Write a one-paragraph biography of yourself such as you might see listed at the end of a seminar description. How can you describe yourself in a brief and interesting way?

Make a list of 10 tip sheet subjects. Write one of them. Now make a list of all the ways you can use this list. Pick one and go for it.

Find 5 potential affinity groups (see Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations or ask your reference librarian for a similar publication). Send for information and study it. How might you be of service to them?

Challenge yourself to expand your mastery in one area. Join Toastmasters, for instance, if your speaking skills need to be polished, or take a class in marketing your articles. Keep learning more about your subject, too.

Make a list of 6 basic questions a radio or TV interviewer might ask you. Turn them into a sample interview in Q&A format and add to your press kit.

Consciously watch experts in action. What can you emulate? What would you avoid? If you can find an autobiography of an expert you admire, read it for clues about how they built their reputation.

Make an appointment with a portrait photographer and get a picture of yourself that you love. Use it on your brochures or marketing material and always offer it to a magazine that’s publishing your article or conference where you’ll be speaking.

Avoid the common mistake of thinking One Big Appearance will clinch your career. No, not even Oprah. Establishing yourself as an expert is an ongoing process that needs to be nurtured and built one step at a time.

Imagine you’ve been invited to speak at your local Rotary luncheon. Write an introduction to give the person who will be introducing you to the audience.

Print your favorite tip sheet on a bookmark to give as a handout. Don’t forget to include contact information for yourself.

There was no shortage of candidates for the Most Annoying Person Award that I was mentally planning to bestow. At the top of the short list was Billy Mays, the guy who screams at us in TV ads to buy wrenches, foot powder and cleaning products.

But he had stiff competition from Stephanie, a young woman who had shattered the silence on the airport bus one recent Friday evening, by dialing up a series of friends to plan her weekend. Oblivious to the weary travelers around her, she babbled on and on. When the calls finally ended, it was all I could do to keep from yelling, “Thank goodness Stephanie’s run out of friends!” She certainly had not made any new ones on the bus, but she had become a strong contender for my award.

Both Billy and Stephanie dropped lower on the list when I rushed to answer the telephone only to be greeted by a disembodied voice which said, “Hello, we are canvassing your neighborhood to find people who want to work at home.” I hung up before the recording finished, but a few hours later I knew who the winner of my award would be, and it’s not a single person at all.

I call them the Work at Home Opportunistas and they are on the prowl. In fact, these folks seem to be causing an inescapable epidemic.

When I go to check my e-mail, a flashing banner screams, “Earn $10,000/month working from home!” My junk e-mail box is full of money-making offers every day. Driving around town, I see posters stapled to utility poles with similar come-hither messages. My personal favorite Work at Home promoter was the woman (I can only assume) who plastered the toilet stalls at the Mall of America with Work at Home cards promising $1,500/month PT, $5,000/month FT.

Suddenly, we seem to have entered a new era of schemes and scams. Many of them are nicely dressed and have photographs of appealing, supposedly successful entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, these aggressive Work at Home ads are targeting the unsuspecting. I can only imagine their appeal to someone who has just spent over an hour navigating icy roads to get to a job they don’t much like. Calling that 800 number for more information might seem like a welcome alternative.

After weeks of avoiding this avalanche of opportunity, I happened to see travel guru Peter Greenberg talking about going on a “free” cruise — another popular offer. The cruise ended up costing $1,400 and was dreadful from beginning to end. Maybe I should follow his lead and check out the home business offers, I decided.

Posing as an eager opportunity seeker, I began responding to every ad that crossed my path. I did an Internet search using Work at Home as my keyword phrase and was astonished to see page after page of offers. It would have taken me days to check out every listing on Google, so I only went for the most intriguing.

What I discovered was a pattern or system to all these offers that was soon familiar. Maybe there’s a Scam School where they teach this stuff, I mused. Answer an ad and here’s what you’ll find:

  • The emphasis is on the big money you can earn. Very often the actual business is just alluded to. Breathing seems to be the only required skill. The focus is on opportunity with a capital O. Request the free information offered and you probably will get a brochure offering to sell you the real scoop.
  • Especially popular right now are offers you can pass along over the Internet. From the comfort of your own home, you can reach millions around the world and rake it in.
  • Another familiar offer is listings (either a booklet you can purchase or on a web site you must pay to enter) of Work at Home opportunities. These are particularly terrific for anyone interested in earning pennies for tediously stuffing envelopes. In many instances, you are not told that you have to acquire the names and addresses that will go on the envelopes.
  • The offer that most amused me is the one that trains you to track down deadbeat parents and collect unpaid child support. Now doesn’t that sound like something anyone could do?
  • And what’s this repeated promise of a monthly income? Nearly every offer promises a certain income. Jobs have predictable incomes; businesses fluctuate.

Besides the fact that few people ever profit from such plans, buying into a scheme is certainly not my idea of being Joyfully Jobless. With all the possibilities for creative self-employment, these plans do little more than give working at home a shady reputation.

Sadly, as long as people lack self-confidence, there will always be shysters eager to take advantage of them. Hook up with one of these opportunistas and you’ll spend both cash and confidence — with nothing but a sad, hard lesson in return.

There’s more where this came from.
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