Want to dabble in stocks and shares but don't know where to begin? Get coached, advises Alison Brace.Be honest. Playing the stock market is not a hobby to be entered into lightly. Firstly, you must have cash and time to spare. And who has got either of those?
Nipping out of Year 5's maths class to check on your investment portfolio is not an option, and yelling "Sell! Sell! Sell!" down the phone at lunchtime won't endear you to your colleagues.
But, let's say you are a hardy type who has a little cash tucked away and are not averse to risk, then - and only then - might you consider having a little fun with stocks and shares.
If your investments pay off, you could make far more money than in any deposit account. If they don't, you could be crying all the way to the bank.
For the best advice, we turn to trader-turned-teacher Greg Secker. He is behind Traders University, which teaches people the financial skills they need to trade on the stock market - and keep losses to a minimum.
"Learning to trade and invest is like learning to drive a car," says Greg, 32. "You need someone to teach you, to hold your hand initially. If you don't, then it's like someone being given an expensive tool kit and let loose on fine-tuning a Formula One car."
Greg discovered the ordinary Joe's appetite for trader training when he quit his job in investment banking and started trading at home. Soon he was giving lessons, and five years ago he set up Knowledge To Action, which runs stock market coaching courses, and Traders University. Since then, 50,000 people have attended his seminars and 5,000 have taken the six-month course, which costs pound;2,000.
"Ninety per cent of people who come to our seminars are in full-time work," says Greg. "We get loads of teachers and other public sector workers who feel they are not earning enough."
In 1998, there were about 400,000 active investors making a second income from the stock market. Now there are close to 2.5 million.
This, says Greg, is largely because the bottom has fallen out of the buy-to-let market and people are looking for a higher-yield second income stream.
Just as importantly, investors can now speculate on stocks going up and down, instead of buying the shares. Known as spread betting, it's like placing a bet on the horses. And like betting in sport, your gains are tax free.
You can play the stock market with as little as pound;500 in a trading account, instead of the serious money which used to be needed to buy shares.
"Most people come in to this thinking, 'How much money can I make?' when what they should really be asking is, 'How much money can I afford to lose'?" says Greg. "Instead of running after money, the primary objective of our courses is not to make a profit, but to break even." If you learn to preserve the capital, the profits will take care of themselves, he says.
Having these skills will also place you in the top 10 per cent of investors - otherwise, he says, you fall in to the gambler mindset.
"The big problem is that most people do not understand risk management," says Greg. The answer is to never risk more than 1 per cent of your capital.
The Traders University, in its two-day immersion course, hammers home the strategies that ensure prudence.
"Anyone can do it," says Greg. And it can be a part-time hobby. Automated trading systems do the work while you're doing yours. Thirty minutes a day online will ensure you keep abreast of your investments.
Mark Walas, a businessman who works part-time in schools for the charity Business Dynamics, took the course last year. "It is not totally easy, but it is logical and you can apply the rules. As long as you do, it works," says Mark, who is making between 6 and 8 per cent profit on his initial pound;5,000 trading account every month.
Of course, when you decide to trade there's the lingo to master. Such as: buy low, sell high ... and a fool and his money are soon parted.
Enter the stock market with caution.
For details of free introductory seminars coming up in Birmingham, Cardiff, Dublin, Glasgow, London, Gatwick and Manchester, visit www.knowledgetoaction.co.uk or telephone 08707 665 234.