treemobile (Photo credit: Charley Lhasa)

Today’s post is reprinted (with permission) from author Patrick Carman because he just says it too perfectly not to share.

Some thoughts on work

My daughter just started her first business adventure. She’s sixteen, so I’m guessing it won’t be the last. Working with her reminds me of a business lesson I once got from my dad (this scene is going to end up in a book as fiction, so you saw it here first!).

When I was 11 or so I had an idea: I’ll go door-to-door and pick up all the dead Christmas trees nobody can get rid of after the holidays. Discarded trees in our neighborhood were hauled onto curbs and driveways, but after a day or two they were rolling around in the cul-de-sacs like tumbleweeds. It was a problem.

We printed flyers and I went down every street within a mile during the week after Christmas. Then on the Saturday after Christmas we drove around and picked up trees on curbs and delivered them to the city dump, all for the low low price of four bucks a tree. My dad sat me down at the end of the day with all the cash we had in a pile on my side of the table.

Then he started doing some educating.

First he showed me the receipt for the cost of printing up the flyers. I gladly took a few bills off the top of my insanely tall pile of one dollar bills. I was peeling off ones like a gangster, no problem.

Then my dad informed me that he had borrowed the truck, which was a gas guzzling monster, and the bill for all that gas was…well it was a little more than the printing bill. My stack was getting smaller.

I had enlisted the help of a couple of snot nosed little hooligans in our neighborhood and I hadn’t paid them a dime. I was older and used the following logic: you’re lucky to get this gig. I could ask anyone! I’ll buy you guys some comic books once this thing is up and running. My dad was having none of that. They were my employees. They gave up their Saturday watching cartoons and playing with their new toys so they could help me be successful. I was paying those little tools whether I liked it or not, at least a few bucks. Crap.

Apparently dropping trees off at the dump isn’t free. Every load cost a little more of the precious stack I had left in front of me, a stack that was getting precariously low. By the time I’d paid for the printing, the gas, the employees, and the long term storage of said Christmas trees, my stack was a measly two one dollar bills.

But my dad wasn’t done yet!

He produced another receipt for a burger run that had fallen right in the middle of our busy schedule and I then recalled the very words I’d used: “I’ll cover it, dad. Look at all this money!” Well, my dad made me stick to my word and charged me for our lunches right there on the spot.

Suddenly, as if by some terrible black magic mojo, all my money was on my dads side of the table, stacked in a very tidy pile. After all the planning and the work and the cash rolling in, I ended up four dollars in debt. I owed HIM money. It was a full blown catastrophe. I was in tears.

My dad, being the old softie he is, pushed the pile back over to my side of the table and smiled.

First words out of my mouth?

I’m getting comic books and burgers!

And I did.

A few lessons I learned and still believe today:

  1. Count the cost of an idea before going headlong into developing it, then add 25%. The math might not add up.
  2. Employees are worth their weight in gold or their weight in concrete. They’ll either hold you down or lift you up. Treat them fairly, help them fulfill their dreams (they’re helping you fulfill yours), and above all, show them respect. In the heat of all that exciting work, they have families and goals and hobbies – appreciate their work, their time, and their boundaries.
  3. Always buy hamburgers and comic books along the way!