Alone and isolated in late Nineties London, Niraj Kapur lived on £36 a week from the dole for two long years. The doctor’s son had left his home in Antrim to go to drama school but could find no roles for a young Indian man - with a strong Northern Ireland accent.
He had also hoped to find romance, having been rejected by girls at home, for the colour of his skin. When he could find neither love or a job, life in the indifferent capital became “unbearable”.
“I had too much pride to go back home,” he recalls. “I looked for work every day and spent every night writing -I had no life. You feel shame and you go out; you go for days without talking to anyone. It destroys your confidence.
“Everyone I knew was graduating university or college and here I was, broke and unemployed. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others; however, at that age, you don’t know any better.”
But the experience was to become one of the “lessons in failure” that shaped Niraj as a person and led him onto a path to success. Now a much-in-demand sales and management coach, he has written an informative and enjoyable best-seller, Everybody Works In Sales, a well-written guide to getting ahead in the world, whether you’re self-employed or earn a living by selling someone else’s product or service.
The author, started out doing the latter, at 22, when he landed a job with a publishing company after his two years in limbo.
“The Samaritans help me very much during that time and the job saved my life,” he admits. “I’m so grateful I found it. I started off at the bottom as classified sales executive and worked my way up. I wasn’t smarter than anyone, I simply wanted success more and worked harder. I took courses and learned all I could.”
Back home in Antrim, Niraj's younger brother was heading towards a career as a tennis coach, while his sister was following in her mother’s footsteps, as a physiotherapist. More inclined to the arts and “daydreaming”, Niraj never contemplated his father’s medical career as GP, but his flair for selling can traced back to his grandfather, Dwarka Nath Kapur, who arrived in Northern Ireland in 1951, and set up a 30-year business selling clothes from his home in Ballycastle.
“People would come and read the paper or have a chat while they were waiting - I was a kid and that’s where I learned how to talk to adults,” he remembers. “I struggled at school; I was a massive daydreamer. For me, exam results didn’t mean anything in the real world.
“It was different for Dad. He genuinely cared and wanted to help people, and a doctor in those days earned good money and had a job for life.”
Dr Davinder Kapur worked initially at Belfast City Hospital before moving the family to Antrim in 1977. Niraj recalls his time Antrim Primary School as the happiest of his life. A “straight A” pupil, he was head boy, the top scorer in the football team and a captain in the boy scouts.
But life changed radically for the young Niraj when he went on to Ballymena Academy and began to feel like a nobody, "among the most talented pupils you could ever meet”. After three years, he switched to Antrim Grammar, only to become a target for bullies.
“I was a new kid, so they decided I had AIDS - people were ignorant about AIDS in the 80s and thought you could only get it if you were gay, so the kids at school decided I was gay and must have AIDS,” he says.
“After a year, it died down; then it became racist jokes from Jim Davidson and Bernard Matthews, schoolkids calling me paki and nigger and doing the awful accent. It was a small group, about three or four guys in my year and a few seniors.
“What annoyed me was lots of people knew about it and said nothing, because they were scared of being attacked.”
Unfortunately for the rock-music mad teenager, there was little respite from prejudice when he hit the bars and clubs at 17, hoping to meet a girl.
“Growing up, I always thought I was Irish, but, in some bars, people would stare at me like they had never seen a coloured person in their life in a bar, which at the time was probably true,” he concedes.
“When I would talk to girls, there was a look of horror on their faces – or the faces of their friends - that a coloured man was talking to them. I’m sure the NHS glasses and acne didn’t help.
“Belfast and Antrim have grown and improved a lot since 1991. The people I spent time with then – and now – are a mixture of Protestant and Catholic. When we get together for drinks or dinner, everyone always gets on with each other. I’ve never seen any of them fight over religion.”
When he got nowhere with internet dating after moving to London, Niraj decided to take holiday in India, in the autumn of 2007. As Hindu, his mother arranged a meeting for him with a prospective wife in New Dehli - a concept alien to him until he laid eyes on the beautiful Shweta. Having grown up watching and listening to the BBC at home, the 18 year-old spoke English well, and Niraj was delighted that she got the British sense of humour.
“I asked her if she would like to have children, and would she be loyal, and her father asked me about money,” he laughs. “It was the most unromantic thing. I said: ‘Yes, I’ll have her’ - so romantic! And the following week 600 people came to our wedding in New Delhi.
“It was so scary. We didn’t know each other and we had nothing in common - I was from Northern Ireland; she was from India, and there we were, living in tiny north London council house I’d managed to buy.
“But when she got pregnant, I went to the ante-natal classes with her, so we had that in common. We had our daughter. Shreya, and we bonded slowly. It started as a relationship based on respect. Love came later.
“I never believed in arranged marriage before but now I’m so lucky to have two strong, independent women in my life.”
Shweta went on to train as a beauty therapist and now has her own upmarket clinic in Buckinghamshire. Niraj became equally successful, climbing the corporate sales and management ladder in London for 20 years. Still attracted to television, he appeared in the Weakest Link, but blundered due to nerves and got the withering treatment from Anne Robinson.
He was more successful with scripts for children’s television programmes, having watched the Tweenies with his baby daughter and knowing he could do better. Then, he had a go at a novel - "a good story idea but a “rushed, self-indulgent mess”.
Again, he learned from failure. Determined his next writing venture would succeed, he took professional advice on the autobiographical manuscript that was to become Everybody Works in Sales, re-writing and polishing it to perfection over two years.
Ironically, the book was conceived, in part, as a result of his sacking a few years ago for objecting to his boss’s decision to cut the salary of a new employee he had recruited, before the job had even started. Although he stands by his email to the superior, suggesting she treat people with more respect, he advises readers of his book not to criticise the boss - and never to send an email in anger.
Since then, the success of Everybody Works In Sale has led to requests for his entertaining sales and management coaching sessions throughout the UK. He is now in a position to easily afford the 10% of his income that he gives to the Samaritans, Comic Relief, Children in Need,
Mari Curie, Movember cancer fundraising and Action Aid, through which he sponsors children in Africa and India.
Charity began, literally, at home, for Niraj. In 2014, his father was awarded an MBE by Prince Charles for the charitable work he carries out in India, often with his wife.
“Seeing them helping others less fortunate and ask for nothing in return was inspiring,” he concludes. “When I helping others in 2011, my life changed for the better. Life isn’t about how much you earn. It’s about how making progress and how much you give to others.
“That’s why my top sales tip is integrity – there’s no such thing as 99% integrity. Only 100%.”
Everybody Works In Sales is available from amazon.co.uk (from £7 on Kindle).
Everybody Works In Sales comprises 155 pages of valuable insight into selling, based on the concept that we’re all involved in some type of sales, whether we’re employed or self-employed, in any sector.
“Most people know nothing about selling,” says the author. “Yet, wherever you go, everyone is selling something. Sales is a transferable skill in any industry. When you attend a job interview, for example, both parties are selling.
“For the book, I interviewed many people, including 17 experts who are excellent at selling - yet they’re not sales people. And, as I believe that stories are the best way of learning, I have included my own along the way.”
Niraj Kapur’s Top Five Selling Skill Prerequisites:
1. Integrity – there’s no such thing as 99% integrity. Only 100%
2. Offer enormous value to the customer, more than they ask. Although some customers will take advantage, most will appreciate it and are more likely to rebook with you and recommend you to others.
3. Send thank-you cards after every meeting. Hand-written letters and thank-you cards have generated so much goodwill among clients.
4. Listen. Sales people talk too much. Car salesmen, call centres, broadband companies and estate agents are the best examples of people who talk too much and don’t listen
5. invest in yourself. The most success people in business, music and sport all have coaches. Having a coach will fast-track your career.