It was a sunny Monday morning, May 1998. Kate and I were planning our next client newsletter. She was one of my two part-time assistants and the one who assisted with marketing activities.
She turned to me and said: 'Robyn, you're wasting money with our newsletter.'
I looked at her in alarm. After all, everyone who knows diddley-squat about marketing knows that you need to keep in touch with your customers and prospects.
She chuckled at my response - clearly she'd been aiming at shock value! An explanation was needed.
'I don't mean we shouldn't do it. I'm talking about the work we do to get it out.'
Back-story. Hardly anyone was using email for marketing back in 1998. (Hard to believe, I know! We were early adopters the following year, sending our first electronic Top Time Tips ezine to the 697 people we had email addresses for. It's grown organically and now goes every few weeks to over 12,000 people around the world.)
At the time of this conversation we were sending out a posted two-page newsletter every couple of months to about 350 customers and good prospects in both Australia and New Zealand. (I lived in Sydney between 1996 and 2000, with clients on both sides of the Tasman.) One of Kate's duties was to take my content, format it, get the finished product photocopied at the local MBE outlet, print the address labels out of our database, stick labels on the envelope, fold and insert the newsletter in the addressed envelope and of course stamp it. In today's email world that sounds like a cumbersome task - and it was!
So, if she had a better idea I was keen to hear.
'My 12-year old son Dillon wondered if you'd like to out-source some of the work. If so, he'd like to tender for the routine parts of the work.'
This sounded promising.
She went on. 'I'll do the prep and printing of the newsletter as usual. Dillon would like to do the rest. If you're up for it, this is how we'll work out a rate. I'll use a stop-watch to see how quickly I can do the work he can do, we'll calculate a piece-rate cost based on my wage, and he'll then offer a piece-rate based on a significantly lower hourly rate. So, it won't matter how long he takes: the rate will be based on the number of items he processes. And I'll keep an eye on quality control of course.'
Having raised six kids I was a huge believer in encouraging children's initiative and entrepreneurship. 'Go for it,' I replied with enthusiasm.
The next newsletter went out soon after. A few days later Kate arrived at work bearing Dillon's invoice.
I looked at it with delight. 'This is great. Thank you for helping reduce the cost of this job.' It was a lot less than I would have paid his mother for the same work. 'What a clever boy. I really appreciate his initiative'.
'Oh, the story gets better,' said Kate with grin.
'What could be better than this?' said I, waving the very attractively priced invoice.
'Dillon decided he could out-source too. He got a 12 year-old friend to come and help do the stuffing and labels and persuaded his 6 year-old brother to put on the stamps.
The reward for his helpers was to take them to MacDonald's.'
Guess who made the bulk of the money! I've lost track of the family over the years but I'd love to know what Dillon is doing these days. I'll be amazed if it isn't something entrepreneurial!
And for every business person reading this article, what parts of your work can be done by someone at a much lower pay rate than you're currently paying. It's not slave labour - it's enterprise, and no-one's ever too young to learn it.
Reader giveaway: We have 2 double passes (worth $190.00 each) to give away to Robyn's next 2 hour Breakfast Club event where she's sharing the session with business coach Zac de Silva- in Auckland May 3rd. To be in to win, email your entry now to firstname.lastname@example.org with Breakfast (NZ Herald Online) in the subject line. Entries close by 5pm Friday 26th April for Auckland. For those who miss out, tickets and more details at: www.gettingagrip.com/breakfastclub/.