Although it’s hardly ever mentioned in most business books and magazines, one of the great bonuses of being joyfully jobless is that it gives you an opportunity to be an enthusiastic lifelong learner. Every new profit center idea requires locating new information, new explorations and new learning.
Doing the necessary homework before you start out gives you focus, direction and confidence. Yet many people have no notion about how to begin gathering information.
At the beginning stage of the process, you aren’t making permanent decisions, you’re just collecting all the information you can to help you make an informed decision later on.
Although information gathering is an on-going process, here are some easily accessible places to begin the search.
° Cyberspace. Increasingly many people begin (and end) their search on the Internet. Yes, there is a plethora of information waiting to be uncovered in your computer. As rich a resource as this may seem, there are serious questions about the accuracy of much of the information that shows up in cyberspace.
I am not alone in questioning the Internet as the final knowledge authority. Movie critic Roger Ebert verbalized it perfectly: “Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.” Amen.
° Associations of like-minded people. In this country (and many others), there are associations for everything you can imagine—and thousands of things you’d never guess existed.
Aligning yourself with groups that share your interests can be a rich source of practical information, as well as a way to connect with kindred spirits. Even if you live in an area where no appropriate organizations exist, there’s probably a national group that would prove helpful.
Begin your search at the reference desk of your library where you can find a directly of associations. My favorite such source is Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations.
Once you’ve identified the groups that sound promising, write for membership information. In most instances, you’ll receive a packet of material that will help you decide if membership is worthwhile.
National associations usually have annual conferences which are wonderful sources of learning, networking and information-gathering. These affiliations can provide inspiration as well.
° Adult education. Adult education comes in many packages and you need to understand the differences before you enroll. In addition to traditional degrees, many colleges and universities offer non-degree classes through an extension program. Usually held on weekends or in the evening midweek, these programs are often geared to current trends.
These programs like to keep up with trends and change their offerings as new interests appear on the horizon. Teachers in these programs tend to have hands-on experience and are often quite passionate about their subject.
In almost every town and city, you’ll also find a miscellany of learning opportunities. Community education programs sponsored by the school district, classes offered through places like the YMCA, and independent teachers conducting public seminars may have exactly what you need, so stay alert to those less formal options too.
And, of course, Webinars and teleclasses are abundantly available.
° Read, read, read. Almost anything you might want to do has been the subject of at least one book. And while not every book on your subject will be appropriate to your needs, the more familiar you become with the subject, the better. So any new search should begin with a trip to the library and the bookstore.
This is so obvious to me that I almost didn’t include it. Then I recalled the many times I’ve been contacted by would-be writers who says, “I think I’d like to write, but I don’t know how to get something published.”
“Have you read Writer’s Market?” I ask.
“What’s that?” they shoot back.
Had they done any homework, they would have been flooded with the wealth of resources aimed at helping people get starting in the writing business.
Or any other business.
In fact, if you test out the suggestions by taking one of your ideas and researching it to the hilt, you’ll think you’ve found a goldmine—providing that you do so with a mind that’s open and a curiosity that’s insatiable.
Having accomplished that, you’ll be ready to start pulling the best of the information together and shaping it into a project that fits you like a tailor-made suit.