For What It’s Worth

I remember the first business I tried to start. Little, naive 9 year-old me. I’d walk around the neighborhood toting a green wagon, with a bucket, a few sponges and soap. For just $3, you could have a shiny car – but you’d have to let me use your water. I don’t think I ever made more than about $30 in a summer. Not bad for a kid, though.

By Bryan Katz

One customer, I remember vividly. He had a big, red pickup truck. Must’ve had about an eight-inch lift with giant offroad tires. And this guy wanted immaculate service. Spotless rims, squeaky clean on the paint and windows that you could practically reach right through. Of course, as a 9 year-old with no sense of business ethics, no recognition of labor and materials costs and certainly no customer service skills, I was compelled to make $3 off of this guy.

So I started. I filled up my bucket with the customers’ water, poured my soap, got my sponges and brushes wet and began cleaning this monster truck. When all was said and done, I remember stepping back and looking at what I’d done. All the hard work I put into making this truck as clean as it was.

I knocked on the front door to let the owner know I was done, and after I’d been to work for just over two hours on this project, he stares down at me and said, “Well, it’s no Brown Bear carwash, but here’s $3.”

I was ecstatic that I’d earned some money, but defeated in the sense that a 9 year-old’s neighborhood carwash service was now being compared to a nationally-recognized corporation in which I couldn’t compete.

If I were to count on my hands, the number of small business I’ve tried to start but failed epically before the thought had even made it to paper, I’d need about twenty hands. In this day and age, there’s a service for everything so, naturally, investing time and money into a startup is a gamble.

And a lot of people will back out once they see how many people are standing in line with the exact same idea as them; with the same business plan and everything. But you can’t just leave. Because what if there’s a fault in their plan, but yours is concrete? Then you’ve just given up on something that had the potential to drive an industry.

If I would’ve walked away with my head hung low after I’d been told that I wasn’t as good as Brown Bear, I may have not continued going door to door offering to wash cars. I may haven’t had the drive to pursue other goals and businesses. Being told, “no,” isn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen – it opens up doors and presents new opportunities for growth; economically and corporately.

Did you know that as of June 2017, North Dakota is one of the Top 3 best states to become an entrepreneur? And within North Dakota, Stark County is one of the best places to do so. I suppose that’s why I moved here with my family in 2014. Aside from working in the oil field, I owned and operated my own graphic design business. Coming from Seattle, where graphic design was the norm, the economy and need for designers in the Midwest is astounding. Because it’s not a very developed profession in this region.

Of course, I’ve had road blocks. I’ve been denied business by folks who say they’ve got an in-house team or that they’ve found somewhere cheaper. And that’s a great thing. Why is it a great thing that there are businesses cheaper than you? Because, if you’re the cheapest one out there, people will affiliate that with lack of quality. I’d like to say I’m reasonably priced, but never ever the cheapest.

If I would’ve stopped the first time I heard, “no,” from a potential client, what was the point in even going forward? You’ll get your ‘no’s’ and your ‘maybe’s’ and your ‘i don’t know if it’s in my budget’s,’ but once you get your first ‘YES,’ then it’s time to shine. It’s always that first sale that’s the hardest to get.

In terms of cold calling or starting an e-mail list, you’ll make about 45 contacts before one person says yes. Out of 100 people, there’s a 2% chance you’ve got that somebody will listen to you and attempt at doing business. And, if it’s not worth it to you, then step aside to make room for the next guy in line. Because if you aren’t willing to make sacrifices, take the time out of your day to make contacts or take chances, there are thousands of other entrepreneurs with your same idea who want the business you’re trying to gain.

Business is a science. But it doesn’t take a degree to master it – just a mindset.

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