Fresh Start to 2019: From Hobbyist to Entrepreneur

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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.

How to Be Productive During Downtime at the Office

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As summer crawls to an end, you may find yourself in the middle of some serious downtime at work. Every business has its busy seasons and not-so-busy times. For some businesses, the months of July and August are the slowest, while for others, the slow time may fall in January and February.

No matter where your slow season falls, don’t hang your head. Those slow times happen for a reason. Think of them as breathing room, a chance to catch your breath, recharge your batteries and prepare for the busier season that lies ahead.

Instead of feeling bored or hanging out on Facebook trying to look busy when you’re not, here are a few ways to be more productive during those inevitable downtime periods.

1. Follow up with your clients. If your company relies on regular or frequent client interaction to be successful, downtime might be an opportune moment to check in on them. What’s happening with their business? How are they using your products or services? With a more relaxed pace at work, you can take your time with your client and enjoy an easy conversation with them. No pressure. Not only are you helping to maintain your business relationships, you might unearth a need that your business might be able to solve for them.

2. Do some housekeeping/clean out old files. Got any old files still lying around the office taking up valuable space? Downtime is a good opportunity to roll up the sleeves and dig through them. Depending on how old the files are, you can either put them in storage or if they are really, really outdated, say more than seven years old, bring them to a recycling center. Just be sure to clear things with the bosses before you destroy any important documents. If in doubt, ask.

3. Catch up on billing and record keeping. During busy times, it can be easy to let receipts and bills stack up. Downtime is the perfect time to sit down and go through all your receipts, process paper work to your accountant and just get organized. Imagine how good you will feel when you are all caught up.

4. Catch up on reading and studying industry news. Like most professionals, you probably have a stack of magazines or clipped articles from your favorite business websites that you never had the chance to read. Now is the time to do that. You might pick up a tip or two that you can implement right away.

5. Brainstorm and innovate. Throughout the year, you’ve probably had a few insights about how your business operates. Perhaps you realized that there might be a better way to get customer feedback or an easier way to update your database. Jot them down. Grab a note pad and brainstorm all the different ways you can improve your business. Better yet, keep a small notebook with you throughout the year and jot down ideas as you think of them. Then during these downtimes, review these collected ideas to see if there are any worth implementing.

6. Attend a conference or workshop. Perhaps you’ve read a few magazine articles that have whetted your appetite for more knowledge about a particular topic. Take the next step. Check listings to see if there are any workshops or conferences that would fit your interests. If you can’t step away from the office, consider one of the free online courses that you can do at your desk, such as Udemy.

7. Review your business and marketing plan. Plan for the year ahead by reviewing your business and marketing plan. Are you on track with meeting your goals? Is there something you can do differently now to meet those goals by the end of the year? Downtime is ideal for reviewing your business goals, revising them if you need to, and figure out way to market your business so you achieve them. Don’t have a business and marketing plan? Downtime is ideal for getting started on one.

Don’t let downtime go to waste. Downtime is a gift to catch your breath after a long hectic stretch of meetings, sales calls and presentations. Downtime is the best time to review the past and prepare for the future.

Gummy Vitamins May Be the Key to Your Business Success

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I was out shopping for vitamins recently. I was overwhelmed by the numerous options available on the store shelves. How many versions of multi-vitamins could one person possibly buy?

I was especially intrigued by the availability of gummy vitamins. Gummies – those sweet, squishy, fruit-flavored candies that are a favorite of kids and adults alike – were being sold as vitamins. For people like me who have a sweet tooth but hate taking pills, gummy vitamins seemed like a godsend. For years, I had a problem remembering to take my vitamins. Vitamins are a necessary evil. You have to take them to achieve good health, but taking them can be, well, a real pill.

I decided to take a chance on those gummy vitamins. I love gummy candies anyway, can eat a whole small bag of Haribo’s in one afternoon.  Whoever came up with the idea to combine vitamins with gummy candies is a genius. Since I started taking them, I never forget to take them.

That shopping experience got me thinking about other innovative products on the market today. What makes them unique? What do they offer consumers that other competing products don’t? Why are they successful?

The answer is simple. They solve a problem.

The gummy vitamins provide a solution to individuals like me who have a hard time remembering to take vitamins. Turn them into a sweet treat, and people will gladly seek them out and take them regularly. Who can say no to candy?

Self-adhesive stamps is another genius idea. What problem do they solve? While most people don’t use stamps these days, choosing to use email and online billing to conduct business, stamps still come in handy for sending greeting cards and donations. (Yes, I still mail my donations and greeting cards by snail mail.) Self-adhesive stamps save time and I avoid the yucky experience of licking stamps before affixing them to envelopes, and I don’t get a horrible aftertaste from the glue the way I did with traditional stamps. Instead, self-adhesive stamps affix to envelopes with minimal effort, and makes mass mailings much easier to complete in shorter periods of time.

There are numerous examples of products like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps that solve a problem. What makes them special? What makes them successful? Like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps, these products solve a problem.

Think about your own business, product or service. What problems does it solve for your clients and customers? How will it make their lives easier and better? Once you understand the problem that your product or service can solve, it’s much easier to market that product to the people who need it.

The same concept holds true if you are the product you are marketing to potential clients. Think about your own talents. How are they unique to the marketplace? What solutions can your talents and experience provide? The more you understand your own talents and qualities, the better able you will be able to solve a client’s or employer’s problem. And the more successful you are likely to become.

What do you think is the most innovative product or service on the market today? What problems do they solve? Share your thoughts below.

Business Lessons from the World Series Champions Chicago Cubs

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It’s been nearly a week since the Chicago Cubs clinched the World Series championship, ending 108 years of futility on the baseball field and finally putting to rest any further talk of goats and curses. While still in the throes of celebrating their victory, it’s also helpful to look at their rise to the top of the baseball world. What can we all learn from the Cubs’ championship run? How can we apply these lessons to our businesses and our work life? Here are a few of my observations.

* If things aren’t working out, start over. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. That means cutting the dead wood, so to speak, letting go of the pieces that no longer work, fixing what can be fixed, and rebuilding the business from the ground up.

In the case of the Cubs, that process started at the top rather than the bottom of the organization.  A change in ownership in 2009 brought the Ricketts family on board, followed by the hiring of Theo Epstein and Jeb Hoyer to manage the team’s operations and begin the rebuilding process with the players.  With each new trade and draft pick, the Cubs slowly created a team that was built to win for the long term.

* You may need to go through a few lean years before seeing results. Like any other business, you have to take a few risks and make some tough decisions that may not be popular with your clients. For several years, the Cubs did not have a good team on the field. In 2011, they lost 100 games and fans were doubtful of the changes the Cubs leadership was making. But Epstein and Company stayed the course, knowing they had a game plan they were putting into place, and they repeatedly asked fans for patience. The fact is, whether you run a baseball team or a small boutique business, success does not happen overnight.

* Develop a long-term strategy for success. Create a strong vision of your business. Write down your business goals, and figure out how to achieve them. Develop a detailed plan and make adjustments along the way as needed. The Cubs had a clear vision for the team and knew what it would take to achieve it. Without that detailed plan, owners would have lost faith, and the fans would have too.

* Acquire the best players that can help you achieve your goals. Make sure those team players complement one another in terms of temperament and talent. When they like and respect one another, it’s much easier for them to work together toward a common goal. That likability and respect was on display during the Cubs’ World Series play, both on and off the field.

* Hire a good, strong leader to motivate the team to perform their best. Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon is a master of motivation. He respects his players, and encourages them to have fun, even if they’re on an extended losing streak. A good leader will always bring out the best in your team, so hire the most qualified person you can find.

* Have fun. You don’t want to create an environment of all work and no play. Have fun doing what you are doing, and share that joy with the people you work with. People who infuse humor and fun in their workplace are more productive and are better team players. And that bodes well for the success of your business.

* You need to work hard every day to improve your performance. There is an old saying, “Work comes before success only in the dictionary.” The Cubs have a lot of young players they have drafted over the years. With the assistance of coaches and several veteran players, the young Cubs are still developing their talents, and must continue to work hard each day to learn and grow as individually and as part of a team.

*Savor success and share it with others, especially your clients and your fans. The Cubs’ shared their achievement with their fans in one memorable parade and rally. Likewise, when you meet certain productivity goals, celebrate. Break open a bottle of champagne or treat your team to a pizza party. Recognize the important roles they play in your business success. Without them, your business would likely dry up.

No matter what type of work you do, or how you define success, whether you work for yourself or for an organization, there’s always something to be learned from seeing the success of other organizations. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from the Cubs’ success is their own motto: Never give up.

 

To Build Your Portfolio and Good Will, Try Bartering

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If you’re just starting out on a new business venture, it can be difficult to gain traction in your chosen industry. Just because you hang an “Open for Business” shingle doesn’t guarantee that clients will come flocking to your door. In today’s competitive environment, bartering can help you gain exposure for your services. It’s low-cost, low-risk approach is ideal for business owners and entrepreneurs looking to gain new clients, or for anyone looking to start a side business.

Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another of equal value. Usually, there is no exchange of cash. The exchange can take place between individuals and businesses, or it can take place through a third-party like a barter exchange company. Learn more about barter exchanges by visiting the IRS website and reading this Bloomberg article.

The concept of bartering is not new. Think of trading Halloween candy with your friends when you were a kid, or exchanging your apple from your lunch for a bag of chips from someone else. But the same concept can hold true today. Wash dishes at a small diner in exchange for a free meal, or clean a fitness center in exchange for free classes. For a small startup business or entrepreneur, bartering can help you get your foot in the door.

Here are a few tips for successfully bartering your product or service.

1. Work with someone you trust. Ask family members, friends, anyone you know, for referrals for potential clients for your services. Working with a business owner that someone you know has worked with previously ups the trust factor considerably.

Another option for finding clients is to walk around your neighborhood. Look for newly-opened businesses that may not have the resources to hire employees. The manager of a fast-food joint might be willing to offer a free meal or two in exchange for social media assistance.

2. Talk out all the details in advance. Do a lot of talking. Be clear about what you want to do for them and what you would like in return. Many businesses are open to ideas that will help their own business. If you focus on how you can help them, they will listen.

3. Put the arrangement in writing. It does not have to be a formal, legal document, nor does an attorney have to be involved, but the details should be written down. Even if the details are worked out through emails, you have a paper trail that outlines what both parties have agreed to do. It protects everyone in case any issues arise.

4. Do your homework. Check the IRS website or talk with your accountant to determine if there are any tax ramifications for bartering. There probably isn’t, but you need to cover all the bases.

5. Understand that this is a short-term solution. Bartering is not meant as a catch-all solution to cash flow problems, but it can put you in good stead with business owners and managers who can tout your services in the future. Even better, they can refer you to other businesses who may need your services.

6. Remember to thank your client. Show your gratitude by posting a positive review on Yelp or writing a testimonial for their website. Likewise, don’t be shy about asking for referrals or a testimonial from them to put on your own website. That’s the mark of a true exchange.

Bartering your services in exchange for like-kind services can help both parties improve their businesses. It can help you gain meaningful experience, attract new clients and help build good will. And that can be the best building blocks for a successful, long-term business relationship.

Tips for Naming Your Blog

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Last week, in my post Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business Blog, I wrote about how to determine whether a blog is right for your business. The next step is coming up with a name that best captures the focus of your blog business.

But coming up with a name for your blog or website can be an arduous task. So many names to choose from, so many URLs available.

But I found as I went through this process, that not every name available was suitable for my business, and the names I really wanted had already been taken. I had to get creative to generate a blog name that best reflected who I was and what I offered to the business community. I also had to keep in mind my own personal brand. How did I want clients and colleagues to see me?

For many business owners and entrepreneurs, their full name is their brand, like J.K Rowling or Derrick Rose. In most cases, the full given birth name works because it’s short, snappy and memorable.

But other names are not. I did not think my given name was memorable or snappy enough to use for my blog. I also had a potential dilemma with my last name – Ludes – which has alternative connotations that I did not want associated with my writing business. (Ludes is the nickname for a drug called Quaaludes, a sedative and hypnotic drug. Its official name is Methaqualone.) Naturally, I did not want my writing business associated with a drug. It is not how I want clients and colleagues to remember me.

An alternative is to use initials or a different form of your name. It’s a way of personalizing your blog without revealing your full name. For example, Regal is an abbreviated version of my full name – Regina Ann Ludes. It made sense to use an abbreviated version to create my brand identity. It captures the essence of my personality and matches my ability to communicate with tact, diplomacy and integrity in the business world, just as any member of royalty might.

This naming process also helped me define the focus of my blog – to write stories identifying situations that demonstrate proper use of communication tools and strategies, to show what works and what doesn’t. How you and I communicate is an extension of our personal brand. When you communicate well, you present yourself well. How I write also speaks about my personal brand.

A third option is to create a name that defines the purpose of your blog or website business. For example, writer Carol Tice created a blog devoted to sharing tips and advice for writers called Make a Living Writing (www.makealivingwriting.com). Although she also has her personal website that promotes her own writing business too (www.CarolTice.com).

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating a name for your blog or business.

Determine your brand identity. How do you want people to remember you? Is there a quality about you that stands out – a phrase you use, a piece of clothing, a unique name? Ask friends, colleagues and family members what they think of when thinking of you or talking about you. They are in the best position to know how you stand out. Their responses can help you pinpoint the strengths that you want to emphasize in your blog name.

For example, perhaps they see you as a passionate person, someone who cares deeply about certain issues, like animals, women’s rights or the environment. Consider using the word ‘passion’ as part of your brand identity, then use it as your blog title.

Make a list of possible names. Play around with variations of your key word or phrase, and make a list of them. Then do a Googe search of these names and variations to see which ones have been used already. Check out the availability of the URL on sites like Go Daddy or Register.com. Test out different names with your family and friends and get feedback from them. Which one works best for your blog or website? Does the name accurately reflect what you do and who you are?

Be clear about your business focus. Choose a name that matches that focus. I almost chose Regal Ink as a blog name. But when I searched URLs, Register.com offered an alternative name, Regal Tattoo. Apparently, my initial desire to use Ink as a symbol for my writing business may be better suited for a tattoo parlor – not the impression I wanted to give. So I scrapped that idea.

Consider the cost of the URL. Most URLs are inexpensive, less than $10. But some words are determined to be more popular and sought-after. The word Regal fell into that category. For some URLs, I’d have to pay nearly $2,500 to use it for my business. No name is worth that much money. So I was forced to find another alternative, like hyphenating the URL or adding the word “the” before my blog name.

However you go about identifying your blog name, remember that it should be unique and easy to remember. A well-crafted blog or website name is key to marketing your services to others. Make sure the name you choose accurately reflects who you are and what you have to offer clients.

What Brexit Can Teach Us about Living with Uncertainty

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I was as stunned as many people worldwide at the news that England voted to leave the European Union. The worldwide markets reacted in kind, plummeting more than 600 points on Friday. Immediately, many Britons regretted their vote to leave the EU, not realizing how their decision would affect their future and the turmoil that their country would fall into.

This was unprecedented. A vote like this had never happened before in history. Now people are asking, “What’s next? What do we do now?”

The aftermath of the Brexit vote shows what can happen when people face an uncertain future. This is an extreme example to be sure, but it reflects the different ways people respond when faced with sudden upheaval in their lives.

Let’s face it. We are all bound to experience uncertainty in our lives at one time or another. It could be anything that precipitates this crisis: being fired from a job, losing a trusted longtime client, getting a cancer diagnosis, being robbed of your savings. The news turns our world upside down, and we are left to wonder, “What’s next?”

Any of these situations can thrust your life into a dizzying tailspin, and you don’t know which end is up. I can only imagine that this is how many Britons are feeling now. Once the dust settles,  things don’t always look as bleak, though they will still be far from normal. There are ways to deal with these sudden, startling upheavals. Here are a few that have worked for me.

* Don’t panic. Take a few deep breaths and allow yourself time to let the news sink in. But don’t make any rash decisions or take any sudden action. Doing so can make your predicament worse. By staying calm, you’ll be able to think more clearly about what your next steps should be.

* Allow yourself to float. After losing a job some years ago, a trusted colleague suggested I give myself time to float — to just Be. It’s okay to drift. Give yourself permission to do nothing. Give yourself a time frame for drifting, though, say two weeks or one month. Use the time to immerse yourself in nature, write in your journal, and watch movies. These activities can help you get back in touch with who you are. After a period of floating, you’ll have a clearer head and you’ll have a better idea what to do next.

* Take life one day at a time. Learn to live in each moment rather than worrying about what might have been or fearing what could happen in the future. I know this sounds cliché, but this approach really does work. When I learned that a beloved boss of mine was leaving the company, her suggestion to me was “it’s business as usual,” meaning nothing would change right away. By staying focused on the tasks in front of me – and not worrying about what was about to happen – I was able to transition into the new management situation calmly and seamlessly.

* Plan ahead. As I mentioned above, don’t make any rash decisions or actions in the heat of the moment. Once you’ve had time to float and slow down the pace of life, your internal wisdom tends to kick in. You will know what to do next when your energy levels soar and you are filled with ideas and inspiration. When you decide to move forward, say for a new job search or starting a new business, plan ahead. Write down your vision of what you want your life to be like over the coming year. Plan which companies you want to approach for jobs, or how you will regain your strength after a surgery. Having a plan for the future helps you regain control of your life.

* Realize that life is full of surprises – some good, some not-so-good. Uncertainty is a part of life too, and once we realize this, the better we will become at living with uncertainty. The existence of uncertainty does not mean the end of the world, just that the world is changing. The rules that used to govern your choices no longer apply, which means you need to tap into that inner well of wisdom to make choices. Each time we successfully deal with those periods of uncertainty, the more comfortable we become with it and the easier it gets to deal with life’s emotional upheavals.

Finally, realize that these periods of uncertainty don’t last forever. They are temporary blips on the movie screen of life. Eventually, things do even out. Keep this in mind the next time life throws you into a tizzy.