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My Personal Story About Growing Businesses
Nov 10, 2017  |  Kenelm Tonkin


If you’re struggling in business, don’t despair.

I understand Struggle Street, the emotional energy and sheer hard work necessary to grind your way into prosperity.

It’s not pleasant. One of the reasons I created Entrepreneurs Life is to help people accelerate through this.

My journey started humbly. I was raised by a single mother in an industrial, working class town. We lived in a house too small for us, so I slept in the back of the garage. Winters were memorable! Food would often be gifted to us from a neighbor who owned a small diner. Those gratefully received, stale leftovers got us through adolescence. 

In these circumstances, I was always looking for a better way, a better life. Frequently, this desire was expressed in business terms: a lawn mowing business, a touring basketball team, a study notes service, an image consultancy, a training company.

By 18, I joined an entrepreneurial supermarket chain and learned that business inside-out through a structured traineeship. I worked as a storeman, in delicatessens, cold storage, stock control, fresh produce and even a butchery. I distinctly remember that the smell of blood is hard to remove! I mastered store payroll and at 20 was given a staff of 23 to manage. Then they moved me through a head office rotation: pricing, IT, accounting, purchasing, operations management and marketing. It was better than an MBA.

If being an entrepreneur is about making the different parts of business work together as one – the 14 Entrepreneurial Disciplines - I was an entrepreneur-in-waiting and they paid me!

These are transferable, very learnable skills.

I immediately applied them to my first start-up as an adult, a conference company named Law & Finance.

I had my own business. Wow ... the excitement is still vivid today.

The novelty soon wore off though. There were several false starts with the capital raising and recruitment. I instantly felt the stretch of having to produce myself and manage the staff of two. Plus, there were dozens of other tasks to be performed which I simply didn’t anticipate or know how to tackle.

For instance, and I remember this clearly around the time was engaged to be married. I was working at 11pm in those early days trying to calculate staff pays. I didn’t have a bookkeeper and didn’t have a clue. I was still trying to work out the tax withholdings, then suddenly remembered I had an appointment. You should have seen the look on my fiancée’s face as I rushed in late to my own wedding rehearsal!

I really didn’t know much about business at all, amongst other important things.

A million things went wrong. My marketing reliably generated hopeless sales. My staff always needed assistance. I was precariously cash-flowing my way through each period, never having enough money. Customers were needy. I just didn’t have the experience or know-how to make things work smoothly. In fact, for six years, this budding businessman from a working-class town held it together with sheer grit and determination. I was exhausted. I was sapped. Nothing was easy and I felt I was in a loop.

As I described in The Freedom Mission, I then met a man who guided me. I was so lucky. It was a long process but he patiently put a figurative mirror to me and showed me why I was living hand-to-mouth on the edge of business survival for six years.

He showed me The Entrepreneurial Growth Trap. He revealed that I had the wrong concept of business, that it was limiting its growth, that I was actively choosing to do the wrong type of tasks in my business and that this was resulting in an operation perpetually in a state of stunted growth. He told me straight out, “You haven’t created growth systems, so your business hasn’t grown!”

And over the next several months, he took my business education to another level with a structured, repeatable process I call ‘Systemize & Scale.’

Let me crunch the next 4 years results into one paragraph. At the start of this transformation, the company’s annual revenue was $379,000 a year. This jumped to $1.2 million by Year 1. At the end of year 2, it was $3.2 million. Year 3, it ballooned to $6.1 million. By Year 4, it was at $12.2 million. It was an extraordinary ride and I’m so humbled every time I think about it.

Later, I sold my business and became financially independent.

Today, that fiancée I mentioned earlier is my wife of 16 years and we have three well-adjusted, well-educated, well-travelled children. I’m 49 years old and haven’t had a mortgage since my 30s. I have employed more than 1,400 people and am currently on my 15th start-up. Life is wonderful. I feel so blessed.

I’ve come a long way from sleeping in the back of a garage. My family all have government jobs or are in industries which are underwritten by government. So, I come from a family without an immediate entrepreneurial role model. I am living proof that business skills are learned, not in our DNA.

And, if you have a seasoned, capable teacher willing to share everything, then your business life will just get so much easier.

I’ve been working hard developing an online course called ‘The Systemize & Scale Blueprint.’ It’s 30 years in the making, my whole working life’s experience. It’s everything I know about how to grow businesses out of that horrible early-stage Entrepreneurial Growth Trap.

More information coming soon.

In the meantime, dive into Entrepreneurs Life now for related topics. It’s a treasure-trove of tested growth insights which entrepreneurs can instantly apply and 100% jammed with videos, innovations, infographics, lists, how-to guides, self-assessments, tools, recommendations and ebooks.

Share on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and selectively email your business contacts.

Design your business. Design your life.



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