How do you get to where you want to be in life?
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Stephen Fear grew up on a council estate and skipped most of his education – today he is a successful entrepreneur and millionaire.
Here’s his story:
I came from a fragmented family background and was hyperactive and inquisitive so I used to go missing: the first time for 24 hours when I was only aged two and a half. I developed a method of ‘blending with families’ so no one knew that I was alone.
I’ve not been homeless but know what it’s like to be on the streets on your own at night; there have been many times I have faced dangerous situations. Luckily I am here to tell the tale but I do identify with it. Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice but happens to a lot of people for a lot of reasons and it can be very difficult to come back from unless you’re given a helping hand.
My mum and dad divorced when I was four – one day my mum was no longer there, unbeknown to me she’d had a breakdown. My dad was in his fifties and had to go to work so the agreement was that I would stay in the house from when he went to work at 7.30 in the morning till he was back ten hours later. That was one of the first things I learnt:
Lesson number one:
If you make an agreement you stick to it.
My mum eventually returned and moved into a caravan while my dad and I lived in a one-bedroom council flat. Because they were in different places, I used the situation to avoid school – I could stay under the radar as I would split my time between them. I only had about two or three years of formal education and educated myself by going to the library – thankfully my mother had instilled in me a love of reading.
I developed a plan and recognised opportunities.
Lesson number two:
You can change where you are and you can achieve things.
I had various business ideas from a young age. At 14 I couldn’t have a normal paper round as I wouldn’t be in one place long enough so I would go to W H Smith at 5.45 in the morning and offer to do paper rounds for anyone who hadn’t turned up. The worse the weather was, the better as when several paper boys didn’t show, I was able to charge three times the amount. Initially WHS didn’t want to know and I’d walk away – eventually they would chase me and I would earn nine days money for doing three rounds!
Lesson number three:
The power is with the person who walks away.
Another business idea I had was to sell individual pages from colouring-in books. Girls on the estate would colour them in and I would put in clip frames and go door to door selling a page for £2 each – not a bad profit when a book of 49 pages cost 10p! We would share out the profits.
Lesson number four:
There’s nothing wrong with sharing what you make.
My big business break came when I saw an ad for a domestic oven cleaner in Exchange and Mart (I used to read what I delivered as a paper boy) and wondered why that cleaner couldn’t be used on a commercial oven so decided to get in touch with the business that made it.
My first hurdle was how to get through and talk to them. Back then, there were no phones at home and no mobiles so my only option was to call via a phone box. I had no idea how to make a call (I was only 14) so I rang the operator, a woman called Joyce Thompson - who went on to become a good friend - and she told me that the company was in America.
America? How would I do that? It wouldn’t sound good, me feeding in coins whilst I was trying to have a conversation so she advised me that she could make the call for me (she said they’d think she was my secretary!) and told me how much I needed for a four minute call – but I only had four minutes!
Lesson number five:
Stick to time!
When I got through, I suggested that they send me their cleaning fluid formula, offering to make it up and sell it in the UK. I was refused initially but I was persistent. I would ring a couple of times a week, research some topical stories of things happening in America so we ended up having conversations …. In the end I simply wore them down!
Lesson number six:
Everything I do is judged on long-term relationships.
After 18 months I had made up enough fluid using abandoned sheds as my manufacturing plants and got my big break selling the product to Hovis. Again, I had been initially refused entry at reception but when I met a sales manager outside on a break, I persuaded him to give me a chance and he was hooked when he realised it worked – of course it did!
Lessons seven and eight:
If you say something works, it must work.
If you’ve nothing to lose, go and ask.
At 17 I had made £9,200: remember, this was 43 years ago so that equates today to around £200,000.
Lesson number nine:
It doesn’t matter where you are today, if I can do it, anyone can.
It’s about being passionate about what you want to do and doesn’t matter if you want to be rich, or help people. Whatever it is, if you’re not passionate, there will come a time when you don’t want to go to work. I live my life on my own terms. I never did any of this for money; I did it out of interest. It’s been about taking control.
Lesson number ten:
People will tell you it can’t be done but it can if it’s about what you want to do.