, the first $20.00 is mine because I paid for the seeds, fertilizer, and gas for the tractor and tiller.” “What do you mean, Dad? You’re taking more money than me!”, I defiantly said. He smiled and replied, “Remember, little girl. Being in business costs money, and you can’t make money if you don’t spend money.”
In the end I took my precious $20.00 or so and stashed it away in my empty Cherry Blossom candy bar box that served as my piggy bank from whence I carefully doled out a dime here or a quarter then which was spent on trips to the general store to buy penny candy on Saturday nights.
I continued to do the summer cottage vegetable route until I was 15 and got my first ‘real’ job washing dishes and peeling produce at a new restaurant/gas bar that had opened the summer of 1972 about a mile from my home. I then passed the vegetable route on to my youngest brother who was around 8 at the time… and HE had a bike! (Lucky kid!)
That meager paying, labor intensive summer job lit a spark deep inside me and I knew that at some point in my life I would become an entrepreneur. In April of 2006 I finally opened my existing wordsmith business.
No, I don’t keep my money in an empty candy bar box today, but I do pay my bills on time and try and put aside a smidgen for ‘rainy days.’
And I still tend to a teeny vegetable garden just because:-)