Pick up a book on how to succeed in small business. Any book. You will find all sorts of advice on how to write a business plan, advertise, hire your first employees, and fill out your taxes. Most, however, will cough and sputter when they get to that one chapter you are really looking for: how to get from zero to $60,000 so you can quit your day job.
Most of these books overlook one simple word that is almost guaranteed to get you there. One that works consistently for me, and for that matter most successful entrepreneurs I know. But yet for some reason you almost never, ever see this word discussed on the printed page, for reasons I have never completely figured out. What is this magic word?
You see, the romantic vision of small business goes something like this: you quit your day job, mortgage home and hearth, pester your friends or bankers for capital, and then pour the very essence of your being into your new venture making fruit-flavored dog treats or WiFi belt buckles or whatever. It is a single-minded vision that hurls many people into business … and then soon thereafter, straight off a cliff.
But most truly successful people I know discovered the power of “and” long ago. They do two, or three, or four things to make a living. Perhaps some of them work. Perhaps all of them work. Rarely do none of them work. And from there, they build a successful future by climbing a very safe and gentle slope.
I am proud to be an “and.” Nowadays I am a writer, a public speaker, a business author, and a psychotherapist. I am busy and successful at all of these things. Soon, hopefully, I will be a developer of information products as well. But if it wasn’t for “and,” I would never have gotten to do any of them, while still being the sole breadwinner for my household.
You see, it isn’t hard to be a little successful at something at first, and “and” lets you assemble these small successes like building blocks. Often it is the un-glamorous blocks that form your strongest foundation. As I was building a great platform writing two national bestsellers on customer service and communications skills, for example, most people didn’t know that I was making much of my living as a science writer for the National Cancer Institute – and to this day, even though my public platform is now quite successful, tobacco tax policy will always have a warm spot in my heart.
I see the same thing in most successful people I know. A surprising number of my fellow therapists are professional photographers, for example. Others mix, say, teaching and retail. The same thing is true on a bigger scale: Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher is also a highly regarded “script doctor” in Hollywood, for example, while at least one NHL coach spends the offseason doing dental care for horses. And let’s not forget the really big fish. What if Richard Branson, for example, had just stuck to his first business of running a record store?
I frankly believe that “and” has benefits for everyone:
“And” gives you permission to be practical. There are lots of sure-fire ways an entrepreneur can make money, ranging from temp work to corporate training. “And” lets you drink deeply from as many of them as you need to.
“And” provides built-in market research. You get to see quickly and safely what works and what doesn’t.
“And” lets you build your passions. Every time I’ve ghostwritten a book or completed a report on health care policy, I’ve sharpened my axe for my own writing projects. All on someone else’s dime.
The drawbacks? Just two. First, it puts you at risk of giving a long, rambling answer when people ask “what do you do” at dinner parties. Second, you will probably never, ever see your path to success profiled in a book on small business. Other than that, it can help you join a very large fraternity of successful people.
“And” that’s the honest truth.