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The First Dollar I Ever Earned

The first dollar I ever earned came from Doc Evans. I was about six and Doc was, I’m guessing here, probably 100 when he hired me to rake and bag the leaves on his driveway. After an hour of work, I proudly marched to Doc’s front door and collected a well worn one dollar bill. I’m sure I wanted to spend it on candy or something, but as soon as I got home my dad snatched the dollar from me. He led me to his office where he quickly typed up and printed out a certificate marking the first dollar I had ever earned.

I continued doing odd jobs for Doc, but it wasn’t long before I picked up more neighborhood work. The couple across the street regularly hired me to water their garden beds while they were gone traveling. I couldn’t believe it when I got handed my first stack of twenties! $140 was life changing money to a kid still in elementary school and it didn’t take me long to realize my little brother would happily water those plants for $50 so I could pocket that profit.

I was ten years old when I began teaching How to Make Money as a Kidas a non-credit course at the local community college, After a few hours of talking about starting lawn-mowing, car washing, and babysitting businesses some kids in the back of the class yelled out: “So what’s yourbusiness?!” I simply replied: “Your mom paid me so you could be here right now.”

Now, as a 36 year old father of four, my entrepreneurial life continues. I’m an adjunct instructor at the same community college where I started my teaching career, I own a small e-commerce brand, and I’m launching a creative agency with some of my closest friends.

Respect the Dollar

When I reflect back on the last thirty-years of doing business I think the most important lesson I learned came from my dad: respect the dollar. One dollar is nothing, the next dollar is everything.

Business is all about thinking long-term.

Long-term success comes from earning trust, earning trust come from consistent good work, and good work happens when we understand and meet the needs of our customers.

Earning Trust

My neighbors across the street hired me at $10 a day because they saw Doc kept hiring me over and over again. Of all the projects I’ve taken on in the last four years, all but one have come through an existing client’s referral or a new client seeing and recognizing the value of my work in the real world.

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, investor at Greylock, and host of the podcast Masters of Scale, says “trust is normally based upon a simple foundation: consistency over time.” Reid is absolutely right, but what about the situations where we don’t have time?

The only shortcut to developing trust is aligning value between yourself and the client. Talking about “our project” instead of “your project,” keeping pricing options simple, and creatively structuring payment schedules when possible all help your earn trust quickly.

Doing Good Work

In the fields of technology and design “the next big thing” is always the next big thing. But good workdoesn’t necessarily mean groundbreaking work. Good work comes from focusing on the core of the problem and solving it as simply as possible. Doing good work means clients and customers get more value out of a project than we do producing it and that the bulk of our creative energy goes into developing solutions to maximize that value.

Understanding need

The only reason clients hire you is because they see a different version of what the future could be and they need someone else to help get them there. Our job is to listen past the conversational questions and answers to the underlying fears and assumptions driving a client to reach out for help. You’re nailing this when you can articulate your client’s value potential more clearly than they can.

What’s Next

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about building a business that adds more value to the world than it takes; about building something that lasts. I’m thinking long-term, just like my dad was when he taught me to respect new money.

I still have the first dollar I ever earned, folded up inside that certificate inside the fireproof safe sitting in my closet. It’s the most valuable thing I own.

3 thoughts on “The First Dollar I Ever Earned Leave a comment

  1. Justin,
    That is excellent! You have articulated what I have been trying to demonstrate (to my students and clients) for the past several decades.


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