In 1969 when we all wore acrylic jumpers and underwear was made out of fibreglass, my dad decided to set up on his own as a clockmaker. We had a house with an acre of ground and he had visions of self-sufficiency – growing our own food with the money from the clocks buying the stuff he couldn’t grow or make – the rest of the family had visions of malnutrition but I digress.
Dad faced a number of unavoidable costs and challenges. The first was that he had no car or driving licence. He did have a trusty 1959 Raleigh bike though with a cardboard box on the back so he could do his rounds of clock collection and delivery and get to the big public clocks to wind them up and make sure that the burghers of Angus always knew roughly what time it was (February 1883). Actually, it turned out that you couldn’t get a long case clock on a bike and ride around with it, although for short distances you could tie it to the bike and wheel along Viet Cong on the Ho Chi Minh trail style. It also turned out that a great delivery idea in July centred on a remote Scottish village wasn’t so good in November in sleet. When he caught a cold, sneezed his false teeth out and ran them over with the bike he finally realised that he was going to have to pay to take the bus and persuade clients to drop off and pick stuff up.
Communications were another issue. In 1969 we had no phone. For a while the old man managed to run things by postcard, however, his biggest customers were US Navy personnel from the local base (who were buying every clock in Scotland that looked vaguely antique and selling them on at a huge profit in Texas through the deal they had to send their possessions Stateside). In 1969 the only way you were going to do business with Americans was by phone. As Apollo 11 was setting up Tranquillity Base some men from the Post Office put a big telegraph pole in the middle of our garden and we were the owners of “St Cyrus 347”.
The last bit was marketing. Now, there was the obvious solution of buying a lineage advert in the local newspaper every week but that was getting on for 4 shillings a pop so dad got clever. He could always write a bit and had had stuff published over the years. So he persuaded the paper to print a weekly column in which he would talk about nature and clocks. In return, they filled a column and the Montrose Review looked a bit fuller. He also worked for free. From 1969 until 1996, when the Grim Reaper imposed a final deadline, he cranked out 500 or so words a week longhand along the lines of “Isn’t nature wonderful, my family did something quite interesting at the weekend, please let me fix your clock” every Monday.
Fast forward half a century and back to marketing. Okay, so I’m not writing a weekly unpaid column for “Scotland’s Second Oldest Newspaper” but I am writing this regular blog for much the same purpose and also for free. I lay elements of my soul bare, tell the occasional gag and ask you to give me all your consultancy business.
As you do, I visited Kronborg Castle in Denmark the other day. Most people know it as “Elsinore”, Hamlet’s place. It’s in a picturesque seaside location and in January you realise why us Scots describe cold weather as “pure Baltic”. Anyway, as I thawed out over an open sandwich and a pot of tea I got to thinking about Shakespeare quotes relevant to business.
Now, Dad was perpetually skint so his main Shakespearian quote was Polonius guffing on about “neither a borrower nor a lender be” to Laertes, who one assumes was looking wistfully out of the window by this point in the lecture. However, his second favourite Hamlet quote was from the same speech and he felt it was important that if you were ever going to write anything you had to remember, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
And, as I wade through the ocean of desperate shite thrown onto social media in ever more hysterical attempts to drum up business from an uncaring world, the more I believe that that’s just about the most important advice you’ll ever get if you want to market a business. There just has to be more to corporate life than aping Steve Jobs, re-treading someone else’s press releases in the hope that people think you’re an authority on diagnostics, or telling normal people who have PhD’s how to dress for an interview.
What are our ventures if they have no personality or soul?
Enjoy your day…