A common trait shared by the successfully self-employed is their willingness to mobilize the resources at hand. You won’t find them stalling, making excuses about not being able to move ahead for lack of funds, equipment, experience. It’s a practice we can all adopt. Here’s an exercise that can be duplicated in all sorts of ways, no matter how far along the path you are.

The idea came from Mark H. McCormack who pointed out that all it really takes to start a business is a desk and a phone. So what can you do with a phone? Here are a few ideas that came to mind when I asked myself that question.

° Create a welcoming message. None of this, “You have reached 721-4444” stuff. Let people know you’re glad they called. You may not mean it if a telemarketer calls, but that’s no reason to leave a bland, generic greeting.

° Receive invitations and opportunities. Always, always answer the phone with enthusiasm and expectation. At the very least, you’ll startle your callers who probably are used to being greeted with indifference or, alas, hostility. 

° Brainstorm. Many success teams function beautifully by phone. All you need is a group of idea-generators and access to a bridge line such as Free Conference. It’s a worthwhile way to spend an hour or two on a regular basis. Today, in fact, I’m looking forward to a call with the participants in the first Follow Through Camp and can’t wait for their progress reports. 

When I was working on the updated Making a Living Without a Job, my editor (whom I’ve not met in person) and I brainstormed via the phone. Now that it’s nearing publication, my publicist and I are doing the same. 

° Teach a class. I resisted doing teleclasses for ever so long. Since I love being in a room with adult learners I thought it would be impossible to duplicate that over the phone. I was right: it isn’t the same experience. But it’s still a great vehicle for sharing information with folks who couldn’t get to a meeting room where I was teaching.

In addition, I’ve enjoyed doing teleclasses on new subjects that work well in the shorter format. It’s a lovely way to generate cash flow from the comfort of my couch.

° Stay in touch with your tribe. Even though e-mail has become the most frequent form of communication for most people, it can’t take the place of a live chat. You don’t need an excuse or agenda to talk to folks who matter most to you.

° Follow up. Sent out a proposal? Talked to a potential client? Not heard back from a collaborator about a joint venture? Take a deep breath and open a conversation.

Soul Acrobats founder Alvin Tam uses acrobatic exercises to help people break through their fears. He also challenges his own fears in other ways. When I read this piece he wrote, I knew I wanted to pass it along. Alvin agreed. Here’s his story.

Every now and then I will do strange experiments to push my  boundaries of comfort further. Being an acrobat in the circus means that I attempt flips, handstands, and high falls to challenge my physical skills and grow as an athlete. Being an acrobat of the soul means that I challenge my values, belief systems, and automatic behaviors so that I grow as a human being.

Last December, on a chilly winter day, I decided to challenge a deeply rooted fear I had by spending 24 hours on the street homeless. I carried no credit cards, cash, I.D., cell phone, house keys, extra jackets, tissue papers, chapstick, iPod (what else do you usually leave the house with?)

 I set off in the direction of downtown, carried by my own two feet, dressed in a tattered sweats, to challenge a fear (read: belief) that  my failure as a businessman would lead to me being homeless.

 I believed the equation: financial failure = homelessness. Do you believe this too?

 I did and I needed to confront it. I chose to experience homelessness for 24 hours. Here are the highlights:

• you can’t thumb a ride in Las Vegas if you look like a bum

• panhandling is one of the most difficult things to do

• I’m not a good panhandler; I made $2 in 24 hours

• nothing costs less than a dollar, except for bananas at 7-11

• it gets cold at night, even in Las Vegas

• misery likes company – I never realized how many homeless people there are

• people look at you with hate in their eyes when you beg

I literally walked for 12 of the 24 hours because no one would pick me up and I had no money for the bus. I also got kicked out of a public library, so sitting down in a quiet, warm place was not an option.

I ended up walking to the worst part of Las Vegas, the hidden, swept-under-the-rug part called “Tent Village” because of all the bums living in tents on the side of the road.

There I encountered hundreds of homeless men milling about, exchanging words about where to get the next meal, who’s handing out free socks, how many nights the local shelter lets you stay, and the best places to bum for money. When I bumped into another group of men, the conversation was the same. Another group, same conversation.

 That’s when it struck me.

I can never be homeless.

I don’t say that with an arrogant or pretentious intention. I say it because I simply don’t talk like a homeless person which is to say I don’t think like a homeless person.

And that was the kernel of wisdom of my exploration into my fear of financial failure. I realized that though I could fail in business, I could never become homeless. I just don’t have the belief that I would end up on the streets.

do speak like a professonal acrobat. While others are scared about heights, rapidly moving vehicles, and fire, I get enthused and excited.

do speak like a professional marketer. While others are lamenting about the economy, I talk about new online marketing techniques, social networking, blogging, and computer technology.

But… 

don’t speak like a millionaire entrepreneur. While millionaires are busy talking about their next deal, strategizing on new partnerships, and planning an investment, I talk about covering my mortgage, putting gas in my car, and the 3 for 1 special on avocados at the store. I spend too much time talking like an average income producer.

What do you talk about?

Here are the 3 things you can do to benefit from my experience on the streets:

1. Write down everything you say in 1 day.

2. Listen to the conversations or language of someone you want to emulate (a business person, a great athlete, a professional speaker)

3. Have a conversation with a homeless person and listen to his dialogue.

If you notice, all these activities are simply about building awareness, since awareness is the main catalyst for change.

As I was running errands the other morning, I heard an author on public radio talking about how unwieldy suburban life is. He also talked about the environmental and psychic impact of long daily commutes and suggested we need to rethink how we live and work. “But owning a house in the suburbs is the American Dream, ” the interviewer argued. Surely, the author wasn’t suggesting people abandon The Dream.

We’ve been hearing a great deal about The American Dream lately, a term that always makes my stomach tense up. My understanding of the American Dream is that it involved a house, a spouse and a job. There’s nothing wrong with those things, of course, if that’s your sincere aspiration. Unfortunately, those things were never my dream, although I gave them all a try in early adulthood. It wasn’t a good fit for me, but for years I kept it to myself while trying to fit in. The American Dream felt like a tether. I wanted a bungee cord.

A couple of years ago, a talented young writer called me. I knew that she was conflicted about having a job when she really wanted to be working on a romance novel. In the course of our conversation she told me about a new job offer she’d received. She said she was undecided so was soliciting opinions from people she trusted. Should she take the job which would be more appealing than the one she had, but also more demanding on her time? She laid out the pros and cons.

I listened to her story and then asked her simply, “Whose dream do you want to build?”

Whether we have a job or are building a business, we’re also contributing to the building of someone’s dream. Always.  Perhaps having a job is a step on the road to building a dream of our own, but too often it’s a detour. If it distracts us long enough, we might forget where we were headed to begin with.

We all needs dreams, of course, but it’s high time that we stop talking about The American Dream and start considering that there are millions of different dreams, all unique to their owner.

So whose dream do you want to build? 

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s and guess what they have planned for you? Not much ~ Jim Rohn

°°°°°°°°°°°°

Chris Guillebeau eloquently challenges limiting ideas about what’s possible via his Art of Non-Conformity blog. Check out his All the Things You Don’t Need  and you’ll see how he’s using his concepts to live on his own terms…and encouraging others to do the same.

One of the qualities that successful entrepreneurs share is the capacity for paradox management. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the need to be both patient and impatient at the same time. Impatience is necessary to keep things moving, but it carries a danger with it and can lead to quitting too soon. 

So why does it take so long to see progress? Before you declare failure, consider these reasons:

° Idea needs tweaking. You start a new project thinking your customers are retirees and nothing happens. Then you begin getting inquiries from golfers and shift your marketing to reach more of them. That’s a classic example of right idea, wrong market. Here’s where some Joyfully Jobless friends can be helpful, showing you options that you missed. 

° Need to grow into the bigger vision. When things aren’t working out, many people think there’s something they must do, but often it’s something they must be that solves the problem.

The best reason for dreaming bold and following through on that dream is what we become as a result. If we’re not willing to acquire the skills and mindset of our best self, and invest time in getting there, our ultimate goal will be stalled. Eventually, it will disappear.

° Missed a step. Here’s where impatience can get in the way. Trying to jump from Point A to Point L doesn’t work. When a project is in limbo, retrace your steps and see if you left something out, something that needs to be included to produce the final result.

° Miscalculated the time it would take. I can never decide if it’s naive or arrogant to think that we can predict the timeline of something we’ve never done before. An old proverb says, “Going slow does not prevent arriving.” That’s a good proverb to recall as you inch ahead.

° Ahead of the market. It’s not unusual for a new idea to take time to catch on. If you’re offering something that hasn’t been available before, the marketplace may need to learn more about the benefits they’ll receive or, even, rethink an old notion. Sharon Rowe is a perfect example of that. In 1989 she started importing reusable shopping bags. She was about 20 years ahead of time. Today, however, her Eco-Bags Products is a multimillion dollar operation.

° Divine intervention. Deb Leopold runs First Class in Washington, DC. The day after the tragic Metro train crash, she told her Facebook friends that she’d been detained at her business the previous evening because CNN was there to do a story about a class she was running. Had she gone home at her usual time, there was a possibility she’d have been involved in the accident.

All of us can look back at things that were disappointments that turned out to be blessings. The trick is to start looking for the gift in a frustrating situation to see if it’s pointing us in a better direction. Sometimes what feels like a detour is actually a call to eliminate ambivalent commitment. 

My fantasy vacation would be a long train ride (perhaps across Canada) accompanied by a stack of books I’ve been meaning to read. Of course, I’m never without a book–or several–in some stage of completion. Since summer is a downtime for parts of my business, I take advantage of that by upping my reading. My reading list always includes at least one classic, often one that I had overlooked such as East of Eden or a return visit to Dickens or Jane Austen.

Whether you’re headed for the beach or staying busy at home, here are a few suggestions for some obvious and not-so-obvious reading for the Joyfully Jobless.

Since I’ve long resented the snobbery that classifies some work as Good and other as Bad, I was excited to learn about Shop Class as Soulcraft. Author Michael B. Crawford, the philosopher with a wrench, abandoned his academic path and found bliss running  his own motorcycle repair shop. He says, “This is a moment when the useful arts have an especially compelling economic rationale. The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, is tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. But this has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding.”  

At the last minute, I grabbed Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast to take along on my trip to Madison last week. I had read this nonfiction work several years ago, but this time it struck me in a whole different way. This memoir covers the years Hemingway spent in Paris before he became a famous writer. It’s a powerful testimony to our capacity for creating a rich life even when money is scarce. “The one who is doing his work and getting satisfaction from it is not the one the poverty bothers…But then we did not think of ourselves as poor,” Hemingway recalls.

A  pair of books that will delight any booklover is Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookstore. The hero is the owner of a traveling bookstore in the first volume and the owner of a conventional one in the second. Funny and eccentric, the passionate booklovers in these stories will endear themselves to you if you’re a bibliophile yourself.

Morley’s characters aren’t the only entrepreneurial protagonists; all sorts of mysteries center around a main character who is an entrepreneur. In Diane Mott Davidson’s culinary mysteries we meet crime-solving caterer Goldy Schulz. John Dunning’s Cliff Janeway is a detective-turned-antiquarian-bookseller. And, of course, there’s the beloved Precious Ramotswe (the Miss Marple of Botswana) in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. While these books are fun to read for the mystery plot line, they’re even more intriguing if you’re an entrepreneur yourself.

Benjamin Franklin advised, “Write something worth reading or live something worth writing.” Lynda Resnick has done both. A lifelong entrepreneur, Resnick’s Rubies in the Orchard is a terrific book on marketing woven into her autobiographical tale of growing several successful businesses. Obviously, this is a woman who was paying attention to the lessons along the way and the reader is the beneficiary of her wisdom.

One of my favorite books of this year is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows which is out in paperback just in time for summer. I also loved the audio version with its perfect cast of narrators. This is storytelling at its finest. 

Got a book you’d like to add to the list? Let us know.

Don’t have time to read? Take a minute and check out Nicholas Bate’s  14 Reasons For Reading Books.

Anyone who notices business names knows that finding the perfect one can be tricky. Most names are serviceable and a few are showstoppers. Seldom are they as provocative as the one I noticed  in Bath, England. The sign that grabbed my attention said, “Jolly’s Funeral Directors.” I can only assume that Jolly is a family name and not the personality of the undertaker.

Naming a business is not unlike naming a baby, after all. You want something fitting, something that’s memorable. While there are no rules about picking a business name, here are some things to keep in mind when it’s time to christen a new enterprise or rename an old one.

° Using your own name as your business name (i.e. Fred W. Jenkins and Associates) is appropriate if the business you’re naming relies on the skills, services or expertise of the person for whom it’s named. If you’re marketing consulting, coaching or other personal services, you may  want your personal name to become a “brand”. Too often, however, using a personal name indicates lack of imagination, so it may not be conveying the kind of image you want to have. And if your name is difficult to pronounce or spell, think twice before giving it to your business.

° Before you commit to a name, start making lists of any possibilities. Try out your ideas on trusted friends and see if there’s a consensus of opinion about which one is best. Or if your friends are willing, gather them together for a Name My Business Party.  The more ideas you can generate, the better your chances of picking the name that suits your business perfectly.

° A good name suggests or states outright the purpose of the business—or gives a strong hint about what the business does. One of my favorite business names belongs to my sister Margaret who named her newest enterprise Over the Top Fascinators. 

Aim for a name that  gives a clear signal about the purpose of the business without being banal. What if  The Geek Squad had been named Computer Repair and Service?

° Understand that there’s a fine line between clever and cute. Avoid cute. Puns and jokes are also tricky and can be misunderstood or, unwittingly, offensive. Names that are obviously an inside joke are a bad idea, too.

On the other hand, clever names can be very good for business. To increase your sophistication level, spend time browsing through the Yellow Pages making note of the names you find clever and those that seem dull or o cute. What do the names you’re attracted to have in common? How can you adapt what you discover to your own naming process?

Most important of all, keep in mind who your market is. If you are selling a product to college students, for instance you could pick a more outrageous name than if you want to sell to the clergy.

° Initials are boring. Several years ago, I saw an ad that said, “When your own initials are enough.” I believe the ad was marketing some designer product like expensive luggage. Apparently, those initials weren’t enough to make me remember whose ad it was. 

While several corporate giants have come to be known by their initials (AT&T and IBM come quickly to mind), generally speaking, initials aren’t suitable for small business names. And what could be more boring than calling your business AAAA Services just to get top billing in the phone book?

° If you are running several profit centers, you may want to have an umbrella name for your business or separate names for each entity. When the profit centers are unrelated, a different name for each makes the most sense and makes it easier for your clients to locate the products or services that interest them.

° Rename when it’s time. While you’ll give your business a name you hope will last, remember that businesses are organic things and may evolve in unexpected ways. If the time comes when the name no longer fits, go ahead and change it. Just don’t do it so often that you confuse your market. 

In her delightful book Educating Alice, author Alice Steinbach writes that as a child her family remembers her pestering them with questions. She explains it this way: “Given my insatiable curiosity and intense admiration for Nancy Drew, my future plans hinged on entering the detective profession. I saw myself as Nancy Drew aging into Miss Marple. It was the perfect life for me, I thought then, one that would require me to constantly ask questions, find out the answers, and along the way learn a lot of new things.” Steinbach didn’t become a detective, but she did have a successful career as a journalist where her question-asking skills got a regular workout.

Soliciting information isn’t the only reason to ask questions. Asking is also a way to solicit support for our dreams. While some people resist asking for help or information thinking it will make them appear needy, there’s a healthy way to go about this questioning business. Here are some others that are particularly useful to the entrepreneur.

* Clarifying questions. Good communicators use this technique all the time to make sure that they understand what was said. “Did I understand you correctly when you said you wanted to give me a free massage?” is just such a question.

* Getting ideas. Asking questions of yourself can bring answers from your subconscious mind. When I begin a new project, I keep asking myself,  “How can this be easy?” That question is also a reminder not to make things more complicated than necessary.

* Seeking advice. These are the kinds of questions I get asked the most. “How do I market my services on a shoestring? What do you think of this idea? Do you know anyone who can help me break into the specialty food marketing business?” Entrepreneurs must be willing to ask for advice from informed sources. They must also be willing to listen and not argue with the advice they’re given. 

* Helping customers make a decision. Successful sales people are skillful at asking questions that bring prospects to a commitment. “So would you like a six-month or twelve-month supply?” is a decision-making query.

The esteemed business guru Peter Drucker said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”  So where are you needing support? Who can you ask? What can you ask of yourself? Sometimes we fail to receive support because nobody knows we need it. 

Think of the world as a big, rich resource center that has everything you need to make your dreams come true. Tapping into it may be as easy as asking the right questions. 

What do we live for, if not to make life  less difficult for each other?~ George Eliot

There are numerous ways to became an entrepreneur. If you’re Italian, you might be born to it. Just as homes stay in the same family for generations, Italian businessowners commonly pass their enterprises down to their children. If your family made wine, there’s a good chance that you’ll make wine. Even some Venetian gondoliers are following the career path of their fathers and grandfathers.

Paradoxically, there’s a Tuscan proverb that says, “Whoever does another’s trade makes soup in a basket.” I guess that doesn’t apply to family endeavors. As much as I love the Italians, I’m grateful that finding a career by inheritance isn’t such a common practice here. If it was, I’d be an electrician. 

Although it’s less common to hand down careers and businesses today, family pressure still plays a huge and unsavory role in career choice. When people say to me, “My parents always told me I should work for someone else,” I want to counter with, “Would you wear your parents’ clothes?” Their thinking may not fit you either.

A few years ago I had an ultrasound and noticed that the technician was obviously a weight lifter who seemed a bit out of sync with the hospital environment. As the procedure was being done, I asked him how he’d chosen his profession. He laughed and said, “Well, I was 18 and didn’t know what I wanted to do. My sister is a nurse and thought this would be a good line for me to get into and my parents wanted me out of the house, so I became an ultrasound technician.”

Every day I encounter people like him who are making soup in a basket, who are bored, inept or downright hostile because they are doing work that comes from a place other than their heart and soul. Happily, more and more of us are awakening to the truth that it doesn’t have to be this way, that we can discard inappropriate choices and make new ones based on who we have become and what we want our lives to be like. 

Clothiers talk about bespoke garments, meaning made-to-order clothes that are fitted to the wearer. I think it’s time to talk about bespoke businesses, one of a kind undertakings that are perfectly suited to the owner’s values, talents and dreams. It takes more time and energy to create such a business, of course, than to just pull one off the rack. Like a master tailor, we can only produce a bespoke business by  knowing our personal measurements, making numerous adjustments and investing pride in our work.

In a world that often seems determined to do things fast, creating a bespoke business requires a willingness and discipline to slow down, take things a step at a time and pay loving attention to details. Think it’s worth it?

A talented and creative young woman I know, who currently lives in Madison, posted a message on Facebook that said, “Wishing I weren’t so hooked on Boulder so I could just move to Minneapolis instead.” I promptly responded saying that since I had lived in both places (and since I was going to be seeing her soon) that I’d like to have a chat with her.

Boulder and Minneapolis were big teachers for me. One was traumatic and the other nurturing. I know there were numerous factors that made one my perfect place and the other a nightmare. Like any other relationship, there’s not always a villian in the story. Sometimes we just make a bad match.

In his wonderful book Actualizations, Stewart Emery eloquently discusses our relationship to our environment. He writes, “If the environmental conditions surrounding our life support our evolution toward self-actualization, we will move in that direction. Let’s state this another way: if you were a willow tree living by a riverside, the environmental conditions of your existence would support your evolution toward becoming a self-actualized willow tree…If, on the other hand, you were a willow tree and you were planted in the desert, the chances of your making it as a self-actualized willow tree would be virtually nil. The environmental condiitons simply wouldn’t allow it.”

Of course, we see this all the time. People who lack education, encouragement, and support don’t even begin to fulfill their potential. However, Emery points out that we have some advantages over the aforementioned willow tree. “A willow tree that finds itself planted in the desert cannot hail a passing yellow cab and ask the driver to take it to the riverside. You and I, on the other hand, can. You and I have within us the creative intelligence to recognize the conditions of existence that support our growth toward self-actualization and we have the wherewithal to place ourselves in such an environment.”

So, obviously, it’s not about Boulder vs. Minneapolis. It’s about knowing how we want to grow ourselves and finding out where that riverbank is—then insisting that we are rooted in it. 

And that begins by identifying what we want to become. We can’t stay seated in a cubicle and become a fully actualized entrepreneur. We can’t avoid taking seminars or connecting with other Joyfully Jobless folks and expect our own entrepreneurial spirit to bloom. Or as Quentin Crisp once observed, “It’s no good saying ‘I want to be a ballet dancer’ if you continue to tend your pig farm. By then pigs will have become your style.”

Despite what the old adage says, it’s not always possible to bloom where we are planted, but it is possible to plant ourselves where we can bloom. Sometimes our biggest act of courage is the process we call transplanting.

Every Wednesday my suburban newspaper shows up in my mailbox. I always look forward to reading it since the editorial staff seems to think that the most fascinating folks in our community also happen to be joyfully jobless. 

This week there’s a story about a woman who decided to turn her parents’ home into an art and music center, rather than renting or selling the house. There’s another about a man who became an artist at the age of 68. His creations are built out of pieces of wood attached together to tell a story. One is called Out of the Box and represents his lifelong desire to work out of the box as an artist. His works, which sell for $250-$1000, are currently being exhibited at a local gallery.

The front page of the Summerlin View is dominated by a story about Jordan Kelley, 22, and Lawrence Vaughan, 24, who started a free Internet job search Web site called Jobbi.com. Under the large color photograph of the smiling pair is a story of how they saw a need and set about filling it. But it’s the sidebar quote that got my attention.”We like to innovate and create. We didn’t want to be in a cubicle,” said cofounder Kelley.

In the introduction to Making a Living Without a Job, I said, “I became an entrepreneur because I was curious about what I could become. It was a curiosity not shared by any employer I ever had.” Not surprisingly, I’m also curious about why others have chosen this lifestyle. Here are a few reasons that others have given.

I really love to go places and see new things. Even opening the door to a new hotel room has a feeling of anticipation. I just love it. I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city. ~ Bill Bryson, travel writer

To me the desire to create and have control over your own life was very much part of the human spirit. What I did not fully realize was that work could open the doors to my heart. ~ Anita Roddick, Body Shop founder

See,my trick in life is to get away from having a job. That’s been my guiding light. ~ Paul McCartney, musician

I get excited about small businesses that are run with passion so that’s what  I recommend in my guidebooks. ~ Rick Steves, travel teacher

I wanted to make my store something a corporate mind would never dream up and that a large company could never sustain. ~ Collette Morgan, Wild Rumpus Books

I became an entrepreneur when I discovered there was not barbed wire surrounding my cubicle! ~ Pat Blocker, Peaceful Paws dog training

But for those who think that an eternal escape from work would be paradise, don’t forget that we all need a playground, and your own company is one of the best playgrounds of all. ~ Derek Sivers, musician and serial entrepreneur

I come from a long line of people who run little businesses to support their art.~ Sophia Coppola, entrepreneur and film director

I became an entrepreneur because I didn’t want to be beige. ~ Maureen Thomson, Memorable Ceremonies

Seems to me that many folks choose the Joyfully Jobless Journey because of a vision of a more congenial life. Along the way, they discover rewards they hadn’t even anticipated. What about you?