The past year has been horrific with so many families affected by tragic loss. And while the grieving continues there seem to be some bright spots on the horizon. As we tentatively venture back into work and social venues, a question arises as to how far things will return to what we once referred to as "normal."
An even deeper question worth considering is this: Do I even want to go back to doing what I was doing pre-Covid?
Changes in the professional and economic landscape over the last few years have created tremendous opportunities for income generation outside the confines of a traditional job. And not just new means for making money but on terms far more preferable for personal fulfillment.
In this article I'll discuss three of these possibilities.
But first, a few caveats.
What I discuss below is not for everyone. If you prefer the relatively stable structure of a traditional job with fixed compensation, covered healthcare benefits, and the consistency of doing similar work each day - then by all means, stick with what works for you!
On the other hand, if you'd like to completely own the output and results of your creativity, time, and effort - then read on.
I believe the best place to work is in the intersection between what you're good at (your skills), what you enjoy doing (your passions), and what people will pay for (market needs). Getting paid to do work you like for which you have unique talent is incredibly rewarding.
And while many roads may lead to that end, I'm partial to those that meet the following criteria:
- Low risk
- Easy and inexpensive to start
- Short time to profitability
- Can be proven on a small-scale while you're still working for someone else
With that as our starting point, let's consider the following three income opportunities that can replace, and substantially outshine, a traditional job.
Coaching / Consulting
This isn't the most glamorous of the three I'll be discussing, nor the most scalable, but it is the most common. Using your skills and experience to help others (individuals, groups, or organizations).
There are thousands of areas ripe for coaching or consulting — everything from leading sprint workshops to boosting self-esteem. While I won't be going into detail here, if you get stuck coming up with a good fit for you, just reach out to me.
You may be thinking: "But how do I get started? I don't have any client history. Who would hire me?"
The key to getting started as a coach or a consultant is by making an offer that can't be refused. Without devaluing yourself.
Find a person (or company) that can greatly benefit from your service. Make it clear you have the skills and experience to deliver. Tell them that while your normal rate is X, you are offering to lead a small project on your nickel to showcase your talents. And at the end of the initial project, once they are truly impressed, then you'll easily nab the large project at your normal rate.
Basically you're making it a no-brainer for them. Then your job is to blow them away.
If your work is good, then at the very least you should be able to get a testimonial from the client - in addition to being able to use the work you did as a case study.
If you like interacting with people and helping others move through hurdles that are no big deal for you, then you may find this line of work to be rewarding on multiple levels.
The downside is twofold. One is the lack of scalability. Because every dollar earned requires your time. The second drawback is that you need to keep feeding your book of business. If you are good at what you do, this isn't much of a problem since referrals will likely drive more business than you can handle.
The upside is large, including income oftentimes 1.5-2x traditional-job salary, nearly all work-related expenses tax deductible, and having immediate impact on people and/or organizations.
But is there a way we can do work just once and then have it scale to the masses?
Which is what leads to our next two opportunities.
Developing Digital Products
A digital product is something that can be developed and sold online, typically an e-book or a course.
But you don't need to be a JK Rowling, Malcolm Gladwell, or Sal Khan to produce content people will pay for. The key is developing something that can help people in an area they care about, such as making money, improving health, becoming happier, enhancing relationships, learning a critical skill, solving some compelling pain point, and so forth.
Doesn't matter if you produce a substantive product like an e-book or course or something as simple as a PDF document, slide deck, audio track, spreadsheet template, or even short video recordings teaching others how to use an in-demand product you love. All that matters is the impact it can have on people who care.
If enough people care (and there are a lot of people out there) and your content is truly helpful, then you've got something that can be sold over and over and over.
Once you've got the product, the how of selling it is easy. Whether that's on your own website, through Amazon, or any other of a host of options - the ability to collect payment for digital products is very simple. And in many cases the entirety of each sale is yours less a small credit card transaction fee (2.9% plus $0.30).
So if you've got a $29 digital good that helps people in an area they really care about, there are plenty of people who would buy that. You could also consider a second price point - say $59 - in which people get the digital asset as well as the ability to attend a special Zoom session with you to hear your insights on the topic.
The sky's the limit as far as packaging options and pricing are concerned. And don't let my $29/$59 example anchor you in any way. There are plenty of successful "simple" digital products selling for far more than that. Again, what matters most is the impact it has on others who care - nothing else.
While making and selling digital products can be incredibly fun and lucrative - and tons of people bring in six-figure incomes using this strategy - you don't get too much interaction with your customers. Even with an add-on option of Zoom sessions or webinars, your interaction with others is generally one-time transactional.
So if you value the human element and interpersonal dynamics of engaging with others, then consider what I believe to be the most rewarding of all - building a community.
Building a Community
A community is a group of like-minded people who've come together around you and your subject area(s). On some periodic basis (ideally weekly or daily) you produce content (typically an article) on a topic your audience cares about. The more niche your group and tangibly valuable your content - the better.
And just like digital products, the more your content addresses compelling pain points or opportunities for your audience, the better. It makes no difference whether you write about politics, local news, religion / spirituality, habits, productivity, specific hobbies, investing, education, parenting, child care, exercise, meditation, yoga, specific technologies, personal growth / transformation, leadership, etc. All that matters is that (1) your audience deeply cares and (2) it helps them in some tangible way.
There is so much noise (meaning crappy, unhelpful content) out there. So if you can be a voice that cuts through the noise, you will get noticed.
You need to make it very easy for your content to be shared and subscribed. Which is very simple with your own website. And it takes no more than thirty minutes (with zero coding skills required) to have your own website up and running on free open-source platforms such as Ghost or Wordpress.
The most important aspect of building a community is consistently producing valuable content for your audience. And as noted earlier, weekly is a good cadence. Some people produce daily, but that is very, very hard to deliver consistently. At the other end, if you go longer than once per week, you run the risk of your community forgetting about you.
So, how do you actually make money from a community?
By intentionally and consistently providing value. Here's how it works:
People sign up to your community by subscribing - which means they give you their email address. And each week you reinforce their trust in you by delivering something of value. There is no fixed definition of what that "something of value" looks like. But a good rule of thumb is this: when a community member consumes your weekly outreach they are left with this thought: "Wow, that was really helpful!" And they are likely inspired to take some action.
You do this same thing week after week after week.
And now that you've been delivering this helpful, free content over and over - your audience comes to see you as a leading, trusted voice on these topics. Which is what you are.
So now you have several options. One is to create a digital product (as described in the prior section) and offer that to your community. This digital product can even be a PDF compilation of your best content to date - content your audience has already read! But because you are now this respected voice, and because your community would love to find ways to reciprocate the value you've been providing them - they will be eager to purchase the products you produce.
Another option is to offer a subscription service where members pay you a monthly fee such as $15/mo. Which means that you keep producing free content each week, but these premium subscribers get some additional benefits. That might be other content that no one else gets. It might be private Zoom sessions with you or any other such "special" interactions that the non-premium members do not receive.
While these are just two examples, there are many ways to monetize your community. A really, really rough rule of thumb is this: your community is worth about $1/email/month. In other words, if you have 8,000 people on your email list, then you should be able to generate a regular income of $8,000 per month from that community.
And if you commit to the principle I noted earlier of consistently producing valuable content, then building a community of 8,000 people won't take much time at all.
The other reason I love community development so much is that your human interactions are pretty much daily. People reaching out with questions for which you can help. Comments on ways that your content has helped others. People offering ideas for new content they'd like to see. And so forth.
Each week you are writing on topics for which you are passionate, in a way that can help others. And you are building a business around that model. It's hard not to find that incredibly rewarding and inspiring.
So there you have it - three ways to escape the traditional job model and build more of the life you want.
While these aren't the only options, they are certainly ones worth considering.
Other Income Channels
There are many other income channels that can supplant a traditional job and provide richly rewarding experiences. A few that are near-and-dear to me include building (or working for) a startup, developing physical products, building apps, stock market trading, and startup investing.
But as much as I like these other income channels, they don't meet the criteria we discussed earlier of being low risk, easy & inexpensive to start, short time to profitability, and something you can start on the side.
We're in a new world. New norms are being written daily. The nature - and very fabric - of traditional work has changed.
If you are considering something new - an alternative to the traditional job - where instead you own the output of your work, your creativity, your time - then some of these options might appeal to you.
Coaching / Consulting, developing digital products, and building a community are all things you can explore and dip your toe in with low risk. You have unique skills and a unique voice. You can either use those to do what you've always done, or consider leveraging them to have far greater impact.
Wishing you much success on your path.