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Don't Know Where to Begin?
Fortunately You're Not Alone

By Valerie Young

You have an idea to make money doing what you love. You even have the talent and drive to make it happen. There's just one problem. You don't know where to begin. Not knowing how to successfully launch a business idea is one of my favorite kinds of problems, because it's usually one of easiest ones to solve.

But that's certainly not how it feels – especially if your passion is a little off the beaten path. To his delight, Christopher has discovered he has the unique "ability to show self-improvement ideas in a single-cartoon strip." Adding, "Nothing gets me more excited when I come up with an idea that is universal. Like a mirror to us all yet on paper."

Christopher gets most of his ideas through the tried and true method of observation. His first "office" was the local Starbucks in Las Vegas. In the beginning, he concentrated on sharpening his drawing technique. But when he started tuning into the other patrons, Christopher says he began to see in their every day actions "a global truth that came to me in the form of a cartoon" prompting him to "draw idea after idea." The fact that so many strangers expressed interest in his work was encouraging. But he was also frustrated because he didn't have the money he needed to "get this thing going."

Christopher continued barely getting by at jobs he disliked and drawing cartoons on his time off. During this time, he moved to Arizona and the same thing happened, "I was getting more attention and results. Teachers, photographers, kids... anyone who saw me was curious and I felt this could not be a coincidence. I knew I was close and on to something, but I just couldn't seem to get 'there'."

When Christopher moved back to his home in Toulouse France he didn't draw for a year. Recently the cartoon bug bit again and as did his commitment to find a way to sell his cartoons. There is just one little problem. Christopher doesn't know where to begin.

Change the Question

Of course Christopher doesn't know where to begin. Why would he? It's not like they teach this stuff in school! So where does Christopher, or anyone who has a dream but no roadmap, begin? To start, you have to ask the right question. Simply changing the question from "Where do I begin?" to "Who knows how to begin?" shifts the focus from what you don't know to finding the people who do.

Fortunately Christopher is not alone in his pursuit of a career as a paid cartoonist. I'm not talking here about all of the other aspiring cartoonists who are also wondering where to begin. What I'm saying is there are people who are living Christopher's dream right this very minute. And what better place to turn to for directions than from someone who has already reached your desired destination.

The first person I thought of was Scott Adams, developer of the office-lampooning cartoon Dilbert. Proving that there really are some universal truths, today Adams' strip appears in over 2,000 newspapers in 65 countries, his 22 Dilbert books have sold a combined total of over 10 million copies, and he's written four best selling original books including The Dilbert Principle and Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook - both of which were #1 New York Times Best Sellers.

Adams' dream started like all dreams – one step at a time. If Christopher feels discouraged at the slow pace of his own cartooning career, all he has to do is click on the News and History link at Dilbert.com and he'll learn that Adams spent six years at his day job while working at his comic strip mornings, evenings and weekends. (As I thought about Christopher's concern that he didn't have the money to "get this thing going" I couldn't help but notice that what enabled Adams' success was not money but the willingness to put in the time).

Even though all that hard work paid off, it was not without its disappointments. Proving once again that failure is a bump in the road and not the end of the road, Adams even includes the actual rejection letters he received from a long list of top syndication companies. But here's the best part. From the "About Scott Adams" page Christopher will find a link that says How to Become a Cartoonist. What could be better than getting free step-by-step advice from one of the most successful cartoonists of our time?!

In addition to specific book recommendations for the aspiring cartoonist, he'll find links to such invaluable resources The National Cartoonist Society (NCS) (Reuben.org). To be a member, you have to earn the majority of your income from cartooning. But the site features yet another resource called "How to Become a Cartoonist." This one is from Dik Browne, creator of the lovable Viking cartoon Hagar Horrible appearing in over 1,900 newspapers in 58 countries and in 13 languages. So in about three minutes I managed to find not one but two cartoonists at the top of their game who have actually posted their answers to the question "Where do I begin?"

But what if Adams and Browne weren't quite so generous with their advice? In the absence of clearly recognized stars like Adams and Browne, finding information about a career in cartooning is as simple as doing an online search for "how to become a cartoonist," or "how to become a syndicated cartoonist" or "resources for cartoonists." One of the best resources out there is the FabJob Guide to Becoming a cartoonist which gives you "everything you need to know to break into this competitive career and sell your work."  (ChangingCourse.com/recommends/fabjob)

Whittier College Career Services offers a very informative article on cartooning that includes for example, information about how much cartoonists earn (between $20,000 and $1 million a year – go for the later) depending on how many newspapers syndicate the cartoon and how products are made from your characters as well as how to submit your work to a syndicate and where to find them (Whittier.edu/career/guide/art/cartoonist.htm).

Benchmark Success

Unless you're charting entirely virgin territory (and remember best ideas are often not new ones), you can almost always find people out there who know more than you do. Begin by "benchmarking" similar businesses as a point of reference or something from which to measure, compare, or evaluate. Businesses who want to be successful will often benchmark successful competitors and then try to copy what they're doing right.

Let's say you want to start a mobile bookkeeping business that caters to home-based businesses but don't have any idea what to charge. Again make sure you're asking the right question. Instead of "How much should I charge?" try asking "What are other mobile bookkeepers charging home businesses to reconcile their books?"

If you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma you can still benchmark how a bookkeeper in New York or Toronto presents their services to potential clients. But since hourly rates are likely to be much higher in large metropolitan areas to answer the question "what do I charge" you'll want to search for businesses in comparable sized markets in your region.

There will always be things you don't know how do. That's why Woodrow Wilson once said, "I use not only all the brains I have but all that I can borrow." Instead of letting a lack of information stop you in your tracks change the question from "how" to "who" and see what happens. As you seek to change course remember, you may not always have the answer but fortunately someone does. Your job is to find them and ask.

 

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About the Author

"Profiting From Your Passions®" expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at ChangingCourse.com offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger's, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman's Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and iVillage.com. An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.

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