My First Big
Entrepreneurial Venture

Dateline: 24 May 2015

Seven years ago, when I turned 50, I posted a 20-part series to this blog titled "Getting Started & Finding My Way." In Part 17 of the series I told the story of receiving $4,000 from my grandmother back in 1978 (when I was 20 years old).

When I plug that number into an online inflation calculator, it reveals that $4,000 in 1978 had the buying power of $14,500 in 2015 dollars. It was a lot of money, especially for me at that time in my life.

Having grown up in a family that always struggled to keep the bills paid (and often didn't keep them paid), and having just worked 10 months on a dairy farm to earn enough money to buy my first car (and pay the insurance), I knew the value of a dollar, and I knew that I wasn't about to waste the money my grandmother blessed me with.

One of the things I did with the money (as explained in Part 17 of my series) was use it to start my first "big" entrepreneurial venture, which was a chimney cleaning business. The advertisement shown above was my first. I put in the local Pennysaver newspaper. I made the advertisement myself, which should be pretty obvious. Remember, there were no personal computers back then. 

You'll note from the advertisement that I was "EXPERIENCED." It wasn't a lie. I had cleaned exactly two chimneys with my new chimney cleaning equipment, both of which were on my parent's house. This next picture is a Polaroid of me on my parent's roof. 

I worked hard at my new business. I cleaned a lot of chimneys over the course of several years. Though I never made a lot of money with the business I easily recouped my initial investment and earned a decent amount for that time in my life. 

It was, however, the learning experience of the endeavor that was most valuable to me. I learned that I was capable of making at least some money on my own by being brave, and bold, and enterprising. I also learned that I liked the freedom of self employment.

But I didn't just clean chimneys to make money during this time of my life. I also attempted to make money by self-publishing and selling a brochure for homeowners about chimney cleaning...

It was a simple trifold brochure. Lacking computer capabilities, I used rub-on lettering for the cover and careful hand lettering for the interior text. It was a sad looking, totally-amateur production, but I was pleased with the finished product and had high hopes for it.

I figured that every hardware store in the country would want to make the brochure available to their customers. So I sent a sample and pricing to over a hundred stores.

I got the addresses by perusing the yellow pages of phone books from throughout the nation. The phone books were in the periodical room of the library in a nearby city. 

This brochure idea was actually my second attempt at making money by self-publishing and mail order (I wrote about my first mail-order scheme HERE). Amazingly, one hardware store manager actually bought some brochures from me. And that was the end of that great idea.

The dream of self-publishing and having a mail order business never left me. There were other attempts and failures over the years. And then, come 2002, I finally found a measure of success when I self-published 100 copies of my book, Anyone Can Build a Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker.

As many of you reading this know, the Whizbang plucker plan book was the beginning of a home-based mail order business that grew, evolved into Planet Whizbang, and has allowed me to break free from the wage slavery of a state prison job.

It's a good story. From my perspective, there is a sweet satisfaction in finally achieving my early dream. And There are important lessons in my story, especially if you are a young person...

For example, you are capable of making at least some money on your own, by being brave and bold and enterprising. Learn from your failures, but don't let your failures or shortcomings deter you from your dreams. 

If my modest example of persistence and success inspires you, then this little post will have served its intended purpose.


SharonR said...

The difficult part was the being brave I would imagine. I'm sure because of it, the community and your family looked up to you, though you were young. This is a good example for all of us to be courageous and have faith it will work out.

Herrick Kimball said...

I don't think that anyone looked up to me but, as I think back on the time, I do believe that many of the people I worked for were impressed by my young entrepreneurial initiative.

All of the people I worked for were older than me and many quite a bit older. Many of them seemed to take an encouraging interest in me. In most cases, when I was done with cleaning a chimney, I stayed and talked with the customer for awhile and I discovered that everyone has an interesting life story.

What sticks in my mind the most is how generous some customers were when I told them I was soon to get married. One woman, upon hearing this, said, "Wait here, I have a gift for you," and she came back with a new copy of "Carla Emery's Old Fashioned Recipe Book." Another customer gave me additional money as a wedding gift. And, incredibly, another customer came to my home and left a wedding gift of a large wooden bowl.

So many people were so kind and generous and appreciative, that I felt like they were good friends. And, in many cases, I returned to clean their chimneys every year. It was, without a doubt, a good experience in my life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Herrick,
I will pass these thoughts on to my 10 year old boys.
Kind regards,