I’m not a business person. Not at all. Not in the least bit. I’ve always HATED business and anything business-related with a PASSION! At university when everyone else was ploughing off into BA’s and Commerce and the like I just drifted around and ogled at stars in the clear, cold, semi-Arctic night sky. So I never imagined that I could ever learn so much about the business world or managing my own business. Or want to learn it, for that matter.
I’ve been running my own fairly successful free-lance business for a year now. I never meant to work free-lance, even though it was something I’d always hankered to do, because I detested having bosses over me or fixed hours (which generally got longer and longer instead of shorter and shorter, as bosses coerced me ever more often to put in increasing amounts of overtime – if I wanted to keep my job!). I wanted to be able to take off for a few moments to go and have a coffee with a friend if I felt like it. Or an hour to run off to a gym (everyone’s gotta stay fit ya know!). But low-level, menial office jobs somehow just don’t happen to include these kinds of privileges in their working conditions. Shucks!
Having children made it even harder to get in to work. I couldn’t just keep taking time off to care for my son, who was born with an illness that often kept him confined to the house. But I was a single mom and if I didn’t go to work, we wouldn’t have anything to live on. A real catch-22.
And then finally, the crisis crashed down like a pall over our little city which had never been exactly a model of prosperity to begin with, seeing as it’s located in Spain’s poorest region, the “deep south”, whooo. A city with virtually no industry to speak of, little commerce, one that depends almost entirely on tourism, mostly foreign tourism, to survive. And with the crisis people just weren’t going on holidays anymore. I mean, holidays are expendable, it’s more important to fill up the pantry first!
So unemployment shot way up to 36% (as opposed to the national average of only about 15%) and I couldn’t get a job. The only alternative I could find – other than adopting a rich granddad or seducing and then marrying a tycoon, that is – was to strike out on my own.
So I started out peddling everything I knew how to do. I pasted posters offering myself for everything from dog-walking and babysitting to Reiki massages (carried out in the comfort of the client’s own home, no less) and palm-readings, not neglecting, of course, every North American-in-Spain’s ace up the sleeve: teaching English.
Countless North American and English students taking a semester of Spanish classes in Spain, or doing their full degree here, have survived thanks to English classes. It’s practically a tradition here. So of course, I offered to do it too.
After about a month or so I already had several English students – and not a single dog to walk, baby to look after or backs to massage (even though Reiki massages more than just backs, but then again, that’s a different topic altogether…….). Since teaching English also happens to be more lucrative than walking dogs or watching over babies anyways, I ran out and pulled down all my ads except the English-related ones.
So I had already learned a basic, fundamental lesson about running a business, and this without ever having stepped into a Business 101 class. And that was, that advertising was super, super important.
After a few months teaching English, someone asked me if I also knew French, since I’m from Montreal. Their son was studying French at school in addition to English, and if I could teach him French too it would save them all the bother of searching for a good, qualified francophone tutor, and it would mean more income for me. I said yes and added French lessons to my repertoire.
As the next logical step I decided to add to my services, lessons in everything that I knew enough about to teach. And thus I also learned a new lesson, one which business gurus just can’t emphasize enough and charge people a fortune to teach it to them: diversify. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. If you offer more services, and different kinds of services, you are much better prepared for “lean cow years”. If demand for one of your offerings drops you aren’t left out in the cold.
And I guess I’ve got 2 more gems hidden away here and which I’m currently working on: always do the best, be the best you can. If people are happy with what you do they will refer you, and come back for more. I would say about half of my students today are from referrals.
And innovate, improve, find out what other people don’t offer and offer it. Develop something creative and original. Fill in the holes and gaps left out in the marketplace.
So now I bump into people out on the street all the time, acquaintances, strangers, beggars (you can read the story about my debate with one of these acquaintances in the very next post), and they all say the same thing to me, “It’s impossible to be doing well today in Malaga, there are no jobs, no one has money…….. You’re just LUCKY!!”
But I always want to tell them, nay yell it to them, shout it out so everyone can hear: “Luck has nothing to do with it!!”
I don’t believe that I’m doing well and have many clients because I’m just lucky. First of all, I worked hard for it. While some of my acquaintances were out drinking it up in a bar and the beggars were sitting around with a little dish in front of grocery stores, I was pasting posters to walls all over the city. I spent hours doing that. My acquaintances spent hours getting rid of their unemployment money or their welfare money or their parents’ money in pubs and taverns, the beggars spent their time begging, and I used those hours to do a lot of exercise running around the city (when you’re unemployed you don’t take the bus!) and gluing ads up on walls. So if the next morning I had a new client and my acquaintances and the beggars didn’t, that wasn’t an accident.
And then, I also set out to be a vibrational match for what I wanted. We probably all hear a lot about that lately in New Age/spiritual development circles. And it’s really hard to explain. It’s not something to sit around in an ashram and understand in theory, it’s something you DO. So for me, doing it meant, well, just “doing it”. (There must be some reason why Nike athletes are so successful after all, right? Haha.)
Just going out and doing things that could attract clients to me. Looking over the kinds of English lessons I could teach, so when people called me up and asked me what I did I wouldn’t just go, “Huh? Well I dunno……” I networked of course. I designed my own little business cards on the computer and made photocopies of them (when you’re broke you don’t go to a printer). Then I cut them up at home with scissors. And I also advertised on the internet. I’d say half of my clients today come from the internet, and the others from the original ads I had put up on walls and their referrals.
I never wanted to learn anything about business, I never meant to learn anything about business. And I didn’t start working free-lance because I wanted to know anything about business. I lugged up a free-lance career because I needed it to survive. But now after a year I can sure appreciate everything that that free-lance job has taught me.