What determines whether you become a have or a have not? I’ve been thinking about this after reading that Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is now worth $200 billion. It’s a number so large that I don’t even know what it looks like.
Mark Zuckerberg is quite a way behind at $96 billion and poor JK Rowling has to survive on only $1 billion.
Put the three of them together and that’s nearly $300 billion. It’s a staggering sum of money.
Then, out of curiosity, I typed into Google how many homeless people are there in the world - 150 million. I followed that up with what is $300 billion divided by 150 million which is $2,000 per person which may be enough to live on for a year in some countries but certainly not in others.
There have been times in my life when I have just about reached six figures but these days it’s far, far less. I’ve had opportunities and privileges that have been denied to most people. I’ve worked hard for all of my life, benefited from a good education. I have two parents, still married, that love me. I’m incredibly lucky and fortunate.
I have a strong sense that we’re living through a period in history that will change the world forever. Yesterday I was told a story of a pianist, who was all set to go on a world tour with a famous band that has now been canceled. She has nearly burnt through all her savings. Another pianist I know is checking the job ads for any work available after all his hotel gigs have been postponed until further notice.
I read this story in The Atlantic this morning about restaurants and retailers shutting down in New York City, after many residents have fled to the suburbs realising that it’s more important to live in a place larger than a shoebox if all your work is expected to be completed from home.
And then there’s the super-rich like Bezos, who have benefitted from the pandemic as we’ve all turned to online shopping to avoid exposure to COVID-19.
I ask myself when so many are suffering and struggling to get by, how is it right that anyone can accumulate hundreds of billions? Who actually needs more than a billion dollars over their entire lifetime?? Even if you hired a private jet every single day, bought a new house annually, went on luxury holidays, bought designer clothes, basically did whatever you want, whenever you wanted it, could you actually spend a billion dollars? What is the point of all that money if you can’t help to improve the lives of others who are less fortunate??? Honestly, I don’t get it.
I’ve juggled multiple jobs since I was in my twenties when I ran a weekend nightclub from an illegal shabeen on the Euston Road while holding down a full-time job as a commercials producer. I developed a TV series for Channel 4 while working as a production manager in a corporate video company. Created and then sold a baby sling business while running a PR agency, developed a website selling sex toys that morphed into a company that produced a couple of sex education videos for adults.
Most people are quite content to hold down one job but I’ve almost always had two or more. I hate the name serial entrepreneur, which implies being tremendously successful when the reality is that my financial circumstances have been very up and down. My friend Rita tells me I’m good at finding money and she’s right, I am. Mostly enough to get by, occasionally so much that I could go on expensive holidays, lease BMWs, have memberships at Soho House, the Groucho, and a few other clubs simultaneously.
The internet has opened the doors to tremendous opportunities for me and many others. For a person such as myself, with limitless ideas, some good and some half-baked it’s like one big candy store. I’m not a website developer but thanks to no-code solutions, freely available, I’m able to build a site in a day or even an hour that would have taken some high-paid (usually) young man many weeks previously.
I’ll never forget something my accountant Ron said to me, who had, at this point, worked as our freelance accountment for over 10 years. He’d known me from the time when our ‘PR agency’ consisted solely of my ex-husband Pete, sitting alone at a secondhand desk, with only the telephone and an old fax machine my dad had managed to retrieve from being thrown out in his office, for company. Many years later, we had moved to a swanky light-filled, architecturally designed former electroplating factory we’d had converted to be our office, housing nearly 15 staff. Ron had come to deliver the annual accounts and it turned out that we had had a very good year, despite the fact that my bookkeeping skills were haphazard, at best.
“Suzanne,” he said. “Can I tell you something? You’re charming and lovely but when it comes to finances, you’re shocking. Best leave it to others to sort out for you.” And he was right. I was shockingly inept when it came to managing the company accounts. Actually that’s not quite true. I had an innate sense of when we were doing very well and when we needed to scale back. I could put together a budget and understood how much was being spent, at any one time. Nowadays I can work out Xero and other accounting packages so the bulk of the actual bookkeeping work has been taken out of my hands.
There’s no one magic formula for why some people succeed while others just about get by, but being able to compose a narrative around numbers is almost certainly at the top. Being able to articulate a vision for a business that says if I do x, then I imagine we’ll get to y, which will lead to z by then, is what I’ve grown to understand determines whether those who write the cheques (remember those?), have the confidence to write one for you. Raising money is always hard but it’s far harder when your creativity doesn’t extend to composing stories using sums.
COVID-19 has enabled me to focus on my business ideas in a bid, like everyone else, to keep my head above water while also revealing my deficiencies. Well-meaning money-minded friends ask ‘where’s the revenue’ when I share with them my latest idea.
Sitting at my laptop every day, the endless Zoom meetings and juggling multiple projects, all of my own making, has led me to a place where I’ve worked out that if I’m going to get any of my businesses past the ticking over stage, I need a numbers person to help me. I’ve interviewed someone for a very, very part-time business manager/financial director role and excited about how he can support the work myself and my colleagues are doing and help us with financial planning. Once again, I consider how long it has taken me to work out the importance of this role in any business and how many people lack access to capital, financial education, and literacy. There are so many big and small hurdles we all face, many invisible to us. A writer I admire, Joanna Fuertes, writes eloquently about this in her latest article, The Lifeboat.
In the meantime, though I may not be a whizz with a slide rule, I do know how to generate PR. Here’s an article that came out this week about Silver Sharers in Platinum Magazine.
Also, Startup School for Seniors, an 8 week eLearning course, fully funded by the London Community Response fund, for 100 unemployed and recently made redundant Londoners, aged over 50, is launching on 5th October and you can sign up here if you’re interested. Please pass on the link or share it with anyone you know who would like to join. I’ve been working like a demon with my colleague, business coach, and educator Mark Elliott to get it ready in time and am very excited at what we’ve produced so far.
Stay safe & well. Until next time,
P.S. For those that have been asking about the building works, it’s still a mess. But I’m not angry anymore.
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