What I Learned as a Paper Boy | Early Business Lessons

I was sitting at a lunch with clients and their private equity owners and we were having a discussion of first jobs. Many of us had delivered papers as our first jobs.

I had not focused on the fundamental, blocking and tackling business lessons we had learned until we were talking about it at the lunch. Not only business lessons, but foundational keep the doors open lessons we had learned from that job.

These lessons are as important today as they ever were. Have your employees learned these lessons? Are they part of the culture of your business?

Customers

I was an independent contractor to the paper. They sold me papers and I was responsible for delivering, collecting and dealing with service issues. I was 12. I spent my formative years in New York about 30 miles north of Manhattan and I delivered the afternoon paper six days a week. No Sunday paper. My customers depended on receiving their daily news. This was of course pre-internet at a time when nearly everyone read the paper.

Execution

I learned that I needed to deliver my newspapers timely and consistently. Without regard to weather or to the time the papers were delivered to me. If the papers weren’t timely delivered to me, I needed to follow up with my supplier (the newspaper publisher). I learned to be proactive with my supplier so that I could execute on behalf of my customers. Likewise, it didn’t matter if it was raining, snowing or blistering hot, I needed to deliver the papers. I needed to get on my bike and fulfil the contract I had with my customers.

Customer Service

I learned early on that a customer’s issue was my issue. If a paper was not delivered appropriately, if it was wet, or damaged in any way, I needed to fix it. If I didn’t I would end up paying the short term price of the cost of the day’s paper, and the possible long term price of losing a customer. I learned what service was. I needed to problem solve different delivery options. I lived in a suburban area with large residential lots. Most homeowners had free roaming dogs. Most were great to deal with; others were very good territorial guard dogs. I needed to work with my customers to figure out delivery options that left the papers, and me, in one piece.

Finances

As noted above, I was an independent contractor. As such I was responsible for accounting for the correct number of papers, ensuring that new customers were loaded into the system and that my supplier gave me the appropriate number of papers. Additionally, I needed to account for the number of papers to ensure I was being billed appropriately by the Newspaper.

Collections

To pay my bill I needed to learn how to collect and how to deal with slow pays. Possibly the most important bottom line lesson for a 12-year-old to learn is how to deal with collecting. If I didn’t want my paper delivery experience to be a money losing experience, I needed to ensure my customers would pay me. There was no way to cover my short term working capital needs other than through my own savings. The bank of Mom and Dad was not an option.

I still rely on all of these business lessons. And like anything learned early, frequent practice and improvement have made these second nature.

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