My very first job was mowing grass. I had a half-dozen clients in my neighborhood and I started mowing their lawns when I was about 11 or 12. I even had an employee for a short time. I paid for many tanks of gas, loads of casette tapes (Google it) and even a few trips to the beach with money from mowing lawns.
My first real jobs where I had a boss and got a pay check was as a busboy at County Line Barbecue (on the lake) and Comet Cleaners (on Far West Blvd) both in Austin, Texas.
I often reflect back on those initial jobs I had as a kid and think about what lessons I learned and how that has helped me start and run my own business today.
In fact, I often think back to my first real marketing job, as an assistant media planner at Temerlin McClain (working on the Long John Silver's account during the infamous Mr. Big Fish days!!!). That job was awesome. My bosses were great, the other people in my department were great and my client was really good to work with/for. I didn't really appreciate it at the time, but I learned so much from that job. As one of about 15 assistant media planners I did not have a computer at my desk, no one my level did (side note - we used NEXT computers from Steve Jobs, it was 1994). Instead we had to share 6-8 computers in a computer lab. Most assistant media planners would spend 75% of each day in that lab, so if you weren't lucky enough to get immediate access to an open computer, you sat and waited. And you talked, asked questions, commerserated, etc... I feel like I learned so much in that computer lab - how to become a power Excel user (even though I learned Lotus 123 in college), how to take direction, how to ask questions, how to react or what to do when I made a mistake, etc... It was a wonderful experience. I learned to ask questions, not to think I knew everything and I learned what advice to follow and what advice not to follow.
Here are just a few additional things I learned in my early jobs that stand out in my mind:
- how to be accountable - show up on time, dress appropriately, etc.
- how to lead and how to follow
- how to listen closely and follow direction
- how and when to ask questions and seek advice
- how to earn money and how long it takes to save money (and the difference between net and gross pay)
- that hard work pays off - just not always on your desired schedule
- if you don't know, ask. Don't assume
I reflect back on these lessons now when I encounter young people as employees, clients or vendors and I can often tell pretty quickly who has and hasn't experienced some of these same things. What I've discovered is that there are no shortcuts to business success. Don't act like you have it all figured out if you don't. People are willing to help, if asked.
You need to work your way up and you need to constantly be working hard and solving problems. I don't necessarily think that employees need a certain education or a certain amount of time in the workforce before they can be truly productive or accomplish great things, it happens more quickly for some than others. But I do believe that they need a basic understanding of what it's like to be an employee, they need common sense and a great work ethic.
For any young people reading this, start listening, ask for guidance when needed, keep working hard and learn to solve problems AND never stop learning (read, read, read), never stop asking questions. If you can do that and stay focused, then good things in business will come.