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Running a School: What I learned about business from travelling the world, Part 7: Cairns

 

We put thoughts of anarchy and fears of violent intrusion behind us, got back on the bus and headed further up north.

 

Stopping off at Bundaberg, the Whitsundays, Magnetic Island, and a series of islands, landmarks and beautiful spots where Captain Cook and his crew must have passed, short on inspiration: Long Beach, White Beach, Grassy Island, Pine Island, Stone Island and my favourite, Dent Island, complete with dent.

 

We dived and snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef, hiked and camped in the wilderness of the uninhabited Hinchinbrook Island with giant goanna and saltwater crocodiles for company, learnt how de-husk coconuts, picked fresh mangoes from the roadside and seemed to be living in a bountiful paradise.

 

Thoughts of cash, however, or the lack of it, were never far away.

 

Pulling into Cairns, we found digs at a reasonable backpackers’ hostel. It had become something of a routine we were tired of, settling into the lounge and swapping stories. Been here, seen that, done that. Doubtless everyone was travelling for their own experience, but a one-upmanship on the length of time away travelling was aired everywhere we went.

 

Once more we needed employment, and once more my face, or rather my gender, didn’t fit.

 

My girlfriend found a job in a bar very quickly, but I was struggling. I answered all the ads on the noticeboard and cycled hither and thither, all to no avail.

 

Poor, unemployed and young, I was in my prime, but could not find a job.

 

Remembering a casual conversation from a campsite somewhere some months previously, I got up one morning and took things into my own hands.

 

I went to Woolworths, bought a bucket, a squeegee and some detergent and borrowed some towels from the hostel.

 

I then walked as far as I could to the far reaches of the business district and started knocking on office doors.

 

“Would you like your windows cleaned for $10?”

 

“Only ten?”

 

The woman behind the reception desk looked to her right, over me and then to her left, and I realised she was looking at yards and yards of plate glass windows.

 

“$20.”

 

“It’s way too cheap. I’ll give you thirty.”

 

It was the second place I’d tried, and they were probably the easiest windows to clean. Plate glass windows with no frames. A small amount of detergent in the water; swipe, swipe with the squeegee; wipe, wipe with a towel. Done.

 

It was hot and I was sweating, but it was a pretty easy way to earn $30.

 

I marched on.

 

I had an amazing amount of success. I couldn’t believe dirty how many of the windows were, and most people were thrilled to have them cleaned.

 

People chatted, wished me luck and asked me to come back next week.

 

Within a few days, I had a window cleaning round. It was hard work, but got me outside and exercising, and was pretty lucrative.

 

I didn’t have to deal with rock-throwing customers, and everybody seemed grateful for my graft.

 

Exhausted, I slid into a pub, and on seeing me in my work clothes with my equipment, the woman behind the bar offered me some repair work at her house.

 

“A coupla hundred bucks.”

 

Done.

 

I couldn’t believe it; it seemed so easy. It seemed too good to be true.

 

It was.

 

My girlfriend had run into problems at work. She walked in on one of the managers and a customer in a compromising position in the office, and he decided she would have to go.

 

I also got the impression he didn’t like her shaved head, nose ring and Dr Martens boots.

 

He concocted some lie about money going missing from the till and used this as an excuse to sack her.

 

A truly good-natured, honest girl, she was devastated.

 

I wasn’t sure the window round would work out long-term, and she didn’t fancy another job in a boorish bar.

 

Once more we had to go.

 

I’ve often joked that had things been different, within a month to six weeks, I could have had a very lucrative business washing windows, tending to offices and shops, being the outsourced solution for all the dirty jobs they didn’t want to do.

 

http://www.cairnswindowcleaning.com.au/ in Cairns charges “from $99” for window cleans.

 

That could have been me.

 

So, what did I learn about business from this?

 

Get on your bike, take the initiative, don’t be afraid to ask, work hard and smile. People will pay you and treat you well.

 

And bar managers are ****s!

 

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