Adventures in Enterprise: Starting Young

Self-employment, don’t you love it! And obviously I do since that’s about all I have done for the last forty years or so. Being a bit of a control freak I knew I could never depend on waiting for someone else to provide what I needed (possibly my dad dying when I was very young helped reinforce this lesson as my mum had to work nonstop to keep us afloat.) My first and best lesson in enterprise began when my primary school wanted to build an outdoor swimming pool. The headmistress asked for volunteers and she gave each of us the equivalent of 12 ½ p and told us to use our imagination and turn it into as much money as we could during the summer holidays.

We must have been about nine or ten years old at the time and I have no idea what everyone else did but to me this was a no brainer. I pottered off on my own, spent the money on a book of raffle tickets, spotted, but didn’t yet buy (I didn’t have the money), an impressive box of chocolates in a local shop that I could offer as a prize and hit the neighbourhood. The chocolates only cost about 25p – yes things were rather cheaper then but money was scarce so it all worked out evenly!

As soon as I had enough to actually buy the prize I did, I could then show this to my prospective customers so they knew what they were getting. I quickly sold out. All the neighbours were friendly so it wasn’t difficult persuading them, and with tickets at 2 ½ p and a bit of chat from me describing how lovely the prize was, I soon had a bag full of coins. With the money I could then buy the prize.

By the time school started again I had made the princely sum of £2.50, a whopping increase on my 12 ½ p. Less the cost of the chocolates, as a percentage that’s a nice bit of profit. I managed to earn the highest and this was duly announced in front of the whole school. The swimming pool was built, costing no doubt a little more than £2.50 but I was specially invited back from my senior school and was the first person to swim in it. (Blinking freezing and an experience I never want to repeat!)

My mum thought the whole thing was a great idea as long as I didn’t harass anyone in the process. But then, since cash was very tight, mum had already fallen into a small enterprise herself: the previous Christmas she had handmade a box of Christmas crackers – just for fun – and given it to her sister as a present. My aunt took them to work and in a few days mum had orders for 300 boxes. Mum and I worked late into the night for a week to make the things, and while she only earned about 30p a box profit, it brought in enough money to pay for Christmas dinner and a few little extras.

It must be in my genes. Just don’t ask me to make any more crackers.

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