by Mike Cheney
My mentor experience began when I was thirteen and my brother Jay was ten and we first went into business for ourselves. We considered our eight-year-old brother Steve to be a liability due to his tender age. Also, we didn’t think he could pull his share of the work but were convinced he would drink as many sodas as us big boys. Steve was out―too much of a drain on capital. Our first hard-nosed decision was behind us.
We’d had some prior experience as newspaper delivery boys and babysitters for hire. However, this was to be our first bona-fide entrepreneurial venture. We had a business plan, business cards, operating capital, and equipment. The business plan consisted of our agreement to go door to door through the neighborhood, hand out our handwritten business cards, and promise to mow lawns with our dad’s mower. Our market area was limited to the distance we were willing to push the mower down the street. Our operating capital was enough to buy gas for the mower and keep us in sodas on those hot summer days. What else did two young brothers need in order to strike out on their own? The world of mowing lawns for profit was ours for the taking.
The Mentor Experience
Our dad told us that we were to conduct ourselves as gentlemen, start and finish on time, and complete any job we agreed to take, even if it turned out that we had underbid the work. As I recall, we picked up a few mowing jobs and managed to get the work done without any accounting scandals or serious workplace injuries. We proved to be entrepreneurs, although mowing lawns was not to be our life’s work.
A couple of years later, as budding young apartment and house painters, we landed the contract to paint the interior of an old mansion in downtown Denver. The majority of our prior experience came from helping our dad paint apartments, as he had a side job as assistant manager of the apartment complex where we lived. We thought the owners of the mansion were taken by our professionalism and brimming confidence. Our enthusiasm and excitement had gotten in the way of our clear thinking, however, and we’d bid the job far too low. This became evident to us shortly after work began. Dad told us we would have to complete the job as agreed. However, he helped us do the work and paid for many of the supplies out of his own pocket. Though the job was a financial disaster, we had a great time working together, laboring far into the night, eating fast food, and sleeping on the floor of the mansion in order to save driving time to and from home. The customer was , and we survived the experience, learning some terrific lessons in the process.
During our formative years our dad was not self-employed. Nonetheless, he was involved in the development and execution of our plans. The fact that our dad had a full time job did not keep him from working with us. He missed some sleep, used his influence, and― we found out later―spent some of his own money on our ventures. He was an encouragement to our dreams and aspirations. Dad let us know that he was excited about what we were doing and that he was proud of us. He let everyone else know it too. His praise and encouragement gave us confidence to proceed even when we were short on experience.
He saw to it that we kept our word. Whether our mistakes were big or small, he demanded that we finish the job. In the mansion-painting caper, he helped push us over the finish line.
Sometimes he let us fail. I know Dad used to bite his lip as my brother and I, guided by a half-baked plan, headed over the cliff of failure. I don’t think we would have learned the lessons without experiencing the full reality of the consequences.
Mike Cheney and his wife, Roxie, have two children whom they have homeschooled since birth. The Cheneys have served with Christian Home Educators of Colorado since 2001. As the current director of the national AME Program (Apprenticeship, Mentorship, Entrepreneurship – www.ameprogram.com), Mike has a passion to share a vision for discipleship in all kinds of businesses, and he is involved in several entrepreneurial ventures. This article appeared in the Virginia Home Educator Winter 2018.