Public libraries have been with me every step of the way in my self-employment journey. I remember visiting the tiny Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, library when I was first dreaming about starting a business.

Compared with today, the offerings for would-be entrepreneurs were pretty skinny, but reading biographies of several pioneering women entrepreneurs inspired me and helped me believe I could create my own business, too.

Years later, when I was invited to give a talk at my branch library in Minneapolis about my book Making a Living Without a Job, I began by declaring, “The library is an entrepreneur’s best friend.”

I absolutely meant it.

In every place I’ve lived, I’ve gotten my library card before I got my driver’s license

So it always comes as a surprise to me when I talk to a would-be or struggling entrepreneur and discover that they don’t tap into the treasure trove that’s waiting for them.

If you haven’t visited a library for a while or you always head to the same section, check out all the ways a library can help you build your self-employment enterprise.

° Nonfiction titles exist on every aspect of starting and running a business. Besides personal accounts and biographies, how-to books abound.

Want to know what all the fuss about branding is? Thinking about selling articles to magazines? Want to tap into new trends? There’s a good chance that somebody has done you the favor of writing about it.

Unlike much of the information you can find online, library books tend to be edited and sources verified which adds to their credibility.

° Get inspired with a novel. Mysteries, especially, often feature entrepreneurial characters in leading roles. Often these entrepreneurs are amateur detectives as well.

You can learn a lot—almost accidentally—about antiquarian book selling from John Dunning or catering from Diane Mott Davidson while solving a murder or two.

In fact, the main characters of many novels are self-employed which suggests to me that people who work for themselves are simply more interesting.

° Make friends with a reference librarian. I am certain that if they didn’t love books so much, many of the folks running the library reference desk would be private detectives. They love tracking things down—the harder the better.

Got an idea for a research project? Ask the reference librarian to show you the grant directories. Want to be a public speaker? Inquire about Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations to get ideas. Need statistics for a presentation? The reference desk is a great place to start your search.

° Make drive time more valuable. My library has an entire room devoted to audio books. Many wonderful fiction and nonfiction titles are available on CD and make fine companions for road trips or while running errands.

As Minnesota Public Radio used to remind me, “Get out of your car smarter than you got in.” Audiobooks can help you do just that.

° Visit a new universe. Browse in a section you don’t normally explore. Investigate some magazines that you’ve never read before. Spend an hour investigating materials in the reference section.

This is what Seth Godin calls “zooming” which he defines as “stretching your limits without threatening your foundation.”

° Attend a talk. If you have access to a fairly large library, chances are they offer free programs as part of their community service.

My library often features authors talking about their writing careers as well as programs on everything from finding your ancestors to travel talks.

° Create an in-depth research project. Build a passion into expertise by learning everything you can about a subject. Don’t just dabble; immerse.

Start with your library’s collection and see how far it can take you, but don’t stop there. Enlist the reference librarian to help you uncover addition information that you haven’t found on your own.

Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borge once mused, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until you get there to experience the pleasure a library can bring.

After the sudden deaths of his parents in 1999, University of Oklahoma employee Jim Miller was devastated. To help ease his grief, he began working at a local retirement community and writing a question-and-answer column for seniors in his hometown of Norman. 

At first he did it for fun and to help the retirement community get a little free publicity, but the deeper he delved, the more he realized that easy to understand information pertaining to senior issues was hard to come by. 

Miller was convinced that there was a market for his Savvy Senior column. When finding a syndicate to distribute his column failed, he decided to self-syndicate, contacting small newpapers throughout the country. Thousands of letters and follow-up telephone calls brought in hundreds of buyers at $3 to $5 each. 

Miller’s idea continued to grow. Not only does his column appear in more and more newspapers every week, his Web site The Savvy Senior  is loaded with more great information. 

His first book, also called The Savvy Senior, was published by Hyperion and he now makes regular appearances on The Today Show sharing new products designed for the senior market and offering tips.

So what did Jim Miller do right? And how can we follow his example? There are several obvious and a few not-so-obvious aspects to his success story.

°  His business was born from his heart.  Miller got a master’s degree in education, but never got past teacher training because he found out he didn’t enjoy working with kids.

Through volunteering, he discovered that there was a group of people he enjoyed being around and helping. 

° He identified a problem—saw something was missing—and set about to solve it. Many great ideas come about in just this way. Most people who find something missing simply sigh and say, “Why doesn’t somebody do something about this?” 

The entrepreneur recognizes that a void is something that needs to be filled—an opportunity to explore.

° He focused on his niche market. Miller’s audience was clearly defined. His idea to market the column also was highly focused with small local papers being his target.  

° Began with intellectual capital, not big financing. Miller created his business by generating cash flow with a minimal financial investment.

° He was willing to do the groundwork. Locating and contacting thousands of small papers was a grueling, time-consuming task, but Miller embraced the chore because he was convinced that his idea was a good one.

° He was not intimidated by his youth, his lack of credentials or existing organizations that served his market. In other words, he focused on his vision, not his obstacles.

° He kept building his expertise. Research is a big part of what it takes to become an expert.

Miller didn’t start out being an expert in the fine points of Social Security or Medicare, but he proved that he’s a willing learner and thorough researcher.

* Personal touch is crucial. Miller answers all e-mail questions himself and gets his column ideas from the mail that comes in. His audience is an on-going source of ideas.

* He took advantage of opportunities to grow. Collecting his columns into a book was a natural progression; getting a gig on a popular morning television show required a willingness to stretch.

So what did Jim Miller do right? Just about everything, it appears. We can all learn alot by applying this same process of analysis to successful enterprises and see what winners have to teach us..

According to people who study such things, we’ve gone from the Industrial Age to the Information Age and are now entering the Idea Age. Creative thinking, often scorned by left-brained thinkers, is taking on a new importance. Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, says,  “Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron ore was to steel making.” 

I am wildly excited about this turn of events because I’ve known about the power of ideas for a long time. Shortly after I started my first business, I came across a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes that became a mantra for me. He said, “A person’s mind stretched to a new idea can never return to its original dimensions.” I could see plenty of evidence of that in my own journey.

It saddens me when people talk about a vision and then dismiss it by saying, “It’s just an idea.” JUST an idea?  Think about this: ideas can be…





















on target















The one thing I know for sure is that the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. So this is your official invitation to join me for Ideafest! a month of ideas designed to feed your entrepreneurial spirit. If, as Daniel Pink says, the future belongs to right-brainers, we need to be enthusiastic idea-spotters, gatherers and implementers. I hope you’ll stop back daily to add to your idea collection, find inspiration and launch your best year ever.

Buon Anno!

Another Good Idea: If you want to get focused or simply  need to acquire a power tool for your Joyfully Jobless Journey, join me for Goalsetting 101, a 90-minute teleclass that will show you a creative approach to setting and achieving goals. The teleclass takes place on Tuesday, January 6, 8-9:30 PM Eastern, 5-6:30 PM Pacific. 

Explore More: If you haven’t already done so, read A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink asap. 

A person’s mind stretched to a new idea can never return to its original dimensions. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes