My last post, on figuring out where I should go next with my lfe, drew an outpouring of great comments and a lot of emails to me. Many of the emails asked me how exactly I put myself in such a position. How did I find the time to get started on such a lark without knowing that it would earn me some significant money?
Looking back on it, here are the six key things that I can suggest for how to get started with whatever you dream of doing. I’m focusing here on how to incorporate such activities into your daily life and plant the seeds for it to grow into a tree of success without a big capital investment.
1. Set aside a block of time each day to work on it. For me, most mornings I am up two to three hours before anyone else in my house is, writing and doing research for The Simple Dollar. I’ve found that the block of time between 4:30 AM and 7 AM (approximately) where I can just shut the door, write, and not worry about any interruption from my family works great, and when everyone else begins stirring at 6:30 or 7 or so, I feel like I’ve already accomplished quite a bit.
The first place I would look for that time is in the early morning. It will likely require you to go to bed earlier than you do right now, but for me the early morning hours are the best time to focus on a specific task. Other options include the evening after everyone else is in bed, or alternately shifting your work schedule so that you have a couple of hours at home without interruption. One friend of mine works six hours each weekday, six hours on Saturday, and four hours on Sunday, which gives him plenty of time to run a side business.
2. Figure out what you’re most passionate about. Do not worry at first about money. Think about the things you do that really fill you with a passion and a drive. What could you be doing, if you were being paid for it, that would drive you to hop out of bed at four in the morning to get started on it? When I first started The Simple Dollar, I worked on it in my spare time, but after a few weeks, I came to realize that I was really passionate about it and I started to build a routine around it.
Spend some time making a list of your deepest passions and then ranking them. Do not worry about how that passion will make money, yet. Just figure out what makes you burn inside, whether it’s watching NASCAR or playing on your Wii or anything. Seriously – anything is possible.
3. List every way that involving yourself in this passionate thing could lead to income. Be creative, and if you’re not sure, ask around and do internet searches. You could start a blog, for example, or you could post instructional or entertaining videos on sites like blip.tv and earn some revenue sharing cash. Perhaps you’ll directly sell some service or item – for example, if you’re passionate about food, you might be able to sell some bread or something like that at a farmer’s market or, if nothing else, just prepare a lot of home-cooked food in advance for your own use, reducing your food bill.
Almost every idea you can come up with has several ways where you could potentially earn money from it. Don’t throw anything out at first – if it’s an idea, write it down. If you can’t think of anything at all, start doing some web searching about it and see what you can dredge up.
4. Figure out what extra skills or material would be needed for each of these avenues. For example, let’s say you are passionate about the video game Guitar Hero (I know many people who are) and you’ve taught some of your friends how to play it. One of your ideas for doing this is to create a number of instructional videos on how to master the game and stick them on a revenue-sharing site.
What do you need to do this? First, you would need a digital camera of some sort that would take video that you could upload and some software to help you edit the video. You’d also need a little bit of video directing and editing skill, meaning you are able to plot out what you would like the video to show, plan all of the scenes (likely some shots of your hands holding the “guitar,” some shots of you talking, and some gameplay shots) and the order they go in. You might also need a microphone for recording voiceovers for the videos.
You should follow this process for each of the ideas you’ve come up with. Again, if you run into stumbling blocks, do the research online to find out what it takes.
5. By process of elimination, whittle things down to one choice – or a small handful of choices that easily complement each other. Let’s say you decide to go ahead with that Guitar Hero video idea – the idea of playing Guitar Hero. You’ve made a list of four or five ways to convert that thing you deeply enjoy into some sort of revenue stream. How do you whittle these down?
First, take stock of what other talents and interests you have. Which of your other skills meshes the best with this dream? Does that point you to specific items on your list? Second, take stock of what equipment you have. Would you have to make any major expenditures to get the process going? For example, if you decided to start baking loaves of bread for farmer’s markets, your expenses would likely be basic food ingredients, some bread pans, and an ove, but if you went the Guitar Hero video route, you’d need a television, a game console, the game, a controller, a camera, a computer, and a microphone. Take stock of what you have versus what you need. Doing these two things should whittle your list down quickly to one or two items, and those are the ones you should start with.
6. Do some “dry runs” with the absolute minimum of financial expense and share them with friends who are willing to criticize. Giving an item to a friend who is trying to be supportive won’t give you the criticism you need to make it good. Show something you’ve done to a friend and ask them to list the five biggest flaws they notice. DO NOT worry about positive feedback at all, because positive feedback is not what you need right now. You need to know where the problems and rough edges are so you can work on them. That way, when you do start selling items or sharing information, you have a good grasp of what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve written a lot of posts for The Simple Dollar that have never seen the light of day, or were massively rewritten before posting. Why? I would try something very new and different and send that post to a friend for criticism – and then I’d take that criticism, rewrite, and send it to another friend for criticism. I would tell them that I did not want anything positive, just negative – tell me what’s wrong with it. It’s by this process that a few of my best post ideas have evolved.
7. Get started, promote what you do, and learn more. Now that you’ve figured out what you’re going to do, get started with it – the sooner the better. Fill up that block of time with building a good product – and building up a backlog of it. For example, if you’re doing the Guitar Hero thing, don’t just make one video, toss it out there, and wait for the crowd to come to your door. Make a bunch of videos and then start posting them at regular intervals so that people will see you are actually doing this regularly and will anticipate more.
For promotion, look at options available to you that can spread the word. For example, you could start a “how-to” blog about Guitar Hero that consists almost exclusively of your videos or perhaps contribute to instructables with a series of photos and a note to look at your videos. You might also want to comment on blogs, leaving a link to your first video or to your blog in the website field of the comment. If you’re trying the bread, give away samples of it at the farmer’s market for people to try and also let people know that you can bake loaves upon request – provide them an information sheet about it and explain that this can be really useful for big family events.
Also, never stop looking for new ideas for new twists and ways to expand what you’re doing. Maybe your Guitar Hero videos start to take off a little bit – you might expand the concept and create videos for Rock Band, too, on how to master each instrument. If your bread is selling like hotcakes, perhaps you can look at making other baked goods, eventually leading to an upscale bakery. Another tip: be patient. Success doesn’t always come right at first, and don’t be afraid to try something else if what you’re doing isn’t working.
The one element that makes all of this work is passion. If you’ve truly spent the time figuring out what you’re passionate about, following these steps will lead to success because your passion for what you’re doing will come through.