Have you heard the story about that entrepreneur who threw caution to the wind, risked everything, and defied the odds in order to live the dream?

Probably, because those kinds of stories grace the cover of every business magazine. However, we often suffer from survivorship bias when celebrating these tales of entrepreneurial success. We don't tell stories of entrepreneurs who wrecked their ship on the very first day of their journey. Unfortunately, those stories are much more common.

If your goal is to build a good income, and ultimately a resilient career, there is a better strategy to pursue than quitting your job and jumping into the entrepreneurial deep end. After a career scare during the financial crisis of the late 2000s, Patrick McGinnis decided that he was tired of allowing some cubicle dweller in a corporate headquarters a few hundred miles away to have total sway over his livelihood. However, rather than quitting his job, he decided to moonlight as an entrepreneur as a way to dip his toe in the water.

"I suffered through the financial crisis of 2008, and I realized that I'd never done anything to diversify my career," he told me. "I decided I was going to do two things: diversify my work, and have a real connection between the work that I did and the outcomes of that work." This led him to begin experimenting with entrepreneurial freelancing as a way to gain equity in startups, and grow his network.

He called this being a "10 percent entrepreneur." As he defines it, "This is someone who spends 10 percent of their time, and if possible 10 percent of their capital, investing, advising, and getting involved with entrepreneurial ventures." Rather than simply trading time for money on the side, as many freelancers do, he instead advises them to offer their help and services in exchange for a small ownership stake in a business. This allows them to begin to grow a portfolio of assets on the side that could eventually grow into something far more substantial. Eventually, their portfolio could even replace their income.

Of course, it's key that you make smart "side bets," which is why McGinnis advises that you let your network know the kinds of opportunities you are looking for. "The best way to start is to make a plan. Figure out the resources you have in terms of time and energy and do a deep dive on what you're really good at and what you enjoy doing." He advises that you take a weekend to list all of your valuable skills and areas where you could be of help to a budding business, and then approach 10 people you think might have inroads with entrepreneurs and who could make an introduction. Only a few might actually bring you projects, but that's OK. Starting small is the best strategy.

What skills could you offer a business in exchange for a small ownership stake? Or, how could you use a small part of your existing resources to begin making little investments in early stage startups? By building a portfolio of small entrepreneurial bets, instead of risking everything on a big one, you can build a more resilient livelihood, develop your skills in a new environment, and eventually--if you make the right investments--leap out into the entrepreneurial life full-time.

Published on: Feb 27, 2017
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