Now How Am I Going to Make a Living?

TNEI‘m thinking of changing the title of my book The Natural Enterprise to Now How Am I Going to Make a Living? When I originally wrote it, I wanted to share with young people in university and high school the wisdom I had learned from advising over 150 entrepreneurs over my career with Ernst & Young. Specifically I wanted to explain to them, through real-life examples, how so much of the conventional wisdom of entrepreneurship is wrong. Specifically I wanted to debunk these powerful myths:

  • That entrepreneurship is a lonely, solitary undertaking.
  • That entrepreneurship has to be stressful and an enormous amount of work.
  • That entrepreneurship, while it may be ‘worth it’, is not much fun.
  • That entrepreneurship requires mortgaging your company and soul to bankers or venture capitalists.
  • That entrepreneurs have to constantly grow to stay ‘competitive’, and sometimes must compromise their principles to do it.
  • That entrepreneurship requires a lot of up-front detailed planning.
  • That entrepreneurship, to succeed, requires a bit of genius and a lot of luck.
  • That entrepreneurs should be clever imitators rather than innovators.

I certainly know plenty of entrepreneurs who believed these things, and some of them succeeded, if rather joylessly. But I also know some entrepreneurs whose extraordinary success belies all of these myths. Entrepreneurs who are enormously collaborative, and trusting of their partners. Entrepreneurs who lead such ‘easy’ lives that they are almost embarrassed by the “Oh, you must have to work so hard to have succeeded so well!” comments of admirers, and who shun the limelight as a result. Entrepreneurs who love getting up each day and going to work, who owe nothing to anyone, who choose not to grow because they make more than enough just doing good work for delighted customers. Entrepreneurs who do everything experimentally and improvisationally, and find that their decisions are far better than those who plan way in advance in excruciating detail. Entrepreneurs who aren’t especially smart, but are keen observers of unmet needs, and excellent researchers.

When I have spoken to graduating classes in universities, to teenagers, and to young people just starting out in low-paying jobs for companies and bosses that they don’t particularly like but who tease them with the promise of promotion, they were astonished to hear this, and wanted to learn more. They had never imagined themselves as entrepreneurs because they’d heard the conventional wisdom bulleted above and concluded they just didn’t have what it takes.

That was the genesis of The Natural Enterprise. It was to be a book to give struggling and unhappy young people the knowledge and courage to start and operate their own sustainable business, with others who shared their passion and values. Having learned a lot of useless information in school and MBA classes, they would be asking themselves the question Now How Am I Going to Make a Living? with the emphasis on the last word. My book would help them answer that question, and free them from a life of wage slavery.

But as I wrote the book, and started to spend time with boomer generation people who were being outsourced, downsized, offshored, early-retired, or just plain hated their jobs and were itching to quit, I realized there were even more of them asking the same question, but with the emphasis on the first word: Now How Am I Going to Make a Living? They have since become the main intended audience for the book.

Thanks to the insights from my wonderful agent and some very generous publishers, the book has been evolving quickly from a ‘how to’ manual (still reflected in the chapters I have published online) to more of a conversation with the reader about:

  • my own decision to leave a well-paying job that I no longer enjoyed (after 27 years!), and what I have since learned about the process of deciding what to do next,
  • the stories of several unusual entrepreneurs I know who are having the time of their lives doing what they love and do well, successfully and sustainably in accordance with their personal principles and values, easily and joyfully working with people they love, trust and respect, and
  • the unhappy stories of some other entrepreneurs I know who made fatal errors, mostly by following conventional wisdom but sometimes just through easily-avoided errors of judgement, and failed miserably (their names, of course, will be anonymous in the book).

The book is hence becoming a map of the journey to joyful, successful, natural entrepreneurship, that will help readers, young and bewildered or old and disenchanted, to find their way, no matter where they are starting from today. Its purpose will be to help the reader decide whether she or he is ready for entrepreneurship (by debunking the myths and explaining what entrepreneurship is really about), and, if so, to help her or him decide what entrepreneurial business to establish, and, just as importantly, with whom. That will probably, now, be the scope of the book — explaining the work of actually getting it up and running will be deferred to another book, or perhaps, because it is so context-dependent, may become a service I offer (online or off) rather than the subject of a book at all. Perhaps that service will be my own Natural Enterprise.

The online forum that was to accompany the book will still exist, but its emphasis will be more on helping readers talk through the issues of the book (is entrepreneurship right for me, and if so, in what business and with whom) in their own personal context, rather than sharing of ‘how-to’ tips on Natural Enterprise startups and day-to-day operations. I hope that it will become a popular enough destination that it will be the site of choice for people looking for like-minds with whom to establish a Natural Enterprise.

I still like the idea of The Natural Enterprise, and it will probably continue to be the model used in the book. I believe strongly (and my experience with successful Natural Enterprises reinforces that belief) that there are inherent advantages to

  • a non-hierarchical ‘partnership’ form of enterprise, with partners who have complementary skills, 
  • building your enterprise for sustainability, and financing it organically, rather than making it dependent on continuous growth and outside capital, 
  • basing your enterprise on a shared (with your partners) set of values and principles that include responsibility not just to ‘shareholders’ but to the whole community in which you do business, and
  • ‘naturally’ starting by discovering unmet needs you can fill innovatively, and letting customers market your innovations virally for you, rather than starting with ideas and solutions and then trying to sell them to a market.

I’d be grateful for your thoughts on where the book is going. Would you buy a book called Now How Am I Going to Make a Living? If the book was focused on helping you decide what you want to do to make a living, and with whom, rather than on how to set it up, would that make it better or worse? And is there room for the Natural Enterprise model in it, or am I being too idealistic and trying toforce this model too far ahead of its time?

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13 Responses to Now How Am I Going to Make a Living?

  1. spy for sanity says:

    i really like the direction you are taking and especially (as ever) the handy lists at top. i would buy that book, particularly knowing you wrote it. i would be careful, though, as it is rather close to the po bronson title; you want to distinguish yourself and not have ppl thinking they have heard of it/read it already. i like the what and whom very much, especially with the web site supporting these functions. i would still want *some* how-to/setup talk, but less of that and more of the former would be fine. keep up the fine effort!

  2. It sounds like you have 2 books to write. One that helps people become more indepenent by becoming business owners. The other book sounds like prinicples you talk about all the time here that you can change the world by changing your business model to be environmentally friendly and move toward building community, developing win win situations, etc.I think a lot of your ideas are really better suited towards people who already have business. The problem with the other book is that most people wouldn’t think of starting their own company so how do you get them to buy the book so that they can do that? I do like the title though as it gives a sense of urgency like “I just lost my job now what??”. I have a had a number of business and they are hard to do even if you have a great idea. First you have the down time where you don’t make money so you have to float yourself with unemployment, friend and family, or savings. Then you have to deal with taxes, sales, getting the business licence. If you have employees they tend to be the biggest expense and the most dangerous asset due to theft or conflict. If you have a partner that can be really challenging as your ideas differ about the business as things go along. Then there are the long hours, hopefully you are single when you do it or it will stress out the relationship. There are sure a lot of hurdles.Of course coming up with an idea of a the type of business you would even start is a hard place for most people. I mean in our neighborhood people keep opening up restraunts when we really need a bakery. But people like to just copy each other.Anyway I don’t know if my rambling helps, but I can’t wait to get your book.

  3. Iñaki says:

    I don’t usually care about the title of a book, I follow the content, so I will buy the book anyway.

  4. Pearl says:

    I think there definitely is a market for it as organization become more multinational it’s hard to keep them personable and gratifying on an individual level so people fly off and make their own consulting businesses. With less job security people become self-reliant. There are more people curious and investigating the career option. I think the crux of the worries are, will I have any cash?The title seems catchy enough for this audience. With the right cover art it could get a niche. On the other hand, from that title I would expect a folksy, unpacked, loose sort of hands-on, illustrations and anecdotes style. The 10 steps you have there and Prerequisites are too large for me to grasp. I’d need more nitty-gritties for me to grasp in day-to-day terms what they’d look like. started her own business and did it for joy. It’s something I haven’t thought of being done so the myth debunking is something I need to hear.

  5. I would buy a book titled, “Who am I, and where am I going?” which would still cover your focus and perhaps broaden the horizon.

  6. Jeremy Heigh says:

    Dave, I agree with Chris, these are principles you discuss regularly on your blog. A helpful question might be, “What is it that really sings for people on my blog? What question are they answering?” I doubt it’s a threshold question … they aren’t passing some milestone and suddenly looking for the next step. I think it’s an evolution question. There’s a Chris Farley movie (I think it’s Black Sheep) where he slips of the side of a steep hill and takes this crazy long, tumbling fall to the bottom. Finally crashing into the ground he flashes up to his feet, his great mop of hair standing straight up with his exertion, and he hollers into the sky, “What the hell was that all about?” That’s what I think your reader is asking. You are very insightful about the principles of why we do what we do, why what we do is worth doing, and why doing things we don’t do is important. Perhaps an appropriate title, “Worth doing.”

  7. Alvin says:

    I like Now How Am I Going To Make A Living? more. It’s more personal, and it speaks to me directly. Perhaps The Natural Enterprise could be the natural sub-title to that?Now How Am I Going To Make A Living?The Natural Enterprise and how it will change the way you etc etc

  8. Mariella says:

    “The Natural Enterprise” sounds much more inviting and natural to me…..”Now, how am I going to make a living” … sounds stressing.Maybe “The Natural Enterprise – options to make a (¿free, worth, sensefull? or something related to openness) living”. ——— This comment is some sort of answer to Jeremy´s post…… this is the “music” that sings to me from your blog.

  9. Ken says:

    For the most part, I’ve only pursued self-employment opportunities for some 26+ years, and not the kind that you have to franchise, ever since having a couple of real bum employers early on. Perhaps, had a business book such as yours been available to me while I was still young and enthusiastic, that optimistic and curious fire could have been kept alive. It would have had to reach me prior to the 10th grade, preferably around the 7th-8th, but ‘my’ reading skills at the time were up to it. Yes, I bought a couple of crappy paperback books along those lines back then, they were true disappointments that seemed geared toward placing a few ‘who’d made it’ on an ego-gratification pedestal. IMO, university level is much too late for a ‘how to entrepreneur’ book, though I’m not saying that value wouldn’t be realized there, simply that you’ve already eliminated 75% of the population as a market, probably the portion of the population that truly needs the information the most.A pattern that I’ve seen repeated in too many other books seems evident: using it to sell something else, such as further services. This may seem to work out well for the seller, but how well does it work out for the buyer hoping to find impartial and unbiased, as well as complete information? Using the book to sell something else seems to provide a motive for withholding information, rather than disclosing it, and isn’t the value of a book purporting to disseminate knowledge thereby debased? The only thoughts I have on your title is that it would be preferable for the title to accurately summarize the contents of the book. Kind of like an article title should tell of the contents. That might aid people in finding the work in a listing or bookstore shelf.I surely wish that when I was younger I would have been exposed to some better business concepts than I had been.

  10. natasha says:

    I agree with Alvin & I like the new title a lot.

  11. Peter says:

    Dave, I’ve been self-employed since 1986. During that time I have started up a few successful companies, took one through IPO, mentored rookie entrepreneurs, and taught a few college classes and weekend seminars on business startup. I always advise people against assuming the “do what you love, the money will follow” advise is valid. It’s not. Marsha Sinitar was wrong. You need to go into business with the goal of reducing or eliminating a “pain” in your customers’ lives, whether they be businesses or individuals. Back in 1995, I wrote a startup manual which teaches entrepreneurs the startup secrets of the “Inc 500 Companies”. If you’d like a complimentary copy of The Smart Startup Guide, shoot me an email at

  12. Jeremy Heigh says:

    I’m with Peter and with Dave,Peter, I’m in an investment manager for a private capital fund, and I totally agree: solve a problem, cure a pain.But that principle isn’t exclusive of what Dave’s proposing. If I understand Dave and have a good sense of where he really shines – I think it’s interlacing passion with pain solutions. Look at the title of his blog – How to Save the World. It’s all about what you’ve described.When you threw up your comment, did you think it excluded Dave’s argument or complimented it?

  13. kerry says:

    Dave, I’m not at all sure why my RSS reader jumbles up the chronological order of your entries, unless its because some higher wisdom in the universe knows better than both you and I what I need to read on any given day *smile*The point is, I’ve just received notification of this post now, and it comes just a day after I threw logic to the wind and typed in “what is my next step?” into the Google bar. You know I’m not a new age flake, but sometimes I feel that an irrational side-step refreshes my creativity and loosens up my analytical mind. I do love your “trust your instincts” reminder on your blog. Research and planning is vital, but so is that intangible something called “gut feel”. Its the latter that entrepreneurs seem to have in abundance, don’t you think?

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