Turn talents into cash

When Avery Carter, 42, of Toronto decided to take a leave of absence from her demanding job as a social worker, she knew that she would eventually have to find work to contribute to the family budget. What she didn’t know was how she would do it.

“I had a vague idea that I would find something. I knew I wanted to be creative… but that was about it.” Meanwhile, she enrolled in an advanced cake decorating class that she had always wanted to take.

“I was practicing on a cake at home when one of my nieces said that my cake looked better than the ones at the store. And you know what? She was right.”

Soon after that Avery decided to see if she could turn her hobby into a business. “The first mistake I made was in charging too little. I knew that especially at first I couldn’t be paid for most of my time because I was coming up with ideas and then having to practice them. But my first few cakes almost cost me money, especially with having to deliver them.” After a rocky start, though, Avery finds she is now starting to make enough money to notice. “This summer we’re going to fly out West on the money I made in the fall.”

How do you turn your talents into money? Take the following into consideration:

Follow your passion

If something fascinates you, chances are you’re not alone. Take bugs… that’s right, bugs. Vanessa Bright of Edmonton, Alberta found that her family’s budget was strapped for cash — but she wanted a job that wasn’t 9-5. After a fortuitous meeting with a clown specializing in children’s parties, she realized that she could take her knowledge and interest in bugs and turn that into a money-making act. In the Fall 2006 issue of Birth Issues she wrote:

“A week after I made my decision, my little guy and I went out after a rainstorm. We came home soaking wet and I had 2 earthworms in one hand, and three tent caterpillars in the other. My little guy couldn’t wait to show his dad what we had found. I realized with real joy that this was exactly what I was doing when I was six years old.”

And six year olds are precisely the target audience for her talents. Which leads to the next step — research.

Research the market

A little research might have helped Avery avoid her rough start in the cake business. To get a service or a product to customers, every entrepreneur needs to know to whom they are marketing, how to get their attention, and what to charge — both to cover costs and also to see what the marketplace will pay.

One way to do this is to speak to people already in the business, or in a similar business. Another is to survey potential customers for your product or service. And if you will need supplies, talking to suppliers can provide valuable information — not only for pricing, but also about the marketplace in general.


Develop a business plan

If you intend to get a loan or attract investors in order to fund your business venture, you will need a business plan. But even if you don’t, going through the process of putting your ideas down on paper in a structured way can help you think through potential strengths and weaknesses. A business plan should include:

• A summary of your business idea and how it will work (executive summary)
• An analysis of the market, or the need for the service or product. Who is your primary market? (For example, kids who need birthday parties, and whose parents are willing to pay for entertainment.) What’s the competition? What will your pricing be? What are you offering that sets you apart?
• Marketing: how will you get the word out?
• Company organization and structure
• Financials: how much will it cost to get started? What will your costs be going forward? How much business will you have to do to make money?

Keep your day job

Although many entrepreneurs leave their jobs to take the leap, it can also be savvy to start a business in your spare time. This allows you to test the market — and your commitment — without jeopardizing your financial security. If you can scale your business idea back to a weekend job, trying it for six months or a year can give you an idea of whether you’ve gotten the specifics right.

Take the leap

While planning is important, it’s easy to get stuck in the “what ifs” and to stay in research mode — forever. Entrepreneurs eventually have to take a deep breath, believe in themselves and their ideas, and go for it. You can too!

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ kali9

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