I was thinking a lot about my journey into business this week. I had a flash back of being a little girl around the age of 9 or 10, highlighting the dates on the receipts my mum had kept for her business.
Always in business…
There were hundreds of them and I would sit there with my little pink highlighter, searching for the dates to highlight them and put them in date order. I was chatting with my mum over the weekend, about the successes we have seen in First Class recently, winning the Prince’s Trust and the major mental health project we are delivering, my mum was beaming with pride. I reminded her of the times I would sit and highlight the receipts, saying that I still do that now but for our company, although it is something I could probably give to someone else, but for some reason I enjoy going through them and doing the same thing.
My journey into business carried on to senior school, In year 8 I remember taking part in workshops in school during enterprise week, we had to sell our make shift products, I apparently had an eye for profit, so the teachers said, I wouldn’t sell my products for less than I thought they were worth. I ended winning the prize for most sales that day.
Even after all that, you would have thought that I knew I had a head for business, but I never really realised the skill I had until I started to bake cakes. To me it was a hobby I would do with my older daughters at the time, when it was raining outside, I would get out whatever ingredients I had, and we would spend time baking. Being the person who always wants to learn and improve, I bought different tins and raided my mums cake cupboard for all the resources she had, because like her mum, she always baked for other people and was the responsible for my wedding cake. Years later I went to church with a batch of cakes, to give away after my daughter’s baptism, people went crazy asking me how much they were and what do I charge? I had no idea that these little cupcakes would become a small business opportunity.
I learned to sell…
In business we all have an amazing product or service, something that we truly believe in, but no matter how fantastic the product is, we need to be able to sell it! I learned this in an unusual way. I signed up to do various market stalls around the west midlands with a market trading company. I went to shopping centres, food shows, children’s events and Christmas markets with my cakes and bakes. I learnt to sell in the pouring rain, in the bitter cold and even in the boiling summer where the potential for melting buttercream icing and swarms of wasps were enough to put anyone off. I had to smile through the frost bite of the Christmas market whilst setting up and packing down in the rain. I quickly understood about profit and margin, watching what other traders would sell their goods for, and working out good deals for the target market. During those times, I can remember thinking this is hard work? Is it worth it? To be honest, some of those stalls were a complete waste of time, I can recall the time I did an outdoor stall in the pouring rain in Sutton Coldfield, I had this enormous table filled with rainbow cake, ginger cake, cupcakes , tray bakes etc at the bottom end of the market, the location where people either walked straight past, or didn’t walk down in the first place. The top of the market which was close to the shops and the arcade was buzzing with activity, we were in no mans land. We had been there for about an hour when I realised this is total waste of time, the rain was weighing the tarpaulin drapes and was dripping all over the table, the cakes were at risk of being destroyed and me and my daughter were at risk of catching pneumonia. Nevertheless, we stood, I was determined to make my table price back and at least enough to give something to my daughter for standing there with me.
Resilience and Staying Power…
In all those experiences, I learned so much, no degree course or business mentor could have taught me the lessons I have learned from those experiences. Standing in the rain selling cakes, takes a certain type of character, it requires resilience and staying power. Most of all it causes you to remember why you are doing it. For me it was the fact that I knew I had a product that would sell, that would enable to me build a business, I knew that I was teaching my daughter the power of business and sales. She came with me to near enough every single opportunity, she would help me bake, set up and pack down. She learnt the power of setting targets and goals (we knew we had to at least make out table cost back before we left any occasion) She understands the value of money.
Those times were humbling and whilst I don’t do any of those things anymore for cakes, I do them every day in First Class Legacy and for Sabrinadennis.org I know that I must push, even when it gets hard. When its raining and there is an event I know that I need to be the first one pushing to see us win. This is business, but this is my business, there will be times when it gets hard, but so what, nothing worth doing was easy!