Learning To Create Your Own Opportunities
Life Lesson: Look for areas of poor service and you will find business opportunities.
This article was written by Tulsa Motivational Speaker, Author & U.S. Small Business Administration Entrepreneur of the Year, Clay Clark. For more information about scheduling Clay Clark to speak to your group please contact us today at 918-851-6920.
Because of the influence of people around me, I learned how to discover opportunities at a very young age. During my eighth grade year of middle school my mom and dad had finally sold my deceased grandparents’ home in Waco, Texas, and they have moved back to be with my brother and I to begin their new life in “Minne-snow-ta.” Having them gone for awhile made me really appreciate them, in the same way that the tragic events of September 11th forced liberals and conservatives to love on each other for a few months and to actually reach across the aisle to get things done. And much like the liberals and the conservatives, after a few months of working together, we started disagreeing with each other again as the love festival came to a close.
With some of the money that was left from selling our house in Tulsa and our grandparents’ home in Waco (birthplace of my dad, Dr. Pepper tm, and Baylor university), my parents were able to move us into a HUGE BRIGHT GREEN HO– USE in Cokato. When I say HUGE, I mean 3,500 square feet or more in size. By my standards at the time, it was like moving into the Taj Mahal (minus the Indian culture). The house that my parents purchased was a vintage, stereotypical, Minnesota-style construction home. It was split-level, meaning that half of the house was quasi-underground and half of the house started at about six feet above ground; my parents called dibs on the upstairs, so my brother and I were given full reign over the basement. We had a pool table in the game room area, an area for my dad’s drum set, and I had my own room. As a move to appease my brother and I, my mom allowed us to go overkill with the decoration of our rooms and the entire downstairs. I drew cartoons on my walls; I had my friends sign my wall; I had wall-to-wall posters; and I had pictures of friends from Tulsa on my ceiling as tribute to my buddies that I missed so much. My brother went ape on his room, too, only he had a theme. His room was anything and everything Kirby Puckett or Michael Jordan. It was awesome. We even had our own man-law bathroom (that we shared together). The home’s exterior was covered 100 percent by lime-green siding, and it was located on the corner of the block at 155 Lakeview Drive in Cokato, Minnesota; a town that had a booming and bustling population of 2,038 people at the time we moved in. This housing upgrade afforded us a huge yard, a large garden for my mom, and a wonderful home to grow up in. Our town had one stoplight and approximately one crime per year because everyone knew everything about everybody which seemed like the biggest deterrent for a would-be criminal. In all sincerity, it was always a little unnerving those first few years when a woman that I did not know would be checking us out the grocery store or bagging our groceries and would say something in a Sarah Palin-esc voice like, “Hey, Clarks, how’s the move going, ay?” I would always leave local banks, restaurants, and grocery stores wondering, How do these people know my name?
However, looking back, this farm town of Cokato was one of the best places on the planet to raise a family. Our town had a Taco Bell tm in the Marketplace tm (the Marketplace tm was our local grocery store). It had a Tom Thumb tm gas station, a Dairy Queen tm, a community basketball court, and everything that my brother and I could have needed. At the time, I was mad that the town did not offer a mall or a movie theatre; but now I never go to malls, and I don’t think kids should be going to movie theatres. It’s hilarious to me how my worldview has completely changed since I got married, started a business, and had kids. It seems as though the longer I live, the more conservative I get.
So amidst this farm Mecca, I entered the eighth grade at Dassel-Cokato Middle School, and I also went through a name change. Growing up, my family and friends had always called me Clayton; but for some reason, when eighth grade began, everyone started calling me Clay. My appearance was changing by the day, and fondness for females was definitely increasing exponentially; thus, I spent virtually all of my time chasing after and hunting down ladies. First I hunted after Katie, then Maria, and then Nicole. I was never sure what I was going to do with these beautiful ladies once I caught them, but I enjoyed the pursuit.
At this time, I also found myself becoming increasingly fascinated with music. While still in Tulsa, I had signed up for the Begum mail-order CD service a few times, and I did it again a few more times in Minnesota. Unlike most things that seem too good to be true, this was actually good and true. I paid something like $15.99 for one CD in order to receive twelve CDs FREE. For the twelve FREE CDs, I was only charged shipping and handling at a cost of $2.99 per CD. Being that I was always selling gum, t-shirts, or working for my Uncle Jerry, I was able to fuel this new passion for music with my earned cash. And since I could buy “1 CD at regular price” and pay shipping and handling of only $2.99, I just kept on signing up for those promotional offers over and over and over and over again . . . It was my “eureka!” At one point, I had actually signed up under my mom’s name, my dad’s name, my dog’s name, and my name twice. Eventually BMGtm increased their promotional offer to “BUY 1 GET 15 FREE” or something like that, so I just kept on ordering. When they eventually ran their special to buy 1 CD for regular price and get UNLIMITED CDs for $2.99, I hopped on that thing like a bunny in heat. It was amazing how many CDs I collected. There I was in eighth grade, and I had somewhere around 300 CDs of R&B and dance/club hits; hence the early beginnings of the name that most people call me today, DJ Clay.
As eighth grade went on, I just kept acquiring CDs, playing basketball, and chasing girls . . . and I began to notice that the girls always flocked to those incredible middle school dances. If for some reason you are reading this and you did not have the pleasure of attending school dances in middle school, let me tell you this from experience . . . they are hilarious.
Here is the scene: every dance would start at around 7:00 p.m. and would go until around 10:00 p.m.; however, everyone who was not a tool would tell their parents to drop them off at 8:00 p.m. I am being serious about this. You never wanted your mother to drop you off early to the school dance, or you were a nerd.
Once your MOTHER dropped you off at the dance, you wanted to distance yourself from her as soon as possible so as to not associate yourself with the FREAK who gave birth to you and who was raising you. The name of game was to look and act as though you had been beamed to the dance miraculously one-hour late. Most of the dances cost around five dollars per person to get in, so most parents would send their kids to the dance with a 10-spot ($10). The goal of the dance sponsors was to find innovative ways to get all ten dollars out of your eighth-grade pocket and into the concession stand cash drawer and ultimately into the PTA budget. Now, assuming that you got dropped off at the dance by your parents without chicks (young, attractive females) or your homies (young, rebellious, acne-faced, male friends) seeing them, it was all good (it was okay) because from that point on, the top priority was to look and act cool at all times.
The girls would always attempt to dress as sexy as possible (for eighth graders), and the dudes always tried to dress as cool as possible. But this is where it got weird.
Everyone would be talking and waiting in line to pay his or her five bucks, and they would be checking each other out. Soon little observational comments could be heard like, “Man, that lady is looking hot tonight!” or “Hey, Maria, that dude, actually cleans up well.”
And that was pretty much the extent of the interaction with the opposite sex until 9:45 p.m. because as soon as you paid the cover charge, the girls and the guys would almost always completely part ways with each other. The girls would go into some dark corner of the gym and give each other back massages and talk about how hot some dude was, or they would say things like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe he likes her. I mean he doesn’t even know her!” and deep thoughts like that. Meanwhile, the dudes would be eating as much pizza as they could afford, or they would be engaging in extremely mature contests to see who could drink the most cans of Mt. Dewtm in ten minutes. Meanwhile, behind the DJ booth, the disk jockeys hired to work the dances would not use the microphones to engage with the students, so they were basically human-iPodstm before there were iPodstm.
Around 9:00 p.m. a handful of ladies would start dancing on the floor, and Aaron “Ottie” Otteson would be out there working the crowd. For some reason in eighth grade, only he and Jake Linder felt confident enough to fast dance out on the dance floor with the girls. As those two would dance with the ladies, my group of dudes and I would attempt to dunk volleyballs in the dark gymnasium as our odd way to try and woo and wow our fabulous female friends with our primal jumping abilities because we all know ladies love dudes that can jump high enough to dunk a volleyball (ha!).
And then, like magic, right around 9:40 or 9:45 it happened. Time was running out, and the social tension of not having talked with the ladies all night reached a fever pitch. Oh yes, my reader friends, at every dance around 9:40 or 9:45 p.m., the guys would ask the girls to dance. And we would all do it at this designated time only. Jake would ask Kelly to dance; I would ask Katie to dance; Cody would ask Katie or Maria; and we would all dance for 600 seconds of goodness. All of the guys would attempt to tastefully feel up as much of the woman as possible, and the ladies would all try to figure out, “Do I like him?” or “Does he like her?” Basically as long as he-didn’t-like-him, anybody had the potential to like everybody (as there were less than 100 females in my entire graduating class, of which over 15 got pregnant . . . and it was not caused by a lack of abstinence education).
And then just before one of the awkward dancing couples could get too ambitious with our slow dancing and immature romancing, a huge hum created by the turning on of the overhead lights would sound; and within seconds, the lights were fully on, and the dance was over. When the lights came on, some of us who had been dancing for a total of ten minutes or less were now “a couple” because we had asked something profound such as, “Katie, will you go out with me?”
Ah, those times were great! And, oh, were they confusing!
I remember on multiple occasions leaving a dance thinking, I cannot believe that I am going out with Nicole? She is so hot. But where are we going to go and who is going to take us there? I wish I had her number.
Oh, my friends, this eighth-grade school dance dynamic is where it all began. I loved the ladies; thus, I loved the dances. I also was smart enough to realize that the ladies loved it when Ottie and Jake danced with them at 9:00, so I knew that I had to improve my game. I can’t remember how many dances per year we had; I can only remember that I looked forward to them like politicians look forward to delivering speeches. There was that nervousness that preceded each dance; but once it got going, I was all about it, and I never wanted it to end.
Anyway, at some point during my eighth-grade year, I had a class with Ms. Sage (her name has been changed for protection, but I know who she is). I think that class was home economics or something. It was definitely one of those easy classes where you cook food as part of class, but I can’t remember exactly what the class was called. I can also vividly remember, like it was yesterday, our class seating arrangement that left me sitting next to Jeff Schultz—a fellow basketball player with red hair, rosy red cheeks, a tall body, and a never-ending stream of sexually referenced humor. Normally this would not be a problem, but Ms. Sage was gorgeous. At the time, all the guys thought she looked just like the Lois character from the Supermantm TV show of the 1990s featuring Terri Hatcher. And for whatever reason, Ms. Sage always dressed provocatively in comparison to all the other teachers.
Ms. Sage was also head of Students Against Drunk Driving (S.A.D.D.) or some organization dedicated to giving eighth graders a laundry list of new drug ideas that we had not yet thought up so as to “educate” us about the dangers of drugs. Her class was un-intentionally hysterical. To Jeff and I, the subject matter of the class was always filled with innuendos and potentials for one-liners, which we were fond of blurting out to get a good laugh (or a bad laugh, we weren’t picky). We always got in trouble; however, because Jeff and I were somewhat leaders of the eighth-grade boys, she always tried to get us involved in making a positive impact. I do believe that Ms. Sage was smarter than we gave her credit for because she was able to get troublemakers (such as Jeff and I) involved in a positive way.
As the year went on, Jeff and I kept serving on various bogus committees with S.A.D.D. and various other anti-drug-use committee meetings that allowed us to get out of class on a regular basis with a pass from Ms. Sage. During one such meeting, it was proposed that we should have a S.A.D.D. dance to raise money for some ineffective anti-drug campaign—all I can remember is that I was pumped to be on the committee in charge of hiring the DJ. The rest of the details are sort of fuzzy, but the end result was that I got asked to DJ the dance because the local radio station DJs charged a lot, but they never got anyone dancing until the final fifteen minutes. I (and most of the students) thought that these DJs were weaker than my left hand throwing a baseball; thus, getting a “good DJ” was definitely the right job for me.
From the first day I was appointed to this new position, I started making flyers promoting the dance, I told everyone I knew about it, and I dreamt up the perfect playlist based on my experience attending dances and witnessing which songs went over well and which songs bombed. I knew that “Jump Around” by House of Pain was great; I knew that “This Is How We Do It” by Montel Jordan was the jam; however, I also knew that this song had tons of alcohol references in it. I knew that the crowd liked “Shout”; I knew that the rock songs that the FM DJs played were good songs, but that they were not good to dance to. So I went to work creating the perfect playlist. Man, did I work on that list.
Without exaggerating, I bet that I spent over $300 on music and 50 hours preparing for that dance. I remember like it was yesterday the excitement I felt as I anticipated making this dance epic. I remember the stress I felt as I attempted with no previous experience to round up all the appropriate sound gear from the band director. I was determined to gain the practical knowledge I needed, regardless of my accessibility to musical equipment up to that point. I remember being unable to sleep for the first time in my life because I was fueled by passion. I remember feeling as though I was going to throw up as the first students arrived, and I can remember feeling like the weight of the world was on top of me as I struggled to figure out how to make the lights and the sound system work together. As I recall, I had a 5-disc Sonytm CD changer (carousel style) that I owned, a 6-disc changer (manual loading) that the school owned, two guitar amps to pump up the sound, a guitar preamp to mix my sound, some Pioneertm headphones that my parents had owned since they got married, and a blue plastic tub filled with my CDs prearranged in order based on the playlist and routine I had made for the night. My friends all knew that I had been promoting this dance like my life depended on it, but none of them knew I was getting paid $75 from Ms. Sage to DJ. (Never mind the fact that I had already spent $300 preparing for the dance.) I treated this dance as though I was getting paid $10,000 because I simply could not fail in front of my friends.
One by one the audience trickled in like every other school dance, and just like every other school dance DJ, I just sat back there and played the songs (as though that was hard to do).
Then something happened. I don’t know what it was exactly, but I sincerely do feel as though God spoke to me. I was hit with this inner energy, and this inner voice that said, “You have got to get up on that microphone and rock their faces. You have got to get this crowd hyped!” And although I had never seen a good DJ, I knew what I always wanted our previous DJs to do, so I just did it. I stood up to the mic and said, “Alright LADIES AND GENTLEMEN HOW ARE YOU DOING?!”
The crowd responded with some applause, and then I said something to the effect of, “Ladies and Gentlemen, IF YOU ARE IN THE PLACE TO BE, MAKE SOME NOISE IF YOU ARE DOWN WITH ME!” and the crowd screamed.
All of the sudden I got it; I instantly overcame my fear of public speaking; I was cured. I was nervous, but I didn’t care. I was feeling it, and I was in the zone like Michael Jordan must have felt when he was scoring 50-plus points on somebody. I was hyping the crowd, and I loved it because they loved it! As the night went on, it transpired just like it had in my mind during the previous nights I spent creating the perfect playlist—only it was better. When I played, “Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool, everyone was rocking. When I played “Apache” by Sugar Hill Gang, everyone’s hips were swinging. I could not believe it. Everyone was dancing the entire night, and they were loving it. DJ Clay was officially born.
That night as the dance came to a conclusion, I hopped on the mic and spoke to the ultra-sweaty and hormonally charged crowd with as much conviction as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (only I had about a hundredth of the purpose),
“Ladies and Gentlemen, MAKE SOME NOISE! Now, via request, we have ONE MORE SONG FOR YOU TONIGHT. HOW MANY PEOPLE WANT TO HEAR ONE MORE SONG?” and the crowd screamed.
So I repeated it because they needed it, “How many people want to hear one more song? . . . HOW MANY PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR ONE MORE SONG?” Then I played “Jump Around” by House of Pain, and the sea of students jammed out right in front of me. I could not believe it. As they were dancing, I kept thinking, This is what I want to do with my life!
As everyone filed out, and after Ms. Sage had paid me; the gym was oddly quiet as we broke down the decorations . . . my ears were still ringing, but the room was quiet. I remember wondering to myself if I was that good, or if the other disk jockeys from the radio stations were just that bad. Just about that time, Ms. Sage entered the gym one more time to supervise the takedown process. She said something to the effect of, “Clay, that was the most fun dance I have ever seen!” and that was all I needed to hear.
The following days were filled with pats on the back and high-fives from people echoing Ms. Sage’s comments. I felt good. I felt great, and it was not about the money (because I lost $225.00 on the deal); however, I could not stop thinking about the money and other horrible non-interactive disk jockeys that every other school was using. I kept thinking, If they are all that bad, I really do have a huge opportunity here!
“Knowledge without application is meaningless.” – Thomas Edison
Please prevent this chapter from becoming void of purpose like the average rap album by answering the following questions sincerely:
What areas of poor service have you witnessed in your daily life?
What areas of poor service have you experienced at your job?
What opportunities exist for you as an entrepreneur because of these blatant areas of poor service?
What business ideas and opportunities can you think of to serve this area of poor service in a profitable way?
Write down 10 areas of poor service that you are currently capable of doing better than your competition? (Example: Could you mow lawns better than the company you use? Could you work more efficiently than your boss? etc…)
Determine 5 specific ways in which you will showcase your ability to perform a better quality service than your competition.