A Bucket and a Sponge

I didn't really question it. Not having any money seemed pretty normal to me. I pretty much walked everywhere anyway, apart from on Saturday mornings when Mum would drag us to the city with her. It was a bit of an event because we would have to comb our hair, wash our faces, put on our best clothes and Mum, with my older sister and younger brother in tow, would all walk up to the bus stop and wait for the number ninety seven bus to take us on the thirty minute journey into Sheffield town centre.

I liked the bus ride but not the smoke, that’s right you could light up on buses back then. But only on the top deck! I never quite understood that because the smoke would waft through the entire bus anyway. Awful.

That was one of the few times I would get to travel by bus. Money was tight. We lived on a council estate and I went to the local public school where I had to queue up for a dinner ticket each day so I could get a free lunch. It was worth forty pence and you could get a pretty good feed for that at the school canteen. Some of the other kids would sell theirs for twenty pence so they could go across to the local shops and buy a bag of chips and scraps from the chippy. That always seemed like a silly thing to do to me because you had much more choice at the canteen plus a nice helping of desert. Also you weren't supposed to leave the school grounds during the day and I wasn't much of a rebel. But looking back now I was quite entrepreneurial.

I’m not sure where that came from but somehow I knew the only way anything was going to happen was if I made it happen. So one day I borrowed a bucket and a sponge Mum used to clean the windows and I started walking around the estate knocking on doors asking “Do you want your car washed Mr/Mrs?” and “Only fifty pence!”

To my absolute amazement they did want their cars washing and after a full day I had earned myself a tidy sum. I didn't wash lots of cars though, mostly because I spent so much time on each car. Although I didn't realise it at the time I wasn't in the car washing business at all, I was in the business of creating value for my customers. My purpose wasn't to get the fifty pence in my pocket as quickly as possible and move on to the next paying customer, it was to give the car owner a lovely clean and shiny car he or she would be really happy with and that I would be proud of having delivered.

I didn't have any special tools to get into those small spaces or dirt dissolving fluids to melt away that baked on grime. Just regular dish washing liquid and plenty of elbow grease. It was hard work and I remember quite a few grazed knuckles and scratched fingers from the sharp edges of the body trim and rubbing that stubborn brake dust from the wheels. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Some of my customers would be so impressed with my hard work that they would pay me even more than I had asked for, they would also ask me to come back and do it again the next week. What a life changing revelation that was.

That was over thirty years ago and the reality is little has changed. People will still gladly exchange their money and even be ecstatic that they did when they can see, feel, experience the exceptional value you provide. In my view this principle remains the core purpose of selling, even in today’s hyper competitive, price sensitive, commoditised, digitally disrupted world. Give your customers or clients more in value than you take in payment and your success is assured.

This little story is one of my earliest experiences of the power of creating value for others. It would be great to read yours so please share your stories/memories below.

Ian J Lowe is the CEO of Go-Givers Australia, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation offering a unique culture-defining philosophy and framework that makes giving value the cornerstone of a refreshingly open and authentic approach to selling. 

Image Credit: Spongebob Squarepants, Nickelodeon