It was the first week of November 1981, and the price of a first-class U.S. stamp had just jumped to 20 cents, a 5-cent bump from only eight months earlier.
That’s the week when I planted my entrepreneurial roots–as well as my passion for helping start-ups gain marketing and public relations exposure. What got it all started was a little rubber ball that Walter Fender hurled onto the roof of Furnace Brook Middle School in Marshfield, Ma.
I was in the 8th grade, on a lunch-hour break in the parking lot by the cafeteria, when Walter, unaware that the ball was mine, gave it the heave-ho. His apology came in the form of a quarter that he pulled out of his pocket and thrust into my hand.
My mom’s birthday was only days away and I resolved to try selling bubble gum to raise money for the most thoughtful purchase I could imagine at the time: a book of 20 stamps, for a whopping expenditure of four dollars.
I bought a pack of Bubble Yum that afternoon, containing five pieces. The next day, I sold them for 10 cents each and then returned to the same drugstore to invest 50 cents in two packs of gum. The following day–my third in business–I boosted my gross receipts to one dollar, at which point I bought four packs, made $2 in sales, and then–you guessed it–bought eight packs with my entire fortune.
After that first week, I found eight packs of gum to be the extent of my fellow students’ chewing-gum demand. A few months later, I branched out, quite by accident, into Starburst fruit chews for a nickel apiece. That diversification boosted my daily net profit from $2 to $5.
By the end of the school year, I had parlayed that 25-cent “angel investment” into $500 of profits that paid for two summer basketball camps and helped my mom purchase a car. For this 13-year-old kid, the journey that began with a desire to buy a simple birthday gift had left an indelible stamp.
Having that entrepreneurial experience was the seed that has blossomed into self-employment for the past 14 years. And since launching my own public relations practice in 2005, helping entrepreneurs start their own businesses has been one of the great privileges of my work.
One of the main reasons why I treasure the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs is that it enables me to make a significant difference during a formative, even vulnerable, stage of their efforts.
In its early days, a business is like a baby—unable to survive without hands-on support on a regular basis. It’s only fitting that, within the business realm, investing and re-investing in your own fledgling enterprise is referred to as “feeding the baby.”
Theron Nelsen, Amway Executive Diamond and one of the leaders of World Wide DreamBuilders (WWDB) for more than 30 years, uses that same expression in counseling new business associates.
Rather than “eating your seed,” Nelsen echoes other WWDB leaders in coaching how to invest a portion of profits in business-training tools that will help generate even more profits in the long term.
When I get started with an entrepreneur, he or she often has only a very rough written summary of who they are, what service they provide and other basic elements of their story. Sometimes, they don’t even have that much.
Even if they have a few hundred words, and upwards of a few thousand, that strive to explain what makes them distinctive in the marketplace (and thereby newsworthy), rarely is it very close to what they need in order to capture media interest.
That brings us to another key reason why I so enjoy working with entrepreneurs: it affords me the opportunity to play a significant role in shaping their story.
Over the years, I have helped individuals who are getting going in an array of fields: mortgage banking, exotic women’s accessories, public speaking, integrative health membership, a statewide political campaign, and more.
In each instance, they were starting, more or less, with a blank slate. It’s exciting to play a key role in articulating their story and how it has a distinct place in the broader landscape of whatever corner of the world they are in.
So far, nobody has been in the bubble gum or candy distribution business—but in the Chicago PR and marketing field, where there’s something new emerging all the time, don’t rule it out in the future.