I always say every business is a dream. As we head towards the Tortona area of Milan I see dreams, in the form of contemporary architecture and elegant buildings. The dreams have unique, catchy names. People look happy in them, there is music and chatter and other lively sound. I know I have a wild imagination but anyone would see it if they tried: the streets are lined with dreams. Do you ever think about how a person finds an idea. A simple idea. Maybe something genius, maybe something rather unoriginal. The idea is a seed that grows because of the constant nagging at the back of their minds to make it something tangible. Suddenly it becomes all they can think about. Consider all the steps they have to go through to make their business come alive. Loans for capital, debts incurred, documentation, paperwork, red tape, bribes, time, energy. Think about the small beginnings when nobody would patronize except their immediate family. Where the only ten people following them on social media are their best friends. The others are people who are uninterested as beige walls.
At the top of every sky-scraper in your city there is a dreamer. Or a dreamer’s successor. A colleague of mine once said that society often harshly condemns dreamers as unrealistic people who seek to accomplish unreasonable goals. I think that’s only half true. A dreamer stops being just a dreamer when they use the tools at their disposal to bring their dreams to life. A sort of magic spell if you will, but the kind that takes up all the mental and physical capacity.
I started my first real business at 20. It was more of a challenge to myself at the time. I wanted to prove that I could push myself beyond my limits so the year before that, I went and got a job in a field I knew would make money in a city like Rome: teaching English in an international institute.
I’ll never forget the day I showed up at the interview. I was the youngest person in the room and unlike my older contenders I dressed casually. My CV was basically three paragraphs of academic awards and experience. I didn’t have a traditional high school experience, I was three minutes late and I wasn’t sure what I was doing next to a 39 year old man in a tailored suit. While I sat, trying not to look like the nonplussed university student that I was, the other candidates began to speak to themselves. One of them was an American citizen who had taught in a private school in Milan for three years, another was a part-time teacher in another prestigious school, a twenty something woman who hadn’t taught English officially yet, but she had worked at the Australian embassy and had a brand new teaching certificate; the man in the tailored suit was British but like me he didn’t say much.
I was the first candidate to walk into the conference room. The boss was a notimeforthis plump woman that barely shook my hand. One look at my ‘CV’ and she started laughing. She asked, “Is this really your CV?” With a grin, I replied, “Yes it is, I’m not sure what I’m doing here.” For a moment she looked like she was contemplating calling security. “You have no job experience.”
“I have no job experience but in order to teach people sometimes it’s life experience you need,” I said grimly. She seemed surprised by my answer and for five minutes we were engaged in a debate and eventually she stood, shook my hand and announced in the hallway. “I wouldn’t want to disrespect you by making you wait for the interview. I’ve found the person for the job!” It took me a moment to register that she was talking about me… I’d love to tell you the details about the interview but that’s a story for another blog post.
I worked at the institute for a year with students of all ages. Then one summer morning I walked to the headquarters and handed in my two week’s notice. I blocked my student’s numbers so I wouldn’t accidentally poach them and I went to the square for fresh air. A year in some people’s opinion wouldn’t be enough to gather information about starting your own business, but I had to make it worthwhile. In a month, I was putting in less than half the hours I worked at the institute and earning twice as much. I offered people a cheaper and more comfortable alternative to having to attend school but I wasn’t doing what traditional private teachers were doing. I offered lessons in packets from 15 hours to 50 hours and required payments in full after the first lesson with a discount for people who didn’t want to pay in instalments, working people who wanted Skype lessons, or groups of people, unlike traditional teachers who take payments after each sitting.
So in this context 10 euros an hour becomes 20 euros an hour when a 15 hour/person packet is 300 euros. Which means you’re earning between 1,500 to 2,000. You work ten hours a week including Skype time and you develop a long term relationship with your clients. Three months later I was having to turn down new calls and I hated having to. So I set up an interview for two other teachers to take on young children. I would meet the clients first and take care of the contracts and administrative issues and keep ten percent for myself.
Need any money ideas from outside the box? Drop it in my inbox! That’s corny – but maybe my two cents would help.