“You’re born with what you’ve got. You don’t buy it in Boots in a bottle, take four teaspoons a day and become an entrepreneur” ~ Sir Alan Sugar.
I was born a bit of a Del Boy Trotter, always looking for ways to make or stumble upon some extra pocket money.
I’d happily wash the dishes, vacuum the carpets or polish the tables as I’d been told – but only if I would be remunerated for my efforts. And, due to a decline in sugar hiking up the prices of fizzy cola bottles in my pick ‘n’ mix, I managed to get my rates up from 20p a chore, to 50p, to a £1 in a very short period of time.
I’d do a regular sofa check, stuffing my hands down beneath the cushions looking for coins that had fallen out of visitors’ pockets. And at weekends I’d make crispy cakes and fairy cakes, selling them to family members and friends for 50p a piece.
I’d do anything to get my hands on those precious shiny coins.
There was even one time I opened up the garage door, set up a table and tried to sell everything in there to people walking past. That got me in a lot of trouble when my Dad caught me with his leaf trimmer, but that’s what business is all about – taking risks.
As I grew a little bit older, I started to learn more about trade and the bartering economy. I began to understand an exchange of value beyond coins. And I’ll never forget the moment I secured my first deal.
I was seven years old and I was wearing a green and white checked summer dress with a scalloped collar and satin ribbon tie that my Grandma had made me on her sewing machine. I had tight hold of my most treasured possession – my lemon, heart-shaped Polly Pocket.
Inside this tiny little case was a tiny little lilac world full of magic. A tiny little sandpit next to a tiny little swimming pool, and tiny little steps that led up into a tiny little house.
I loved letting my imagination shrink me down to Polly size and I’d be in there with her, playing in the sandpit.
That day, I decided I wanted the Polly Pocket doll that my friend Victoria had, the one with the blonde hair and a pink dress and a tiny little dog, and as it happened, she wanted the one that I had.
So we agreed our terms (said bagsy no backs), shook hands (gave each other a pinky promise) and our deal was done.
Creme de la Menthe
As soon as I was old enough to work, I worked – all the hours I could, after school and weekends. I had a whole host of weird and wonderful jobs, and then I took my first steps on the career ladder.
I started working as a translator in Berlin, then quickly wormed my way into New Balance where I’d answer the phone with “Guten Tag, kann ich Ihnen helfen“, attempting to help German customers buy their Laufschuhe.
But I didn’t want to just speak mediocre German and sell sports gear, I wanted to learn, I wanted to grow and I wanted to get ahead.
So I started networking. I started reading books on procurement and international trade, learning everything there was to learn about contracts, commodity codes and incoterms. And before long, a position opened up for a Junior Buyer – and I got it.
Throughout my career, my Polly-Pocket-trading, fairy-cake-making, pocket-money-pinching inner Del Boy never really left me.
I was always the one they’d strategically add to a team to play the role of the rogue; the one who you could guarantee would break the rules and question how things are done.
But as rebellious as I appeared to them, I was still playing it safe for me – I was swaddled in the safety blanket of a corporate world with a guaranteed salary and all of those looker-aftery benefits they like to include.
It was a risk averse way of being an entrepreneur; I had responsibility and autonomy and budgets to play with, but at the end of the day, the liability was in their hands. I drove the yellow three-wheel van, but they paid for my insurance.
All of that changed when I broke free.
Now that I’ve set up not one, but two businesses, I’m back to my old tricks – wheelin’, dealin’, duckin’ and divin’ – lining my pockets and nobody else’s.
It’s 100% dedication, 100% graft with a little bit of Mange Tout Rodney on the side.