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Monetize Your Expertise Create Multiple Income Streams and Thrive
By Dorie Clark
Harvard Business Review Press Copyright © 2017 Dorie Clark
All rights reserved.
The Entrepreneurial Opportunity
I had made it. I was flying back from Asia in a business-class seat, stretched out and sipping a complimentary mimosa. I'd just earned $35,000 for two weeks of teaching at a university overseas. It was intensive — six hours in front of the classroom each day, all while fighting a bad cold. But the amount I earned in those two weeks nearly equaled my entire year's salary before starting my own business, as a marketing-strategy consultant, in 2006.
In the intervening decade, I'd discovered that entrepreneurship suited me. Within a year of launching my business, I was feeling fulfilled and earning six figures advising interesting clients like Google, Yale University, and the US National Park Service. Since then, I'd been growing my business slowly and steadily — my own vision of the good life.
But shortly after I walked off that flight from Asia, I received an email that made me wonder how well I was really doing after all. It was from my friend John Corcoran, an attorney and blogger in the San Francisco Bay Area who'd immersed himself over the past several years in online marketing. A few times a week, he'd send out helpful articles and other content to his email list, which I always enjoyed receiving.
That month, however, he'd also been promoting two digital courses created by some well-known leaders in the online marketing world. Corcoran had signed up as an "affiliate," and if his readers made a purchase, he'd get a commission. Affiliate marketing is a win-win, bringing in new customers and rewarding the person who does so at no cost to the customer. I had emailed him before my flight to find out how his promotion was going.
"I ended up converting 32 buyers," he wrote me. "That's about $28K in revenue for five or six emails, one blog post, and one video throughout the month. If I add in other blog- and pod-cast-related income, I probably earned about $33–34K related to my blog alone last month."
My jaw dropped. He added: "I didn't work any more hours last month than I did in previous months."
I had always thought of online marketing as something vaguely scammy — the world of Nigerian princes and spam emails hawking discounted Viagra. "MAKE MONEY ONLINE!" their messages would scream — and I'd hit delete. I'd written it off completely.
But Corcoran made me realize I'd been missing something huge. Online marketing done right didn't have to be exploitive or crass. And it could provide something powerful that I'd been lacking: a way to increase and diversify my revenue and minimize risk in my income stream. Yes, I was already working with multiple clients and doing various kinds of work — consulting, speaking, executive coaching, and business school teaching. But now I saw that I still wasn't diversified enough.
Most entrepreneurs focus too much on earning revenue from one or two activities (such as consulting and speaking) and overlook other opportunities that can help free them from trading time for dollars. Diversifying can simultaneously enable you to earn more and mitigate risk.
What's more, the opportunity isn't just for entrepreneurs: even if you currently work for an organization full-time and have no desire to become self-employed, developing entrepreneurial pursuits on the side can provide an additional income stream, as well as unexpected professional development opportunities.
Lenny Achan began his career as a nurse and worked his way up to becoming an administrator at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. But his career really took off when his supervisor discovered Achan had developed an app on the side. Achan was worried when he got called into his boss's office: Had he violated a policy he hadn't known about? Did they suspect he had been moonlighting on company time? As it turned out, his boss admired his initiative and promoted him to run social media — and eventually all communications — for the hospital.
Similarly, Bozi Dar — who was born in Serbia and now lives in the United States — has a traditionally successful career as a senior marketing executive for a Fortune 500 life sciences company. But he became fascinated by the possibilities of entrepreneurship, and in 2013, he also tried to build an app, which ended up costing him $45,000 in development fees. It never earned a profit, but he learned invaluable lessons in the process about marketing, sales, and business strategy. The next year, he tried a different tack: an online course about how to get promoted at your company.
Dar's course has been far more successful than his app, earning him $25,000 in its first year alone. But he's actually seen some of the biggest returns in his day job, where he says his ability to bring a background in "technology and digital is highly desirable. It enabled me to completely reinvent myself."
He considers himself an "intrapreneur," innovating inside his company, and he feels that continuing to operate in a large corporate environment, with its teams and budgetary resources, allows him to tackle "high-profile ideas that would be incredibly hard to work on as an entrepreneur." (You can read more about Dar's story and learn his tips for identifying your areas of expertise in the sidebar "Assessing Your Areas of Expertise," at the end of chapter 2.)
Whether we work for ourselves or for others, we all need to find ways to diversify our revenue streams. That allows us to hedge against uncertainty, increase our impact, and earn more.
In my previous books, Reinventing You and Stand Out, I focused on how to develop your personal brand and ensure your expertise is recognized in the marketplace. Now in Entrepreneurial You, I'll do what other recent books on career development don't: I'll show you how to make money in the uneasy economic environment in which we find ourselves today and create multiple, sustainable sources of income.
Many of the entrepreneurs profiled in this book work in the realm of marketing, leadership, and communications. That's the world I know best, and one that I believe is at the leading edge when it comes to reinventing career paths and creating new strategies for monetization. But there are also plenty of case studies here featuring talented entrepreneurs in food, fashion, personal finance, and more. Regardless of your field, the foundational principles I share apply broadly; my goal is for you to see yourself and find new possibilities in the stories, whatever your current field or profession. Please note that unless otherwise specified, all quotes in the book come from personal interviews I conducted.
Additionally, many of the case studies, especially later in the book, focus on online marketing. That's by design. Not everyone needs to become an online entrepreneur, and the early chapters of this book focus on decidedly analog activities like consulting, coaching, and professional speaking.
In much of Entrepreneurial You, however, you'll find a heavy dose of information about internet-based techniques, from pod-casting to blogging to online communities. That's because these are newer paths to monetization and therefore often the ones that talented professionals haven't yet explored or mastered. Even if you're not planning on diving into the online world yet, these techniques are worth learning about so you have more options for the future.
Whether you're a dedicated entrepreneur, a full- or part-time freelancer, or are hatching a sideline apart from your corporate job (and possibly planning your transition out of that job altogether), my hope and intention is for these pages to provide a blueprint for monetizing your expertise, both online and off.
It's all about learning how to amp up the earning potential of a "portfolio career."
Why We All Need Portfolio Careers
Common wisdom tells us that we should diversify our investment portfolios because it's foolish to put all our money in one stock. But we're far less careful on the other end. Too many of us rely on one employer for our entire sustenance, just as I once did.
Nearly fifteen years before that fateful flight back from Asia, I was fresh out of grad school and working as a political reporter at a weekly newspaper. Late one Monday afternoon, the human resources director called me into his office; I thought perhaps they were changing our dental plan. Instead, I got laid off, effective immediately — an early victim of the collapsing newspaper industry. HR gave me a box to pack up my desk and one week's severance pay. I had no idea how I was going to support myself. I had to move fast.
The next morning — September 11, 2001 — I woke up and flipped on the television. The day I needed to start looking for a job was the day America changed forever. Planes stopped flying, the stock market stopped trading, and absolutely no one wanted to hire an out-of-work reporter.
That's when I started to understand the precarious nature of relying on one revenue stream; it could all be taken away instantly. For months, I tried to get another job in journalism, but no one was hiring. I scraped by freelancing; in a good week, I could pull down $800, but more often I brought in half that amount. Finally, I landed a full-time job as the spokesperson on a gubernatorial campaign; I earned what felt like a princely $3,000 per month, until we lost in the primary. I freelanced for another six months until getting hired as the spokesperson on a presidential campaign, which we also lost.
No job, I realized, is secure. Yet working without a "guaranteed" salary still seemed frightening to me; I saw a lot more risks than opportunities. By then I'd run out of choices, however, so I unwillingly became part of the vanguard of entrepreneurs developing a portfolio career — piecing together freelance work and ultimately starting my own business with various revenue streams.
Today, after more than a decade as an entrepreneur, my opinion has reversed. I now believe it's far riskier not to be diversified; if you're relying on one paycheck from one employer, you may be courting disaster. The old model, the one that most of us grew up hearing about — "work hard, get a good job, and you'll be rewarded" — has changed. Hard work is still mandatory, but today, the work has shifted toward an ever more independent, work-from-wherever-you-are business economy. The very idea of what constitutes a career has transformed.
Why? Because technology and the global economy, among other forces, have triggered monumental changes in the world of work that will continue to multiply in the future. When I started my first job at the Boston weekly newspaper, I thought I'd be a journalist for the rest of my life. Back in 2000, newspapers were still extremely lucrative; they were rolling in advertising revenue. The online world was such a minor consideration that our newsroom made do with only one internet-connected computer. I had signed on to the industry at the exact moment it started its inexorable collapse, but I couldn't see it at the time. When it comes to identifying the precise tipping point of future trends, I doubt any of us can.
In recent years, technology-induced disruption has crushed a number of once-stalwart brands, from Circuit City to Blockbuster to Borders. Plus, there are a lot fewer jobs to go around these days. From 1948 to 2000, jobs grew 1.7 times faster than the population. But from 2000 to 2014, the population grew 2.4 times faster than jobs. The proportion of Americans in the workforce is now the lowest it has been in more than forty years. Competition for jobs is now global, and positions are harder to find.
Shorter job tenure and rapid turnover have also become the norm. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study tracking ten thousand individuals over more than thirty-five years shows that people held an average of eleven jobs — a number that may well be on the rise for younger employees.
At the same time, another trend has risen among US workers: a longing for more job satisfaction. A full 51 percent of US workers describe themselves as "not engaged" at work, and 17.5 percent say they're "actively disengaged." Clearly they're looking for more, both in terms of money — by some measures, wages have been stagnant literally since the 1970s — and personal fulfillment, including a quality of life that many believe comes with independent work.
In a survey of self-employed people, the majority cited flexibility as the chief benefit of their choice, and 50 percent said they wouldn't go back to working a traditional job, no matter how much it paid. No surprise, then, that 34 percent of US workers are currently freelancers, and a study by Intuit asserts that by 2020, that number will rise to 40 percent.
Clearly, if we're not entrepreneurs already, we all need to start thinking that way. Even if you're perfectly happy with your day job now, consider entrepreneurship as an insurance policy for your career, just as Bozi Dar did. Maybe you've wanted to start a food blog in your off-hours, or to offer personal or professional coaching to friends and acquaintances on the side. Perhaps you'd like to take on speaking gigs or organize a conference or event for like-minded people. Whatever form it takes, creating such "side streams" of income enables you to take more control of your career, your finances, and your life.
Today, I actually earn my living in seven entirely different ways: writing books, speaking, teaching business school, consulting, executive coaching, online courses, and — since that a-ha moment from my friend John Corcoran — affiliate income through my email list. If one of those avenues goes away, I have enough diversification that I don't have to worry. That's a far cry from my position at age twenty-two, when I woke up the day after my layoff wondering how I'd pay my bills.
I'm not the only one advocating the importance of multiple revenue streams. Alexandra Levit, author of six books, including They Don't Teach Corporate in College, told me in an interview, "I'm all about diversification in every area of my life. I've seen too many times where things that you think were going to be huge don't work out, and that can be really scary ... So I try to mitigate risk whenever I can. I hedge my bets, so if this doesn't work out, I've got three other things that probably will. If something falls through — and I've had that happen dozens of times, things that just completely imploded — I'm still doing OK."
Jenny Blake, a career and business strategist who is the author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, views her income streams as serving distinct purposes. In the early days of her career, she relied on one-on-one coaching to provide steady revenue — what she called her "bridge income" — while she built up her professional speaking business. Speaking was her true passion, but invitations were unpredictable and sporadic, so she felt it would be dangerous to rely on them exclusively. But balanced with her coaching, "they evened each other out," she says, and created a steadier income stream.
All of which is to say, enjoying the freedom and independence that comes with developing a portfolio career doesn't mean giving up income. As Levit, Blake, and countless others demonstrate, creating a portfolio career enables you to dramatically increase your earnings. This book will show you how.
You Don't Have to Trade Income for Freedom
It seems like poetic justice: the same internet technology that has caused so many workforce displacements (the decimation of newspapers, to name just one) also offers us more opportunities than ever to fulfill our unique visions as entrepreneurs. Today you can scale your efforts, skills, and expertise in unprecedented ways that give you choice in how you want to live your life.
If you'd like to live on a beach, you can now work in ways that are entirely location-independent. If you want to build a powerful platform and become internationally recognized, technology has made that goal more achievable than ever. If you'd like to spend more time with your kids, many successful entrepreneurs have leveraged the internet to do just that. Best of all, doing these things doesn't necessarily mean giving up income to gain the independence of an entrepreneurial existence.
These days, however, we need more than the magic of technology to experience the full economic potential of entrepreneurship. We need to think creatively about different ways to monetize our ideas or, as internet theorist David "Doc" Searls has noted, to shift from making money with something (such as when I was paid as a journalist to write articles) to making money because of something (when I began to write articles in order to attract speaking gigs — at ultimately far better pay than what I earned as a journalist). (Continues...)
Excerpted from Entrepreneurial you by Dorie Clark. Copyright © 2017 Dorie Clark. Excerpted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press.
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