Editor’s note: Inman News publisher and longtime innovator Brad Inman has launched a blog at BradInman.com that will carry "stories, ideas and lessons on starting businesses." His third post, republished here, recounts the lessons he learned from being an entrepreneur at a young age. Click here to read the original post.

In my first business venture, I partnered with my younger brother Jeff — we were 10 and 12 years old. With my mother’s nonstop encouragement, we started a window-washing business, Bucket & Brush Brothers. We handed out fliers to the small businesses in our hometown, Carlinville, a southern Illinois farm burg. The charge: $1 per business.

Our first customer was my parents’ business. We washed the windows of their ladies "ready-to-wear" shop on the north end of the town square. My Dad was a tough customer — he had strong ideas on how to wash windows the "right way."

At our peak, we cleaned the windows for 20 businesses, which we completed in about five hours each Saturday. We were each generating $10 per week, which felt good.

From this early experience, I learned a few lessons.

  • Sustaining a business is challenging, it takes discipline and a rigorous commitment. If you let up, you lose customers. If you call in sick, you lose customers. Calling your own shots comes with a responsibility that is unmatched when working for someone else. We shut down the business when I got hired on at Doc’s grocery store as a bag boy.
  • A friend once described skydiving as "quintuple thrills." Fear, excitement, happiness and intense worry are feelings I have when launching a new business — the mix of danger and approval along with the rewards of grinding out solutions to problems. It is an experience that I love to repeat.
  • Doing business with a family member or a friend can be a mistake with low odds of success. With F&F, you have trust. Personal loyalty, however, can get in the way of making smart and difficult business decisions. My grandfather described it as "soft heart, soft head."
  • The product may inspire the business, but sales make the business.
  • Wipe the squeegee carefully with a dry towel before applying it to the next window. Bring plenty of dry towels or the windows will be marred with ugly streaks.

Other sources and facts:
1. Squeegee techniques for window washing
2. According to Wikipedia, "the modern single-blade window-cleaning squeegee was patented by Ettore Steccone in 1936."
3. Thomas Edison’s first business was printing a newspaper, the "Grand Trunk Herald," in the baggage car of the Grand Trunk Railroad, allegedly the first newspaper published on a train.

Brad Inman is the founder and publisher of Inman News; he created and later sold online real estate lead-generation and marketing site HomeGain.com; and is the founder of TurnHere.com and Vook.com.


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