There are so many selves in everybody and to explore and exploit just one is wrong,
dead wrong, for the creative process.
~ James Dickey

Steven Kalas is a family counselor with a lively practice. He also plays in a band that’s been busy promoting their new CD, but I know Kalas for a different reason: he writes Human Matters, my favorite column in the Las Vegas Review Journal. Like many people with multiple interests, he’s found ways to incorporate his diverse interests into satisfying ways of making a living.

Of all the ideas in Making a Living Without a Job, none has ever gotten a stronger response than the notion of incorporating eclectic interests into a unique livelihood. Many people have felt stalled in their lives trying to fit themselves into the Single Occupation mold. There’s often a visible sense of relief when I suggest that it’s possible to create a business from diverse passions.

Whether you have diverse interests or a strong singular passion that you’re building around, the key to a solid business is what I call Multiple Profit Centers (MPCs). Quite simply, a profit center is any activity that generates cash flow. Whenever you add another product or service to your enterprise, you’re creating another profit center. It’s also important to realize that profit centers come in all different sizes. Some will provide the largest percentage of income for you, while others will be fillers.

There’s a practical side to the MPC notion, as well: multiple income sources can level out cash flow. No business, no matter how large or small, is immune from the ups and downs of income. To everything there is a season, including cash flow. Having a variety of sources is one way to even things out a bit, since each profit center will have its own cycle.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind when planning your profit centers.

  • They don’t have to all be the same size in order to be valid. Some profit centers will be occasional, some will peak and then decline, some will be major income sources. Keep in mind the Mall Model where you find anchor stores on the corners with smaller shops in between. Your business will be a small scale version of that.
  • Under one umbrella or separate identities? If your profit centers are completely unrelated (eclectic rather than clustered), you will probably need to have individual identities for them. It’s up to you whether or not you want to have one bank account for various things or a different one for each. Whatever makes things easier for you, is probably the best choice. At the same time, you don’t want to confuse your market by clustering things that don’t go together.
  • If it matters to you, it belongs in your portfolio. If your interests are diverse, you may decide that some ideas aren’t serious enough to turn into a profit center. More likely, your apprehension comes from the old belief that if it’s fun and pleasurable, it should remain a hobby.

    Nobody tackles this issue better than Steven Pressfield who writes in The War of Art about turning pro. He says, “The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his ‘real’ vocation.”

  • Differing activities can boost creativity. In the name of efficiency, we’ve turned many of the workers of this world into robot-like machines who show up in the same place at the same time to do the same things day in and day out. The capacity to think creatively is the first casualty of that system.

    Creativity thrives on variety and setting up your profit centers to give you a wide range of experiences is ultimately as good for your imagination as it is for your bank account.

  • Take inventory on a regular basis. Many profit centers require a lot of time and attention at their launch, but become somewhat self-sufficient after that. It makes sense to review the various projects you’re working on and align your attention with what each one needs.

    Sometimes a profit center becomes a noisy child and takes you away from the others. At other times, you’ll find you’ve grown bored with an idea and it’s time to consider a different future for it. Every 90 days or so, do a review and make changes where necessary.

  • Be wary of multitasking. Time magazine did a story about Suze Orman, a woman who clearly understands MPCs. She is not an advocate of multitasking, however. “I think it’s the absolute ruination of the perfection of a project,” she says. “The people who multitask do everything to mediocrity at best. While they are getting a lot done, they are getting it done in such an inefficient way that they usually have to do it again.”

    One way to stay focused, is to assign different days of the week to different projects. When you’re throwing pots, you aren’t writing your pottery seminar, for instance.

  • It’s evolution, not instant creation. Profit centers evolve over a long period of time. Ideas morph, new ones show up, old ones have served their time. The important thing is to create a business that engages your talents and imagination, and pays you to do what you love doing most. As Paul Hawken reminds us, “The business you can succeed with is distinctly and utterly you and yours. It is unlike any other business in the world.” You have your MPCs to thank for that.

I don’t have many routines in my life except for my daily trip to the post office. I grew up in a small town without mail delivery so picking up the mail has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father used to drive us to school, but a mail stop came first. As the oldest child, it was my duty to fetch the mail from the box. To make it more fun, I began taping coins to bits of cardboard and sending away for things I saw advertised in comic books, insuring that some of the mail would be addressed to me. Even though e-mail has replaced the personal letter, I still enjoy finding something handwritten in my mailbox.

Since today is a postal holiday, there won’t be a mail run, but I wanted to pass along one of my all-time favorite letters, although I’ll keep the writer anonymous. He wrote, “Exactly 24 hours ago, I took my penny pail to the bank and cashed it in for $23.09. Against my better judgement I decided to visit Border’s Book Shop to have a latte and browse through a book that had caught my eye on several previous tours. Before my coffee was cool enough to drink, I decided to spend over half my available cash on Making a Living Without a Job.

“After brooding for nearly two weeks and accomplishing nothing, I read your entire book in one sitting. Since then, I have sold books (not yours) to a used bookstore, sold an expensive golf bag to a secondhand sporting goods store, sold a rowing machine to a secondhand exercise machine store, took four large trash bags of good clothing to a consignment shop, dared to try my new Rollerblades, scheduled a meeting with my father-in-law to learn his business secrets, faxed a letter and resume to a local business college to teach several courses, made several phone contacts for some consulting work and listed 37 potential Profit Centers. Oh, yes, I also made a huge pot of Texas Red chili and did five loads of laundry.”

He goes on to write about his previous adventures being self-employed. “I have been making a living without a job, though I lacked an understanding of the process and certainly lacked the passion you so eloquently described. I knew the time had come to return to the dream. Thank you for giving it back to me.”

With the possibility of a letter like that waiting for me, you can understand why a trip to the post office is my first priority every morning.

Live in the active voice, not the passive. Think more about what you make happen than about what happens to you. ~ William Dewitt Hyde