When I was growing up in Western Sydney I didn’t have access to a high disposable income for extracurricular activities, brand name clothes and the like. I took it upon myself from a young age to look for ways to fund my social life, events and anything I was missing out on. It was up to me to generate an income for these luxuries and I knew that if I wanted a different and financially secure future it would be up to me to make that a reality.
I had a knack for electronics and had figured out circuitry, so at 14 I put these skills to use and started my first ever business installing car stereos from my parent’s garage. I’d used my sister’s car as a guinea pig and managed to figure out how to install a head-unit and a set of speakers and from there it just became a matter of spreading the word.
Word-of-mouth is an incredibly valuable tool, especially in the digital age when customer (or staff) satisfaction or dissatisfaction can be widely publicised at the push of a button. Online word-of-mouth can make or break a business, but growing up pre-social media I relied on traditional word-of-mouth to grow my business and build a customer base.
People came to me asking for quotes and, without the overheads of my competitors, I told them to request a quote from a professional car stereo retail chain and promised to charge fifty per cent less. This business carried me financially from 14 through to 20, when I embarked on a different path which has since seen me head up the Australian marketing division for a NYSX-listed Fortune 500 company and launch marketing campaigns for some of the most recognised brands in the world.
As the founder and director of boutique marketing agency, Menace Group, I look back on my first foray into business and can see how many invaluable lessons I was learning – though it may not have always been apparent at the time. If anything, it felt like instinct, and following these instincts later in life has been a great strength that ive employed as ive grown professionally and personally.
Here are the 5 greatest things I learnt from starting a business at 14:
- Monetise your skill set
I’ve seen a lot of talented people make the mistake of thinking that because something is easy for them it would be easy for everyone and thus thinking “why would someone pay me to do that?”. We all have our unique take on the world and individual skill sets which we can leverage to create the life we want. As a passionate advocate for outsourcing, I believe we should harness our strengths and outsource (or employ) our weaknesses to be most productive with our time (and happy!). At school we’re rewarded for being generalists, but in life often the opposite is true. Those who excel in one subject area in business and pursue this with passion and intent often end up being the most successful people. If you struggle with numbers and spreadsheets, hire an accountant. If you’re great with words, why not start a blog? Put your unique skills to use. Even if you are working for someone else – are there ways that you could be better applying your skills, or is there a new project you can take on?
- Word-of-mouth can make or break a business
Today, more than ever, businesses are at the mercy of their customers and the internet and it is up to them to provide the best product or service possible. While you will always have some dissatisfied customers no matter how great your product or service, how you listen and respond to that feedback is critical. If you want your customers to rave about your business, make sure the communication lines are always open and you are hearing what they want.
- Identify and leverage your Unique Selling Points (USPs)
At 14 I was working out of my parent’s garage and didn’t have the overheads of my competitors, so I was able to offer my services at a heavily discounted rate. When I spread the word about my business, this was what I highlighted. It’s a fairly simple example, but unless you understand your position in the market and what you can offer that other businesses can’t, you will struggle. This is not to say you should compete on price, or attempt to simply slash your overheads. The aim is to understand what you genuinely do different to others, and then use this to your advantage in helping your customers get what they want and need.
- Do what you love
Installing car stereos was a means to an end, funding my life from 14-20, but the first time I had a taste of marketing I knew that this was what I would spend my life doing. I was working as a toolmaker when I had the opportunity to set up at a trade show on behalf of the business. This experience led me to pursue several qualifications in business and marketing and work in the field for years before launching my own marketing agency. It also allowed me to exercise my interpersonal skills, after all I always enjoyed other’s company networking and working with others.
- Resilience: To be challenged is to learn
Without facing those early financial struggles, I wouldn’t have been launched into the world of entrepreneurship so early and learnt everything I did. Everyone has challenges to face in life, but how we choose to respond to these and what we make of our lives as a result – our resilience – is what shapes us and sets us apart. I’ve made so many mistakes. I have never done anything for a business or client that I haven’t done, tried or tested out myself on my businesses. I use myself as the guinea pig nowadays and ensure that I’m always learning, always failing (but failing quickly) and then getting back up and moving on.
About the author, Kevin Spiteri