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Monetizing a Career as a Full-Time Expert

Few human norms change as dynamically as career-advice. The original ‘Farm with your father’ fallback that lasted for centuries morphed over time into ‘get a trade,’ which then became ‘enter the military or priesthood,’ which transitioned into the corporate job-for-life model, which is now lying in a ditch dying and jerking at the leg.

Viewed from 20 000 feet, career advice changes dramatically over time. Yet, viewed from within the stream of daily life, which is how we all must consider our options, a change in the fundamental nature of work seems unnatural. It feels strange and threatening. I must be doing it wrong because my parents didn’t do it that way. 

In fact, parents are worst plagued by this dynamic. Desperately wanting their children to take their careers seriously, they tend to mistakenly urge them to take it seriously in the same way that they did. Yet, to emulate them is to prepare for an obsolete yesterday.

Today, we tend to describe the prevailing mode as ‘knowledge work,’ and we sometimes call ours ‘the Talent economy.’

Interestingly, most people still view this shift within the paradigm of full-time employment, ala: ‘I will work for a boss, for a period of 3-5 years, within a constantly changing knowledge and talent economy.’

There is an alternative. It’s an emerging career-trend that many established workers will find very strange indeed: The full-time expert.

It is entirely viable, and often quite lucrative, to fashion a career as a self-employed topic-matter expert; to own a niche and sell content based upon it. As working models go, it’s not even all that difficult to monetize.

Let’s begin by clarifying the idea. Here, for the sake of contrast, is the old way of thinking about an expert:

‘John specializes in clever study techniques. He teaches students how to study.’ 

John has developed expertise and is now applying it directly, one customer at a time. Not a recipe for million-Rand turnover, is it?

Here is the new approach:

‘John specializes in clever study techniques. He has written books on the topic, developed video and audio programmes, which he sells, hosts public seminars and boot camps, and speaks and trains on the topic for large, paying audiences.’ 

John is a multi-millionaire. He has found multiple channels through which to monetize his topic-matter expertise.

Brendan Burchard was arguably the first person to write about the concept of a ‘full-time, freelance expert.’ At the time, it was more common to think of oneself as, say, a professional speaker, or a writer, or a trainer, or teacher, or producer of saleable content. These were all separate entities; separate vocations.

The new expert model combines them all, and urges the practitioner to find ways to multiply the number of paying customers.

The idea still hasn’t really become mainstream. That said, there are many hundreds of thousands of people doing precisely what Burchard advocated in his book, ‘The Millionaire Messenger.’

A full-time professional needs a number of things in order to succeed:

1. Guts and Drive

As models go, this one is new and scary. Your parents didn’t do it this way. There are not many road maps. It will require significant courage on your part to wade out into these waters and forge a career out of nothing but a few core ideas and the hope that people need them. And it will take drive to keep going when times are tough. Yet there are many sub-sets of skills that you can learn and research; public speaking; writing, PR and more.

2. Saleable Content

You need to be good at something that improves the lives of others. Human beings, in relatively large numbers, must want what you can teach them. Learn or develop something that improves the condition of others, and you are on the right track. The simplest and perhaps most obvious example of such topic matter might be Sales, Leadership and Financial Advice. These are big (albeit saturated) markets, and people need these skills. However, you can be much less obvious. There are experts in the US who focus on topics like ‘Military Separation Anxiety for the Families of Officers.’

3. Followers

Seth Goden calls them ‘Tribes,’ and they are an expert’s life-blood. These are the people who like what you say, buy what you sell, recommend you to others, and can’t wait for you to produce more of what you do so that they can buy that too. Naturally, followers must be created. You have to rise to a level of prominence, and offer a level of value, that compels people to follow you.

4. Multiple Media for your Message

Think of yourself as part of a diagram. Your attractive face is floating in the center of a white page. Beneath your smiling mug is the word ‘Expert.’ Flowing out from you, like a MindMap, are labels like: Writer, Speaker, Media Personality, Trainer, Coach, Producer of Audio Programmes, Presenter of Video Shows, Creator of How-To Guides, Author of Manuals,’ and so on.

Essentially, the more lines you have, the greater your total chances of financial survival. Perhaps one line doesn’t take off (“I’m never going to sell these audio CD’s!”), while another does (“I can’t believe the rate at which people buy my branded coffee mugs!”).

5. Platforms for Publicity

The Expert industry relies heavily on marketing and PR. The upside is that the start-up costs can be relatively low. The pay-off is that you live and die by publicity.

Experts generally give away part of their content for free. They do this on platforms such as radio, TV and in print and social media. All of their PR ultimately builds their profile, which leads to bookings and sales; Bookings to speak and train, and sales of products. The formula is essentially ‘Here are some free, useful ideas. Now come and buy more.’

6. The Ability to Keep on Producing

Tribes who buy into what you sell will tend to buy everything that you produce. For that reason, full-time experts need to be able to continually produce valuable content, exploring new avenues of their topic matter and sharing new ideas, almost in perpetuity.

A full-time expert is a professional speaker. But he is also an author. And a trainer, writer, content producer and seminar-leader. The full-time expert essentially says, “I will study the problem that you face, generate ideas, and sell them to you in multiple formats.” It’s the art of solving problems for your clients, without having to rent large buildings down-town.

 

Douglas Kruger is the author of ‘Own Your Industry – How to Position Yourself as an Expert,’ published by Penguin in 2014. He is also a 5x winner of the Southern African Championships for Public Speaking. Meet him at www.douglaskruger.co.za. Email kruger@compute.co.za, or connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter: @douglaskruger.