“If Opportunity doesn’t Knock, Build a Door.” ~ Milton Berle

Lots of opportunities come knocking if we are receptive (i.e. we have built a door). The trick is to recognise them (i.e. hear the knock). Then you have to decide whether or not to open the door.

I got my first business opportunity as a result of a charity function in 1982. Back then there was no such thing as a private search company — personal searches were undertaken (in very small numbers) by the clerks or solicitors working for the conveyancing firm concerned.

At that time I was a postgraduate student/college lecturer doing some research on behalf of the Prison Reform Trust. One of the trustees of the charity was a lawyer who, over a glass of wine at the function, told me that he was impressed by the fact I wasn’t getting paid to do the the research (what he had overlooked was that, as a wannabe academic, published research is gold-dust). As my college was closed for the long summer break he asked me whether I would like to do some “outdoor clerking” for him. I agreed and it wasn’t long before he asked me to do a “personal search”.

I was bit non-plussed when he asked — thinking it might involve rubber gloves… so I was relieved, but non the wiser, when he explained that it was a local authority search. I knew nothing about conveyancing as I was living in a council flat at the time. He brushed away my ignorance, blithely declaring that I just had to take some forms to, in this case, Westminster City Hall in Victoria Street. He also said it would take a day and a half to complete.

The next morning I took the lift to the Local Land Charge Office on the 20th floor of City Hall. Two hours later I was back on the ground having worked my way down the building via five departments collecting bits of paper with answers to the questions posed on the forms. Given I was told it would take me a day and a half, I thought I had missed something. However, I appeared to have all the answers to complete the forms… To make sure I went back up to the 20th floor and repeated the exercise. Having perplexed a few local government staff I duly confirmed that I had got everything I needed the first time. I completed the form by hand (no computers then) and made my way to the conveyancer’s offices. As I handed the forms to the lawyer he said “Wow, are you back already? You know it’s the devil’s own job to get anyone to do these bloody things”. Opportunity knocks. Academia shelved.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill

I opened the door. That afternoon I went to ProntoPrint. I drafted a letter of introduction, invented a name for my new business and got fifty printed copies on letterhead. From there to the public library, where I picked out the Solicitors and Barristers Directory and randomly chose a postal district (WC2) and fifty law firms within it. The following day I hand delivered the letters and a business (and an industry for that matter) was born.

So I heard the knock and opened the door. But of course it is not as simple as that. You need luck, perseverance, ingenuity and capability to realise the opportunity. In my case that realisation took twenty five years — when I sold the resultant company (SearchFlow). By then the business had gone from a council flat to a turnover of £150 million.

I tell this story to illustrate the fact that we need to be receptive to opportunity — this is a mindset that you need to adopt. But this is only the start of the story — there is so much more to realising an opportunity than recognising and taking it on. My next blog post will reflect on this often long, haphazard and stamina-sapping process of realising an opportunity.

“Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability…. We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with capability.” Thomas A Edison.

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