How to Be Everything: The Renaissance Business Method [Book Excerpt]

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The following is excerpted from “How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up by Emilie Wapnick. Copyright @2017 by Emilie Wapnick, published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Starting a business

The easiest way to work for a boss who lets you wear many hats at work is to be your own boss. There are few careers more multifaceted than entrepreneurship. Running a business means product development, marketing, sales, psychology, branding, customer relations, internal structures, law and finance. You don’t need to be an expert in each of these areas to start a business (most of us figure them out as we go), but you do need to possess an intense drive to learn, experiment and do a bit (or a lot) of everything, particularly at the beginning.

When I was growing up, no one ever told me that starting a business was a thing. I didn’t even know what an entrepreneur was until I was well into my twenties. I probably assumed it meant some business guy in a suit, and, as a depressed teenager with a propensity for punk rock and introspection, I had no interest in such things. I certainly didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur when I started booking shows for my band or building websites for my artist friends for a few hundred bucks a pop (or sometimes for a hug and some chocolate chip cookies). But that’s exactly what I was.

Don’t let the word entrepreneur turn you off. There are many different types of businesses, ranging from large-scale investor-funded ones (like you might see on the television show “Shark-Tank”), to the family-run Indian restaurant down the street, to the online collective selling radical zines, tarot readings and homemade soaps. By the end of this chapter, you’ll have an idea of what’s possible for multipotentialite entrepreneurs. (Note: Wapnick defines a multipotentialite as, “someone with many interests or creative pursuits. In other words, multiple potentials”). And you’ll want to start a business. Or five.


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The Renaissance Business

So, entrepreneurship can seem like the solution. But there is a particular snag for multipotentialites. In the same way that a broad field may not be interdisciplinary enough for a particular individual, entrepreneurship, although it has many angles, may still feel straight and narrow. This can be extra true if your business is highly niched. You might love cooking, but find yourself becoming bored after a few years of running a catering business. You might be a great social media manager, but become frustrated and want to explore new things after working with clients on their campaigns day in and day out. Thankfully, there is a broader type of business—one that allows you to shift between subjects on a regular basis. I call this the Renaissance Business, and it is, perhaps, best understood through example.

Mark Powers isn’t your typical drummer. Instead of deriving his income from some combination of performing and teaching, as many professional musicians do, Mark smooshed a few of his other passions into the mix: technology, anthropology, philanthropy, speaking and travel. The resulting business gives Mark numerous outlets for his creativity (and numerous revenue streams). Mark teaches percussion, not only in person, but online, using Skype. Because the reach of his business extends beyond his physical location, he is able to work with students from all over the world. In 2011, Mark flew to Uganda to record youth choirs and local village musicians. He sells the resulting album, “Amaloboozi” (which means “voices” in the Luganda language), through his website and sends proceeds to organizations doing humanitarian work in those regions.

Because one-on-one teaching and international philanthropy aren’t enough, Mark also creates and sells digital guides for percussionists and teachers. He spends a lot of time writing, and he recently released a children’s book called, “I Want to Be a Drummer!” Mark runs workshops at schools and community centers and in corporate settings and has hosted TEDx events. Of course, he still performs live with various musicians, too. While a non-multipotentialite might find this lifestyle overwhelming, Mark loves it. His Renaissance Business allows him to lead a rich, dynamic life in which he gets paid to be his true, full self.

Marketing for Hippies provides marketing training for conscientious, green and holistic small businesses, and it’s another A+ example of a Renaissance Business. Tad Hargrave dreamed up this gem by mixing two of his fascinations: activism and marketing. Look at Tad’s biography and try to tell me that this isn’t the ideal Group Hug (having one multifaceted job or business that allows you to wear many hats and shift between several domains at work) for him:

Tad Hargrave is a hippy who developed a knack for marketing (and then learned how to be a hippy again). Despite years in the non-profit and activist world, he finally had to admit he was a marketing nerd and, in the end, he became a marketing coach for hippies. Maybe it was because he couldn’t stand seeing his hippie friends struggle to promote their amazing, green and holistic projects. Maybe it was because he couldn’t keep a 9 to 5 job to save his life.

Tad is the perfect person to teach marketing to conscientious entrepreneurs, because he has backgrounds in both areas. He can translate marketing principles, which might not typically appeal to this audience, in a way that feels ethical and understandable to hippies. Not only does Tad’s eclectic background make Marketing for Hippies possible, it allows him to stand out from the thousands of other businesses on the planet that provide marketing training.

Here are a few more examples of Renaissance Businesses:

  • Pielab: a café and community space located in Greensboro, Alabama, that offers initiatives such as bike repairs and catering apprenticeships. Their tagline is Pie + Conversation = Social Change.
  • Mothership HackerMoms: the first-ever women’s hackerspace in the world. Located in Berkeley, California, they offer on-site child care as well as a space for parents to work, create and collaborate.
  • The Laundromat Café: a cozy café, Laundromat and bookstore in Copenhagen, Denmark. Similar hybrid Laundromat-cafes have recently begun popping up around the United States.
  • Meshu: a geographically inspired jewelry company. Customers place an order by submitting geographical locations that are meaningful to them. The Meshu team plots a path between the locations, creating a necklace, earrings, cuff links or ring using the shape.
  • Abe Cajudo: “Full Service Creative Human” (at abecajudo.com) helps businesses and brands stand out through high-impact multimedia storytelling. This can take the form of web development, graphic design, video production, Kickstarter consulting or online course creation.

Renaissance Businesses are sometimes perceived as being very niche. But imagine the person who uses their backgrounds in personal finance, counseling and LGBTQ rights to help same-sex couples manage their money. This highly specific offering involves as understanding of, and a shifting between, several realms and modes of thought. In its specificity, it contains multitudes.


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I am often confronted with the misconception that smooshing several subjects together in one business will lead to a confusing and unfocused brand. But Renaissance Businesses can be extremely profitable and attract a rabid community/customer base by highlighting their unique philosophies. The key is to make the relationships between the subjects and offerings crystal clear. If you know how your business fits together, and you communicate it to your audience clearly, you are well on your way.

“How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to be When They Grow Up” is available now at fine booksellers, and can be purchased through StartupNation.com.

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