Fresh Start to 2019: From Hobbyist to Entrepreneur

pexels-photo-220320.jpeg

For many folks, the start of 2019 means the start of a new career path. And sometimes that path may have started from the humblest of beginnings: a hobby.

Consider the story of an old acquaintance of mine. Janelle decided to turn her experience of completing her family’s genealogy into a new career for herself. She enjoyed the project so much she decided that she wanted to help others research their family history. Her plan, as Janelle explained to me at that time, was to move to Europe where she had traveled numerous times and set up shop in Germany to promote her services to American tourists and Europeans. She already knew French and German to communicate with the locals, and because she had researched her own family genealogy, she was familiar with the organizations she would need to contact for research.

Janelle also had saved up enough money to make the move to Germany. Once she had her plan in place, she bought an airline ticket with an open-ended return date good for up to a year. That gave her enough time to test out her business idea.

Janelle is one of thousands of people who have converted a hobby into a new career. But making the jump from hobbyist to a new career takes a major leap of faith and is not to be taken lightly. It takes guts, and it also takes a lot a creativity and planning. Janelle’s move occurred after long, thoughtful consideration of her priorities, abilities and goals. Experts say this thoughtful approach is necessary to make sure you don’t overlook any minor detail.

People choose to turn a hobby into a career for a variety of reasons: to seek more independence, express creativity, have a more flexible schedule, have more free time for family and travel, achieve greater work-life balance, or simply get more enjoyment out of the work they do. Many others do so because they are bored or dissatisfied with their current job, which can often backfire because you are running away from something rather than toward a new venture. Jumping ship to get away from an unpleasant environment without a plan or a safety net can quickly turn into a dead end.

Whatever your hobby may be, there is sure to be a way to earn money from it. Love playing piano? You can give piano lessons or provide musical accompaniment for live stage shows. Bakers can sell cookies at farmers’ markets, bikers can lead tours through the countryside, and writers can conduct writing workshops or help someone publish their life story.

The key to a successful transition from hobbyist to careerist is good planning, just as Janelle did. Experts at Legal Zoom suggest the following tips to successfully turn your hobby into a money-making venture.

* Go slow. Before taking the leap, try a short-term solution. Experiment as a side gig or get one or two steady clients before saying good-bye to your day job. By going slow, the transition is likely to “stick.”

* Establish a financial safety net. Make sure you have enough savings to support you or fall back on until you begin to earn income from your hobby.

* Brainstorm multiple ways to earn money from your interest. If you enjoy acting, consider doing more than just acting in plays. Consider doing voice over work, puppetry shows which require some acting skills, or teach acting classes.

* Have an emotional support system in place. Surround yourself with people who support the work you plan to do. During times of stress or self-doubt, these individuals can be a source of strength.

* Develop a business plan. No money-making venture should start without a business plan, which outlines your business goals and strategies for achieving them. Be sure to review the plan quarterly to make sure you are on track.

* Create a brand for your hobby-turned-business, and stick to it. Think about what you want your business identity to be. What do you want to be known for? Then use that brand to create your business name, logo and website.

* Learn to market yourself. This is especially important if you don’t have a marketing background. If you don’t market yourself, no one will find you or seek out your products or services. If you are uncomfortable with marketing yourself, have someone help you, such as a marketing college graduate looking for experience.

Want more help? Check out the Small Business Administration or local community college for workshops and classes about marketing and business development. SBA also offers a mentoring program to guide you through the startup process.

As the saying goes, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” By following these helpful tips, you can turn your passion into a more satisfying career that gives you greater independence, flexibility and creativity.

Fresh Start 2019: Better Content Planning for Your Blog

blackboard-620314_1280
Photo courtesy of Hubspot

If your goal for the New Year is to launch a new blog or refresh the one you already have, an easy place to start is with content, namely story selection. It can be a challenge knowing what to write about as you stare at a blank page or computer screen.

If you’re constantly wracking your brain for story ideas, it could be that you haven’t planned your content ahead of time. Any successful blogger can tell you that having good content and posting frequently are keys to attracting and keeping readers. A content plan (what I sometimes refer to as an editorial plan) can help you develop your story ideas before you begin to write them and schedule them over the coming weeks and months. Having a content plan helps you sort through all your story ideas by theme and by month, while giving you some flexibility to add stories as news breaks that is worth following.

The blog planning tool I use is very simple and straightforward. It consists of three columns: the topic, keywords and date posted. (See image below for sample form.) You might be able to find similar planners online or adapt one for your own use. Make sure there are enough rows to write down your list of stories.

blog worksheet2

Here’s how the blog content planner works:

1. Begin brainstorming story ideas. Think of as many as you can related to your blog’s central theme and jot them down on a blank sheet of paper or your laptop. For example, if your blog is about budget-friendly travel tips, you might come up with stories such as using Groupon to plan tours and visit restaurants, cheaper alternatives to hotels, and cheap or free things to do at your destination.

If you struggle to think of story ideas, have a friend help you. Sometimes they may think of angles you had not considered. It might also be helpful to keep a file of news stories that may be worth covering on your blog.

2. Assign each story to a category.
As you complete your list of story idea, you may notice common themes developing. For example, you may notice six stories about tours and sightseeing trips and a few others related to overnight accommodations. In the space next to the story idea, write the theme or category. Most if not all of your stories will fall into one or two categories.

3. Jot down categorized stories on the planning worksheet. For every story categorized under tours and sightseeing, for example, write them down under the topic heading on your planner. In the line that says theme, fill in the blank with your category (Tours and sightseeing trips). Each category will have its own page, so you will want to have multiple copies of the planning worksheet. One sheet will be story ideas related to overnight accommodations, another for cheap eats on the road, and a third for tours and sightseeing, and so on.

You may only have five or six story ideas per category. That’s okay. You can add to the list as you think of more stories.

4. Determine which month your stories will be posted. For example, you might post a series of stories about springtime weekend getaways that would be ideally suited for posting in March or April, while stories about staycations might be a good choice for late fall or winter. My theme for January is “Fresh starts and new beginnings,” so my stories have that theme. February will have a different theme and my story selection will reflect this new theme.

blog worksheet3

5. Keep to a schedule.
As you post a story, enter the date in your blog planner. Most important, set a schedule of posting and stick to it. Write regularly and consistently. That way your readers will know when to expect to see updates to your blog. Consistency is key to driving readers to your site.

A blog planning worksheet can simplify your thought process and save you a lot of time down the road. Once you’ve done the brainstorming and assigned categories to each story, the hard work is over. Planning content around a monthly theme means you don’t have to scramble looking for ideas. It’s especially helpful when you’re pressed for time because you don’t have to think about what your next story will be. Just refer to your blog planner for your selection of stories. Then begin writing.

Fresh Start 2019: Five Strategies to Jumpstart Your Writing Practice After the Holidays

 

blank paper with pen and coffee cup on wood table
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Getting back into regular writing mode after the holidays can be a challenge. After weeks of celebrations and shopping, writing may have been the furthest thing from your mind. If you’re still struggling to restart your writing practice two weeks into the New Year, here are some tips to get you back on track.

1. Start small. Set a daily goal of either time duration (15 minutes, for example) or word count (200 words or so). Short-term goals will be easier to achieve, and once you achieve them, you feel you’ve accomplished something significant. Do that for several days and pretty soon, you will naturally expand your goals to writing for 30 minutes or longer and reaching higher word counts.

Another smaller goal might be to write a 500-word essay, short story or op-ed piece before jumping into a novel. That way you can break down the writing into smaller chunks over several days. By the end of that first week, you’ve finished one project and you can move on to a larger, more challenging piece.

2. Make an appointment with yourself. If you are fairly reliable about keeping appointments, make one for your writing sessions. Write them down on your calendar just as you would a doctor appointment or a client meeting. Putting the appointments in your calendar will serve as a reminder to keep with your writing schedule. It will help you maintain consistency with your practice. Even if your session is only for 15 minutes, seeing it in your calendar will motivate you to keep that important appointment with yourself.

3. Meet with a writing buddy or a mentor. Sometimes having someone on your side who supports your endeavors can motivate you to keep up with your practice. Making a coffee date with a writing buddy or a mentor and talking shop for an hour can spur some interesting story ideas and keep you motivated. If you are the competitive type, you might be galvanized into action when you find out he/she is churning out pages of copy while you’re still eating holiday leftovers. A mentor can help you redouble your efforts and give you a long overdue pep talk, so you can start writing again.

4. Attend a write-in session. Write-ins are open, public forums for people to spend quiet, uninterrupted time writing on whatever piece they’re working on. Write-ins can take place anywhere and are usually sponsored by a library, university or writers group. It usually doesn’t cost anything to attend. Just bring your laptop or a notebook and pens, and your imagination. Then be prepared to write for as long as you wish. The extended quiet time helps you focus on your current piece with little or no interruption.

It’s also motivating to be surrounded by other like-minded creative individuals who are working toward similar goals. There’s a silent camaraderie in an environment like that, which is why it presents a great opportunity to jumpstart your writing practice. Because once you start writing in an environment like that, you want to keep the creative juices flowing. Check local libraries, universities and writing studios to see if there’s a public write-in near you.

5. Learn something new. Take a class or attend a workshop or lecture. There are numerous cheap or free classes you can take online or at a local community college or studio. One two-hour session may be all you need to inspire you to write, and the session doesn’t even have to be writing-related. Take a cooking class and watch how the instructor mixes ingredients. Listen to a podcast or participate in a webinar about money management or astronomy – whatever piques your interest. Sometimes focusing on a completely off-the-radar topic can spur some wildly imaginative ideas. And it’s just plain fun to learn something new.

Experts suggest it can take six to eight weeks to form a new habit, so it may take that long to get back into your writing groove. Be patient with yourself. The world was not built in one day. Neither will your novel. Try any one of these baby steps to jump start your writing practice.

Taking a break happens to all of us. The key is getting started again right away. Don’t let too much time pass. It’s a lot like falling off a bike. After you fall, you have to dust yourself off and jump back on the bike. Then just keep pedaling. You’ll get to your writing destination in no time.

Fresh Start to 2019: Three Writing Prompts to Brainstorm Story Ideas

coffee-1128133_1280

This is the first of a series of posts about starting fresh for 2019. With the New Year upon us, many of us look to start new habits or activities. I’ll address some of those fresh starts as it relates to work, life and writing. In this first post, I will share writing prompts to brainstorm story ideas and boost your writing practice.

Starting a writing practice is difficult, but it’s nearly impossible without a story idea to work with. There are numerous sources of writing prompts to get you started, of course, but they can be so narrowly focused that they may not fit what you want to ultimately achieve.

Most writing prompts deal with one of three themes: the past, the present or the future. With this in mind, you really only need three writing prompts to help you brainstorm story ideas, one for each of these themes. Let me show you how.

1) I Remember… (or alternately, “Remember when”)

Using either of these prompts helps you reflect on the past. It’s ideal for memoirs, stories about growing up, attending school, family dynamics and vacations. Incidents that seemed insignificant when they first occurred may have more meaning now as you reflect on them. That reflection is the basis of your story.

On a sheet of paper, write the phrase “I remember” at the top. Then give yourself five or ten minutes to complete the phrase.

Examples include:
“I remember when I nearly drowned in our family’s swimming pool.”
“I remember attending my first Blackhawks hockey game with my father when I was 11 years old.”
“I remember the day my younger brother was born.”

You get the idea. Keep going with your list until time expires. You should have plenty of ideas to work with to begin writing. It may even lead to a collection of essays that you can publish in the future.

2) I Believe

From the past, we move to the present with the prompt “I Believe.” This prompt explores how you are feeling in the present moment. Those beliefs can be about anything: politics, relationships, raising children, your career. But the common element is your beliefs, your values, what you see as important in your life at this moment. Because the focus is on the present, this prompt is most useful for defining subjects for op-ed pieces and personal essays.

Examples include:
“I believe many pet owners treat their pets better than they treat other humans.”
“I believe all colleges and universities should provide free tuition.”
“I believe I was fired from my job because my boss didn’t like me.”

Once you have made your list of completed “I believe” statements, you can begin to explore your feelings further, beginning with why you believe the way you do. It might be helpful to back up your belief statements with statistics, survey results and other research that will give your statement more credence.

3. What if?
If you’re more forward-thinking, the prompt “What if?” can help you imagine all sorts of possibilities about the future. It helps you create worlds that don’t currently exist. What is different about this prompt compared to the previous two is that it does not hinge on any emotional content. “What if?” is non-personal, non-judgmental and more objective. This type of prompt is ideal for creating fiction, especially science fiction, fantasy, horror, mysteries and thrillers. Of the three prompts, this is the one you can have the most fun with because there is no limit to what your imagination can conjure up.

Examples include:
“What if the city of Chicago was invaded by zombies who climbed out of Lake Michigan?
“What if scientists finally found a cure for AIDS, cancer or some other disease?
“What if a woman was elected President of the United States?”

If you’re feeling stuck with your writing and are looking for new story ideas, these three basic writing prompts are all you really need to kickstart your efforts. Start with one, make your bullet list, and then let your imagination do the rest.

In Memoriam: Authors We Lost in 2018

book-2170910_1280

Many talented writers, authors and journalists left our world too soon in 2018 – individuals who shared their perspective, insights and imagination, so we could all gain a better understanding of the world we live in.

Below are some of the more prominent writers who have passed away. Whether you’ve read them or not, they all hold a place in the literary world that will not be forgotten.

In alphabetical order

Anthony Bourdain – Bourdain began his career as a chef, but broadened his work into writing and TV. His memoir “Kitchen Confidential” showed the underside of the restaurant business, while CNN’s “Parts Unknown” series engaged and challenged to not be afraid of trying new things.

Sue Grafton – The mystery writer famed for her alphabetical series (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc.) actually died at the tail end of 2017, but I felt compelled to include her name for 2018 fearing she might have gotten lost in the last season’s holiday shuffle.

Stan Lee – the genius behind the Marvel universe and the architect of the modern comic book, his legacy will be experienced in print and on the movie screen for decades.

Ursula K LeGuin – Science fiction/fantasy author who often explored feminist themes in her novels also wrote a number of children’s books.

Philip Roth – Prize-winning novelist of “Portnoy’s Complaint” and “American Pastoral.”

Anita Shreve – Author of “The Pilot’s Wife” and 18 other novels died in March 2018.

Neil Simon – The playwright and screenwriter behind notable works such as “The Odd Couple,” “Lost in Yonkers,” and “The Good-bye Girl.”

Thomas Wolfe – Known in some circles as the white-suited wizard of ‘new journalism’, Wolfe chronicled American culture in novels such as “Bonfire of the Vanities.”

One other noteworthy death belongs to a non-writer, Todd Bol, the founder of the Little Free Library, which you might have seen around in your neighborhood. Bol built the first little free library in 2009 in the shape of a schoolhouse in honor of his mother, who was a teacher and loved books. Like his deceased peers, his legacy will hopefully live on in neighborhoods for many years to come.

Who Needs Resolutions When You Can Create a Three-Word Theme for 2019?

Girl with thought bubble
Photo courtesy of Hubspot Marketing 

Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Most people don’t know how to make them so they’re able to keep them. And most of those resolutions are unrealistic anyway.

Think instead about a general theme for the New Year, something that will guide your actions, not just for one day, but for the entire year.

Here’s what I mean. In 2013, I made several ill-advised career decisions that put me into financial and emotional debt. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of what was really important to me. So at the start of 2014, I came up with a simple three-word phrase as a guide for the rest of the year. I chose “Reclaiming Your Life” as my mantra, and that phrase guided me to make better choices about my future.

When I first started this blog, I wrote about three-word mantras in terms of career missions. You can read that post here. My comments then still hold true. A three-word theme can relate to one specific aspect of your life, like your career or your relationships, or your entire life. The important thing is to come up with a phrase that resonates with who you are today and what you want to achieve.

As we enter the first week of 2019, I’ve come up with new phrases – two of them, in fact, to guide me throughout the year. “Rewrite my story” not only refers to one of the novels and the numerous essays and short stories I’ve begun writing and haven’t finished, but also my own life story. I’m not changing anything about my past – that has already happened. But I do think about how I can change the direction of my life moving forward.

The second phrase, “Say Yes More” is intended to be more accepting and welcoming of everything that comes into my life – new people, opportunities, invitations.
How would I – or any one of us — rewrite the course of our lives if we said yes more?

Here’s another example. Perhaps you are going through a major transition in your life, perhaps a career change or a divorce. You might use the phrase “Build a Bridge” to connect from your past to your future. There are numerous other possibilities. Try one of these for yourself, or create your own.

* Believe in Yourself
* Believe in Others
* Find Your Passion
* Speak Your Truth
* Treat Others Kindly
* Act with Compassion

No matter what you choose for yourself, your three-word phrase should consist of three elements.

1. Be action-oriented. Begin your statement with a verb — Build, Find, Act, Believe, etc. The verb drives the action, like the engine of a locomotive. You’re not waiting for something to happen to you because you are the one driving the action. It’s proactive rather than reactive.

2. Make it positive. A positive tone and message is more inspiring and motivational. With a positive three-word theme, you’ll want to follow it all year long.

3. Focus on your power as an instrument of change. What influence do you want to make in the world? Do you want to help others, heal others, write, build homes or make people laugh? Or do you just want to be a better human being?

Once you’ve come up with your theme, write it down and put it somewhere where you can see it every day, like the refrigerator door or the bathroom mirror. Every time you see it, think of it as an active meditation.

Instead of a general theme, you can make it project-specific. For example, if you need motivation to maintain a writing practice, try the phrase “Write 500 words” or “Publish a story.”  When you see those messages on your mirror every day, it serves as a reminder of what you want to achieve and it can help you stay on track of your goal.

The three-word phrase works because it’s short, it’s action-oriented and it’s positive. There’s also a rhythm to the sound the phrase makes when you say it, especially if you choose words with a single syllable. For example, listen to the pattern of sound when you say “Speak Your Truth.” It’s like a heartbeat – boom, boom, boom – and that heartbeat is coming from you.

Make New Year’s Resolutions if you want. Or you can take a different approach with a three-word theme to guide your actions throughout the year.

Good luck, and Happy New Year!