I’ve been reading a lot of your articles on starting small businesses and having multiple income streams. For example, I want to start a feminist jewelry line with a social techie twist over Christmas, while everyone is vegetating and getting fat (Also got that idea from one of your columns!) but..BUT how do I know if my time is better spent studying for the GRE to get into a great grad school, or learning another solid skill that will make me better at my job? Ah I want to do so many things!
I KNOW THAT FEELING.
Here’s how you tell when your business idea is not really a business idea: When your main motivation is showing everyone how clever you are.
When you imagine running your business, are you imagining the day-to-day operations of making jewelry and shipping it out? How would you market it? Say you got into a bunch of holiday or Valentine’s Day gift guides and got a lot of orders: how would you fulfill them? Do you hire other people to make the jewelry? If you had to pay other people to make it, would your cut be large enough to make the whole thing worthwhile? Keep in mind that when you sell a piece of jewelry, the money needs to pay for the worker’s time, plus the taxes and insurance required to employ someone, plus the materials, plus your time, plus advertising costs — and then there’s still supposed to be something left called “profit” (getting paid for your time is not profit). It’s hard to do that with jewelry.
If you’re not thinking about any of that, but instead thinking about how awesome people would think you are for having such awesome ideas, then what you have is not a business idea.
If you just want to make jewelry yourself, and make a few bucks every time someone buys something, that’s fine and is indeed a multiple income stream, but the endgame is probably pretty small — a couple hundred bucks a month at best, until you lose interest?
But what are the alternatives? You could study for the GRE (I certainly know about that) in order to get into grad school. But you didn’t say what kind of grad school or why. Grad school generally costs a lot of money before you make any money — and a great many graduate programs don’t lead to making more money at all. Plenty of PhDs are adjuncts teaching at 5 colleges, scrambling to make $20K a year. A Masters in Social Work will get you a very important-to-society but very low-paying job. Even an MBA only produces a financial return for students able to get into the top 20 b-schools. Grad school also involves an opportunity cost — not only do you spend tens of thousands of dollars, you also aren’t working during the time you’re getting the degree.
What’s the goal here?
You need to figure that out.
It sounds like you want to do a lot of things at once for the sake of doing a lot of things at once.
I’m that way too, but it’s honestly kind of a personality problem. It is not a positive.
Here are two laws. I mean LAWS. Laying it down:
1. You can do more than one thing at a time. But you can only START one thing at a time. And you have to stick with it until it is running sustainably (that is, your business not only has products and a website, but you have a method of advertising that reliably brings in sales), or until you make a conscious decision to kill it off (not just let it fade away). Once you get a project going in a sustainable way, you can add another project.
2. Do not do a new project if the endgame is not worthy of you. Why do you want to do this? What’s the goal? What’s the best-case scenario? With even some very clever small business, the BEST case scenario is that some cool blogs say you’re the awesomest, and you make a few thousand dollars. You can’t let that be what you spend your peak years on. Why do you want to go to grad school? Because that’s what people do? I need an endgame. I need you to sell it to me.
Define some goals. Goals don’t have to be, “I want to be VP of Marketing by 2017.” They can be, “I want to have the money and freedom to travel whenever I feel like it and masturbate in the middle of the day,” or “I want to work somewhere where everyone does everything I say.” A goal can be about feelings, and then you can create conditions conducive to those feelings. Don’t make a stodgy, fake goal because you think that’s what goals look like. Make some kind of relatively achievable goal for, say, 2017. It should be viscerally delightful to you.
And then look at those two dozen projects you want to do, and pick the one that gets you there fastest.