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It’s Who You Know That Counts: The Importance of Learning by Example

My nephew Todd is about to wrap up his first year of college at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. On a recent trip home, I asked if he’d decided on a major yet. “Yup,” he replied confidently, “I’m gonna be a business major.” “That’s great!” I said, “You can become an entrepreneur!” “No way,” Todd said. I was stunned. “But, why not?” With great certainty Todd informed me that, “Most businesses fail.”

Now where would an eighteen-year-old kid come by such blatant misinformation about small businesses? It’s not like he grew up on reality television shows about eBay sellers trying to survive on deserted islands or videogames that pit small business owners against evil economic forces.

In the traditional job world, landing a plumb job often comes down to having “connections.” Of course “who you know” is helpful for self-employed folks too. But if you’re miserably stuck in your job-job, it’s who you DON’T know that can make the difference between a lifetime of enduring your work or relishing it. It suddenly hit me that the reason my young nephew is so down on going into business is that, like most people, he doesn’t hang out with people who have done it successfully.

Time for a little auntie-to-nephew chat… “You know, Todd, if you spent time around entrepreneurs like I do you’d see that there is an entire parallel universe out there of people who are making their living in ways that are fun, that contribute to the world, and that are far more financially rewarding than the vast majority of job-jobs.”

Todd definitely liked the idea of doing something “fun” and he was vaguely curious about how a job could help change the world. But it was that last comment – the one about making more money – that got his attention. “Like what?” Todd asked.

Understanding the value of learning by example, I rattled off a few of the folks that I “hang out” with. Each offer valuable lessons for us all.

Work Can Be Fun

Annamarie von Firley started wearing vintage clothing as a teenager and got hooked on the look. Today she spends her day in ways the average employed person only dreams about. Annamarie’s five-person company, reVamp ( designs, makes, and sells historically accurate clothing. How fun is that?

Proving once again that multiple profit centers are the way to go, reVamp runs weekly fashion shows and offers “vintage immersion classes.” Los Angeles-area vintage buffs and others can sign up to learn about such fun topics as vintage make-up and hair styles, advanced apron making, and 16th and 17th century cosmetic preparations taught by, get this, a make-up historian. Who knew?!

Making a Living by Making a Difference

Another business that’s sure to inspire my college-bound nephew is Mercado Global ( In 2003 while they were still students at Yale, Benita Singh and Ruth DeGolia spent nine months in the western highlands of Guatemala. They fell in love with the beautiful handicrafts made by the local women. Before returning home with a suitcase full of samples, they made a plan to sell to the U.S. market by linking up with local women’s cooperatives.

Back on campus the two students managed to sell all of the items they’d brought back at a 300 percent profit. A year later they started Mercado Global and soon thereafter launched its first catalog featuring products from 14 community cooperatives. Their first-year profit was $75,000. The second year it was $600,000.

But the real success of this business can not be measured in dollars. Ninety percent of the profits go back to the local community. In its first year, sales from Mercado Global provided fair wages to 178 cooperative members across Guatemala with enough additional revenues to send upwards of 100 of their children to primary school for one year.

Knowledge Equals Money, Selling Knowledge Equals Lots of Money

Another “under the radar screen” business that gets surprisingly little press in the mainstream media is information products. The great thing about selling information products is you keep your day job while you grow your business on the side. Last week I told Fast Track Your Dreams Community about a guy named Andrew who is doing just that.

Andrew is a veterinarian who wrote a little eBook that teaches people how to care for their ailing dogs and cats. Over time he was able to get sales up to a pretty steady $1,000 to $1,500 a month. Not bad when you consider that he was only charging somewhere around $27.

A lot of people would be happy with an extra $12,000-$15,000 a year in “passive income.” But Andrew had read all the statistics about the size of the pet market in the U.S. All he had to do was find a better way to tap it. So, he did what smart business people do. They find other business people who have “cracked the code” and they learn from them.

Andrew used a small portion of his profits to invest in a self-study program that taught him how to expand his product by simply by asking his customers what they wanted. Once he’d created a higher priced product, he also learned from this same program how to more effectively locate and sell to the people eager to buy what he has to sell. In just two weeks he made $59,400 in sales.

The great thing about entrepreneurs is that they learn from failure but positively feed off of success. Building on that momentum Andrew went on to create a membership site that is now generating approximately $10,000 a month. Right now he’s looking at earning somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 in 2007. I’ll be meeting Andrew and other successful information marketers in person at the big Product Launch Formula seminar later this month in Denver.

Not surprisingly, I’m pretty sure the seminar already sold out. But if you recognize the power of learning by example, you can still sign up to learn more about Andrew’s big success by going to And, if you think you’re ready to make a serious investment in your business, that’s also where you can check there to see if any new seminar slots have opened up.

I know I opened Todd’s eyes. You probably don’t need convincing as much as you do insight and information. Fortunately, each one of these entrepreneur’s stories offers lessons for the aspiring self-bosser:

From Annamarie we once again learn that there are an infinite number of fun ways to turn your interests into income. Ruth and Benita provide an inspiring reminder that you really can turn your values into your vocation. And from Andrew we see how a relatively small investment in your education can pay you back many times over.

I’ve got four years to work on my nephew before he ventures out into the wide world of work. But if you want to be a member of the joyfully jobless club sooner than that, you absolutely positively need to start paying attention to the people who have already arrived.

There are lots of ways to “hang out” with entrepreneurs. You can start subscribing to magazines like Entrepreneur or to one of the thousands of passion-specific publications like Atomic Magazine, billed as “The Essential Guide to the Retro Revival,” Toy Soldier and Model Figure and In-Fisherman magazine.

And, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have your own business to join your local Chamber of Commerce or attend their various networking meetings. It costs nothing to do what Barbara Winter and I do and “grill” every interesting entrepreneur we come into contact with.

I’ve been self-employed for going on a dozen years now and I still get jazzed hearing about regular people who have found interesting ways to work for themselves. Apparently I’m not alone. Year after year, one of highest rates segments of the Work at What You Love workshop is the panel of local entrepreneurs sharing their stories.

For others the sheer energy of being in a room full of people or otherwise part of a community who are as excited about the prospect of making a living without a j-o-b as they are enough to get the entrepreneurial ball rolling. After all, when it comes to being a successful self-bosser – it’s all about who you know!

p.s. Finally a bit of good news about today’s youth. According to Junior Achievement (, in 2006 a whopping 71 percent of kids aged 13 to 18 said they would like to become entrepreneurs. And between 1995 and 2006, the number of kids in this same age-range who participated in programs offered by The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship ( jumped from 2,600 to 15,970. I can’t wait to tell my nephew!


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