Ideas to Action

Getting started on a new project or business venture requires many ingredients, and one of the most important is passion. Also near the top is skill. Have you taken the time to think about your passions and skills and how they could translate into a new business or initiative? Maybe you have thought that you would like to start your own business (who hasn’t?), but you have no idea where to begin.

Start with your talents and interests and allow yourself to get creative. Start with a large piece of paper, a pen, pencil or favorite crayon, and start freewriting. I suggest that you write “My Interests” in the middle of the page. You can get another piece of paper and write “Things I’m Good At.” Start writing quickly and without editing yourself. This exercise could take five minutes or five days. It’s up to you. Keep going and fill the page, scribbling if you have to.  Most importantly, don’t hesitate and don’t avoid writing something because you think it’s silly or of no value.

After you have had a day or two to think about it, review what you have written. What do you see? Any themes? Anything surprising? Is there anything there that spurs ideas for businesses? Here are two stories that may help illustrate my point.

I have always received good feedback and solid grades on my writing. Whether the writing was for work, for school or community activities, I was always told that I wrote well and that my work was engaging and interesting. I also have an interest in career development and have done a lot of recruiting and interviewing. I was always amazed at the inconsistent quality of resumes that I saw. A few were great, but most were boring. More than a few were terrible. I thought, “I can do better than this.” After thinking and researching, I plunked down my $15 for a business certificate, set up a website and started telling people that I write resumes. Almost two years later, my business is growing well and providing some useful income.

A very close friend was helping a friend with her dog grooming business. He spent some time in her shop and overheard customers asking for dog feeding stands, the kind that raise the bowl off the ground so the dog has an easier time eating. Michael is handy in the woodshop and got the idea to tinker around and make a few models (single and dual-bowl, small,
medium and large). Now you can buy these feeders at the shop and at the festivals and fairs where he has a booth. His interests and talents came together with opportunity to create a new business.

No, these aren’t dissed college kids starting Facebook stories, and I’m sure that Wall Street’s next big IPO won’t focus on resumes or dog feeders, but they illustrate the point that your next opportunity can come from a little time invested exploring your own inventory of skills and interests. For more ideas on brainstorming, visit UNC’s website. To help you determine if your dream is for real or just a fantasy, check out John C. Maxwell’s book on the topic. All the best to you in your self-discovery.

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The “You Pie Chart”

A basic rule of investing is that you should build a diversified portfolio that includes different asset classes – stocks, bonds, cash – and different holdings within each class – stock in different companies, a bond ladder, CDs – to give you exposure to gains in different sectors and some downside protection when times get tough. That’s a great strategy for the money you already have, but what about the money you still hope to earn? Does your money come from different sources, or is your entire livelihood dependent on one stream of cash? What happens when the drought comes and the stream stops flowing?

Here are a couple of thoughts to consider on how you can start building some stability into your income portfolio (all of it in your household) and reduce the risk of dependency on your employer.

First, if you are married, look at ways to diversify careers and industries within your family. My wife just finished nursing school and is launching a new career as a Registered Nurse. I don’t work in healthcare, so we have some new found diversification (and an extra paycheck).

Second, brainstorm on ways to create alternative income streams. Unless you are in an employment situation that forbids outside business activities, chances are good that you have skills that you can turn into a side business. I have a close friend who turned a talent for woodworking into a small business making custom pet feeders. Another leveraged public relations skills into a side consulting practice.

Third, network like crazy and give freely of yourself and your knowledge. The more you do to help people with no expectation of return, the more likely you are to get help when you need it. You may also be presented with opportunities that would never have come your way otherwise.

Think about your income the same way you think about your investments. Remember those colorful pie charts that came in your 401(k) package? More color means more diversification. Is your income portfolio one color, or a safer and more satisfying rainbow?

Next up: Thoughts on brainstorming and turning the exercise into a business.