I WAS LESS THAN 10 years old when I decided that I wanted to earn some extra cash over and above my weekly allowance. I took day-old sections from the Washington Post and went door-to-door in my neighborhood, selling each section for a dime. Not many fell for it, but there was a couple who were willing to hand over a dime to a young boy looking to supplement his allowance.
I doubt that I earned much from this endeavor. Still, it marked the early beginnings of my entrepreneurial spirit. There wasn’t any financial risk taken, but certainly the initiative and the appetite for earning money was there.
It wasn’t until my family’s return to Washington, DC, from my father’s posting overseas, that I—along with my twin brother—took on the next moneymaking venture. We were 16 years old. We advertised our lawn mowing services in the community newsletter, which was sent to hundreds of households. Once again, there was very little financial risk, because we required customers to provide their own mowers. We had enough customers through the summer to keep us busy, not just with mowing, but with add-on services, too. We would do just about any household chore a customer wanted.
Additionally, we did babysitting. Word was getting around that we were reliable. If you asked us to do something, it would get done. If you wanted us to be at your home at a certain time, we would be there punctually. If you called us, we would call you back. This same attitude toward customer service would become a significant factor in the growth of our landscape company two decades later. Customers knew that they could rely on us, a reason so many customers remained with us for all the years that we owned the company. Even customers that we had as teenagers and into our 20s would become customers of the landscape company that we started in our 30s.
As if we were not busy enough, we both took on newspaper delivery routes. We would be up at 5 a.m. to each deliver the 50 newspapers that were dropped off near our home. We retrofitted our bicycles to carry newspapers in a basket, with even more copies stuffed in the canvas shoulder bag that the Washington Post provided to its carriers. The Sunday edition of the paper was substantial, so much bigger than it is today. Either we would have to do two deliveries or we would load the newspapers onto the backseat of our gas-guzzling car and drive to each of the homes.
Deliveries were made in all kinds of weather. We were committed to ensuring that each of our customers received their newspaper. I recall on one winter morning waking up to a heavy snowfall. The newspapers had already been dropped off. We dug them out and walked the newspaper route, something that we also had to do on the days that followed, until the snow had melted. This commitment to customer service was not forgotten by our customers. Many would also come to us for our mowing services.
The cash that I earned was deposited into my bank account, usually on a Friday evening, when I was at the shopping mall with my mother and siblings. For all our hard work, our treat was dinner at Roy Rogers, a fast food chain located just down the hallway from the bank. This discipline of saving diligently and spending slowly continues to this day, though now I hold the purse strings a little less tight.