I was very young when I got my first real job, about 8 years old. It was selling newspapers on a street corner in what was at the time a rough suburb for a young kid to alone. I often think back about the things I learned as part of that job and I realized that a lot of my later success was due in no small part to my career as a paper boy.
Every day after school I would ride my bike to the depot, pick up a pile of newspapers, and hit the streets. Where I sold them was up to me, I kept whatever money was left over above the cost of the newspapers and I was paid $2 a week for 10 hours work. I thought it was fantastic.
I learned a lot about people and selling things that has proven very valuable to me throughout my life. Here are the main realizations as an 8 year old boy:
1. You have to go where your customers are, not wait for them to come to you.
At first I didn't really know where to go or what to do. So I stood on a street corner, waiting forlornly for people to rush out and buy newspapers. Very few did. One day an old lady came by, she bought a newspaper and gave me a nice tip - not a financial one, but some advice. She suggested I walk her home, helping her with her groceries along the way and she would introduce me to all of the shop owners that she knew. From that they day on I knew everyone, I started going to where my customers were, rather than waiting for them to come to me. Sounds kind of obvious but a lot of businesses still get this wrong.
2. Remember your customers and their likes and dislikes.
As a newspaper boy you quickly learn that some people like their newspaper folded, some like it rolled, some people like two copies, for whatever reason, some want certain change, some don't want the one on top and so on. Who knew? I learned quickly that when you took the time to understand and remember what your customers liked or didn't like - your tips got bigger.
3. Be consistent.
I learned very quickly that with newspapers, people wanted them delivered at the same time every day. I had to be extremely consistent and figure out when people wanted their newspaper so I could always make a point of being there a few minutes early. Lots of them laughed when I walked in the door, saying they could set their clock by me turning up. Today I know how important this is.
4. Look for people to partner with.
At the start I was intimidated to go into the bars even though I knew they would be good for business. I would look in the doors and be too scared to go in. One Friday afternoon, I noticed a charity worker walking through the bars, and I started to follow him around. I noticed that when he walked through, all of the drunken men would stop being loud and scary and they would drop coins into his little collection box. As I followed him they all started buying newspapers and giving me great tips. The man I was following realized what I was doing and he very kindly took me under his wing and led the way. At the end of every shift on Friday, we would sit and have a lemonade together. This was my first successful partnership, but I suspect I got more out of it than my benefactor.
5. Never judge a person by their looks.
My best customer was a very old man who sat quietly on seat in a park every day. He was very frail, his clothes were dirty and he didn't smell very nice. I would sit and chat to him, bring him chocolate bars from time to time and give him a newspaper because I thought he couldn't afford one. One day, just as I was leaving, he pulled a crumpled ten dollar note out of his pocket and gave it to me. I didn't know what to do - that was a huge amount of money. He smiled, looked me in the eye and said "never judge a man by what he wears". From that day on, every time I brought him a newspaper he gave me a two dollar note. Needless to say he became my favorite customer, until one day he simply stopped going to the park and I never saw him again.
6. Have a sense of humor especially when you are scared.
When my charity worker friend wasn't around, which was most days, I still had to do battle with my fear and go into the bars. One in particular frightened me a lot. It was very loud, a working class bar, with lots of big, scary men who fought a lot, swore a lot and laughed a lot. I was a little fat kid, an easy target for them to make fun of. I learned to laugh off their mean taunts, which at first really upset me. The reason? They were the best tippers. The meaner they were, the more they tipped. I realized it was their way of saying sorry in front of their friends. So I learned to laugh about it - and eventually got cheeky enough to give them a regular serve of their own medicine.
7. When you get paid, celebrate a little.
Every Friday afternoon I got paid my two dollars and all of my tip money. At the time money was very tight in my household, so I felt like I was contributing. I put my two dollars into the household budget and got to keep my tip money, which of course I spent on kid stuff. It was always the Friday afternoon ritual that I grew to love. It was an acknowledgement of the hard work I had put in during the week.
The big question, what did you learn from your first real job. Think about it and I am sure you will start to remember much more than the job itself. I certainly did.