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Business Secrets I Learned From an Entrepreneur 20 Years Ago

secret2I don’t come from a background where entrepreneurship or small businesses were in our family. Most of my family are either public servants or employees in some capacity. It’s no surprise that I started working at 12 years old on a paper route. I had enlisted my younger sister to help me put the papers together and this enabled me to take on two more paper routes. As soon as I got my social insurance number, I quit the 3 paper routes and at 13 years old I worked as a dishwasher at a local Greek restaurant on weekends. Some of the jobs I had during my teenage years were a blackjack dealer during the summers at the CNE, I sold carpet cleaning over the phone cold calling using a phonebook, and worked as a bus boy for a hotel in Toronto.

When I started university I would plant trees in northern Ontario and northern BC during the summers. Those four summers of planting trees were the hardest work I have ever done in my life. Waking up at 5 AM having breakfast and being in a field planting trees by 6 AM, then working mostly by yourself until 6 PM. The lifestyle was simple – sleep in a tent, eat food in an assembly line, and have a hot shower on the weekends. The tree planting process was physical and monotonous – take two steps, plunge your shovel in the ground, place a sapling in the ground, kick the ground to ensure the sapling is well planted – repeat 1500-2000times a day. This experience helped me to realize I wanted to use my head not my hands to make a living.

But during those university years I worked for my good friend’s father at their family business while I was going to school. They imported Mexican pottery and glassware that were sold across North America. He was the only entrepreneur that I knew growing up. We packed and shipped materials in a warehouse that were sent all over the place, and we delivered goods across the Greater Toronto Area. We also prepared booths at gift shows where they would sell their goods to stores and other retailers. I learned many lessons in business from him, and from working there. All of which I still implement in my own businesses today.

Make Tiny Improvements Every Day. It seemed that every time he would be in the warehouse there would be another small change that would occur in order to improve the efficiency of our processes. When a trailer would come from Mexico to the warehouse we would spend hours unloading the trailer and putting the materials in the warehouse. But the longer I was there, the more I noticed that the way the trailers were being packed were improving. There was less breakage and more materials were stored in those trailers. He would joke about how he would have the trailers packed specifically in Mexico in order for them to be unpacked in a specific way when they got to Toronto.

And it wasn’t just the trailers where I had seen these tiny improvements. He would move packaging materials to different areas of the warehouse in order to improve the efficiency of packaging the goods. Once, to my chagrin, he had us digging into a hill at the back lot of the warehouse. We must’ve dug a 20 x10 foot trench in order for the trailers to be able to turn into the warehouse more easily and save time.

Invest in People. Once I was making a delivery in downtown Toronto. I was on the Gardener Expressway and I was trying to make a quick exit in order to make the off ramp. I ended up in a fender bender with another vehicle. Actually, my delivery van took the front bumper off the front of the other truck. It was a bit of a mess. When I got back to the warehouse I showed the vehicle to my friend’s father and thought for sure that he would fire me on the spot. So I went back into the warehouse and just kept working. He would occasionally invite the people working for him out for dinner and a beer after work, which was a great treat. So that evening he invited us out.

I guess I wasn’t too bright, but I asked him why he didn’t fire me. It just didn’t make any sense to me. He responded with the story. (He did that quite a bit) He explained, “an account executive at a big corporation had lost a $1 million account to a competing company and the account executive went into the CEOs office expecting to be fired. But the CEO didn’t fire him, instead explained that he had just got a $1 million education and those lessons would be wasted if another company was to hire him. That account executive became the highest earning account executive in that company’s history.“

Think Outside The Box. My friend’s father would always try different ways to do things in order to make improvements. Sometimes there would be a some expense that would go along with these improvements without knowing whether it would succeed or not. I remember spending days making wooden frames with plastic coverings that we placed on all the windows in the warehouse in order to improve its heat loss. I remember him saying that it didn’t have much of an effect on the overall heat loss after all was said and done. I was surprised that we had spent so much time, money and energy on this task without much benefit. He would say “you don’t really know, until you try”.

Do What You Say You’re Going to Do. My friend’s father dealt with a number of different retailers across North America. On one occasion he talked about all of the accounts receivables that were owed to him and how different companies would use various delay tactics in order to delay making payments. He understood the highs and lows of the business and it just seemed like these people could just explain their situation as it is and he would understand. They might even gain some flexibility. But instead they would make promises that would be difficult for them to keep or flip-flop on their explanations. I remember thinking to myself, if I were to go into business, I would try to be as transparent as possible and just do what I say I’m going to do, rather than make excuses.

Quentin D’Souza is the Chief Education Officer of the Durham Real Estate Investor Club. Author of The Property Management Toolbox: A How-To Guide for Ontario Real Estate Investors and Landlords and The Ultimate Wealth Strategy: Your Complete Guide to Buying, Fixing, Refinancing, and Renting Real Estate. And a Real Estate Investment Coach details at Real Estate Mastermind and Coaching

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