As people working for social change, we often wonder how the world can be made better with more innovative ideas, organizations, and business practices. But what if you have an idea of your own? What if you’re ready to create or build something new that leverages your skills and passions and will leave a positive impact on the world around you?
Earlier this month I released my first book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job! which is a practical field guide for creative people to achieve success and sustainability on their own terms. With the book I am aiming to take what I’ve learned through my MPA program and as an educator, fundraiser, project manager, and administrator in arts nonprofits for the past decade and make business advice that is accessible and welcoming for creative and community-minded people.
The most gratifying experience the release of this book has brought is that I have seen something that was just an idea two years ago become a tangible resource for people who want to turn their dreams into a business they’ll love. In my opinion and experience, to be entrepreneurial means to identify a need in your community and come up with a creative, effective solution to fulfill it. I feel that those working in the nonprofit sector are very equipped to this because a big part of our day-to-day work is fulfilling community needs in various ways, often with limited resources, requiring us to be creative.
If you have an idea on how to address a social issue or community need—whether by launching a new organization, becoming a consultant, writing a book, or some other creative entrepreneurial endeavor—you’ll need to figure out what idea will leverage your talents and solve a key problem; what resources you need to get going; and what practical goals you need to set to put your dream in motion. In writing my book, the following three activities helped me actualize my idea and work towards the project of my dreams.
Clarify your idea
What do you do? What is the ultimate goal that you want to achieve with this project? You want an idea that you’re excited about enough to dedicate a ton of time to AND addresses a concrete need in your community. Then, describe your project, organization, or business in one sentence. For example, early on I decided Grow would be a practical field guide for creative people. Through the project, I wanted to help people acquire the business savvy they needed to sustain their creative practice.
It might take awhile to hone your one-sentence description, but this sentence should contain all the basic information about what the project will be, who it will serve and why it is important.
Assess your skills and resources
What skills and resources do you possess or have access to that you can use? What do you need to learn, trade, or hire someone to do in order to achieve this project? When I started writing the book, I realized that I had the writing, research, and interviewing skills needed to get started, but needed help navigating the publishing industry, making a professional portfolio site, and conducting press outreach. This is where getting additional professional help and letting your network know what you need can really help you move your dream forward.
Set achievable goals
A formula I like to use for actionable goals looks like this: Action verb + quantifiable task + time when it will be accomplished. For example, I set goals such as “Interview ten do it yourself business owners by the end of June” to ensure that I was collecting the content I needed and moving forward with the book.
Keep your goals as practical as possible. Have the big picture in mind while focusing on what’s right in front of you. It is the small, attainable steps we take that move our project along. For example, I knew I wanted to do a national book tour when my book was released. However, before I set goals around the tour I focused my goal setting on researching, planning, and writing the book. As you accomplish goals you will set new ones and you can look back and see how your idea and your business are growing.
The entrepreneurial idea I want to pass on is simple: When you have a clear idea, understand what you need to accomplish it, and have goals that break down how to get there, you can start to grow your idea into a tangible project, business, or organization. Your idea and goals don’t need to take a specific format and you don’t necessarily need a “business plan,” but you do need to record where you want to go, what you are doing, and how you want to get there. Dare to start by accomplishing that first goal. Write down your idea. Share it. Make a plan and start to grow.
About The Author
Eleanor Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, released in 2013 on Cantankerous Titles.