How to Make a Small Fortune

Last Updated Oct 5, 2011 12:37 PM EDT

How do you make a small fortune? Start with a large fortune and then open a winery.

I know, old joke, but one that, sadly, applies to a few people I know.
Each entered the wine industry for different reasons. One dreamed of striding proudly onto stages to accept awards. Another fell in love with the idea of watching the sun set as he strolled through his vineyards on cool fall evenings. A third hoped owning a winery would launch him into rarefied social circles.

Great, but what was missing? Ambitions and dreams and passions are important, but a winery is a business -- a very tough business. Awards are gratifying but only marginally impact sales. Beautiful sunsets don't produce better wines. And maintaining social connections often costs more than those connections return, no matter how seductively impetuous the Bordeaux. A winery has to turn a profit.

Otherwise a large fortune or a large amount of borrowed capital (or both -- ask Pat Kluge), will quickly turn into a small fortune.

You may be thinking: "Okay... but none of this applies to me. I don't have a large fortune."

Yes, in fact, you do.

Even if you have limited funds you're still rich in skills and experience. You're still rich in passion and creativity and drive. You've worked hard to amass the qualities that create your personal fortune.

But here's the problem. For most of us, the fortunes we possess are mostly non-monetary. Yet we're conditioned to think of wealth in terms of money. So we're all reasonably good at recognizing when we waste money -- but we're often terrible at realizing when we waste our personal fortunes.

Take a look at ways you're squandering yours. You may be wasting:

  • Time. Today is the most precious commodity you have. Once today is gone, it's gone forever. Are you squeezing every last drop out of today?
  • Skills. It's easy to assume that achievement is determined by innate qualities or talents; that's hardly the case. Skill isn't an end result; skill is a process. What have you stopped trying to achieve simply because you've run into what seems like a dead end but is really just an obstacle?
  • Experience. Say you start a new job in a new industry; it's easy to assume your past experience won't apply. You're wrong: Sales skills are useful in any position. You can leverage your current network and quickly build a powerful new network. Leadership skills are instantly transferable. Experience doesn't come easy; are you wasting what you've learned?
  • Effort. Most habits are developed unconsciously, including the habit of stopping. We all have internal limiters that tell us we've done "enough." But "enough" is an artificial constraint and a barrier to success you can easily reset. There is a definite link between achievement and effort; are you artificially limiting the effort you could put into achieving your goals?
Your large fortune -- your knowledge, skills, experience, and unique perspective -- is precious. Why? It's you. Aside from family, that's the most important thing you possess.

Don't turn it into a small fortune.

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Photo courtesy flickr user Mikyl Roventine, CC 2.0
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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.