The summer of 2010 I was in one of Come Boating’s pilot gigs with a men’s crew. We were chatting and adjusting foot braces. Someone made a joke about retirement and another joined in, saying how that wasn’t ever going to happen for him. I was thinking about how far-fetched the idea of retirement was when Roy quietly stated, “I’ll be retiring in three years.” That stopped me in my tracks. All of the six rowers on the boat were self-employed. Most of us built houses. There was an impressive amount of skill on that boat. Roy was neither the most talented nor the most experienced. What Roy had that the rest of us lacked was a plan.

Here’s a ridiculous truth. I had never paid attention to or had the slightest interest in considering what I did, building and restoring houses, as a business. If anything, I felt an air of superiority in my lack of interest in the business world. That day on the boat I woke up to the fact that you could be passionate about your craft and smart about it, too. The two weren’t mutually exclusive traits. I decided to look for a business class and found one almost immediately. It was called Incubator Without Walls (IWW) and was run by The Downeast Business Alliance through Waldo Hancock Community Action. Over the course of six months the 12 of us in the class met with our facilitator once every two weeks. Most weeks featured a guest speaker. Folks who shared their expertise in things such as the legalities of self-employment, marketing, and communication with clients. My fellow classmates were all self-employed, or hoped to be. Their input and experience was every bit as valuable as the weekly guests. This free class was quite literally the most valuable educational experience I’ve taken part in. A year or so after graduation, I was lucky enough to be invited back to take part in an advanced IWW class. Around the same time, I took additional business classes, one called The Hatchery, and another focused on Facebook for business.

Making the mental shift to thinking of my work as a business has been nothing but positive. I will not corner you at a party and drone on about my business plan or QuickBooks. I’m still me and I still have no interest in those things. What I will preach about is that paying attention to what you do is important if you want to do it well. That having a plan is a good thing. If you’re able to learn online you’ll find free classes available on all aspects of business. A few local options for business help include New Ventures Maine, SCORE, and Maine Stream Finance.