As a small business owner or entrepreneur, the lessons you learn are valuable. Not only will those lessons help you succeed in your core business, but that expertise has value for your peers. Sharing your expertise and becoming a thought leader in your industry can help you to attract new customers and develop lucrative, long-term business relationships.
Beyond that, however, your expertise can also be utilized as a separate revenue stream in its own right. In 2008, the folks at software company 37signals announced that they had turned their expertise into revenue streams worth more than three quarters of a million dollars in just a couple of years. Here are five ways that you can follow in their footsteps and leverage your existing expertise too.
You may already have an email newsletter, and it’s probably a great tool for customer retention. There’s a lot of value in being able to reach out to customers with news about your products or services, offer discounts and provide value-added content that keeps people interested. But have you considered offering a more premium, paid newsletter? Whatever your business, you likely have expertise that people will be willing to pay for. Restaurants could offer a monthly newsletter with recipes using seasonal foods, for example, or a gym could offer a weekly newsletter with exercises and tips on staying healthy.
TinyLetter and letter.ly are two new services that allow you to quickly and easily create and sell subscription-based e-mail newsletter.
The lessons and skills you’ve acquired over the course of building a successful business have immense value to your peers. People will pay for that knowledge if you offer it via a consulting service. While many startups are bootstrapped using funds raised by consulting gigs, it’s unlikely that as a busy small business owner you’ll have the time to put hours into consulting. Still, by setting aside a few hours each week or taking on a couple of consulting clients, you can build a healthy secondary revenue stream and potentially be introduced to unique investment opportunities.
One easy way to sell your advice is Ether. Ether is a web app that provides users with a toll-free 888 telephone number that forwards to your existing phone line. You set when the number is available and how much you want to charge, then you just open for business during your “office hours.”
E-books are old school and they take a little more upfront investment, but they’re potentially very lucrative. 37signals pulled in $350,000 by selling downloads of its first business advice e-book, Getting Real. People could be willing to pay for your expertise, as well. A mechanic, for example, could sell a series of e-books on do-it-yourself auto and motorcycle repair. If you’re a pet groomer, what about an email about caring for dogs? Think about what you know and about how it could be expanded into a 40- or 50-page book.
Once you’ve created your book, you can sell it as a PDF download using a service like DPD or PayLoadz. For a more complete, end-to-end solution, try TradeBit, which offers a marketplace, or Lulu, which can also turn your e-book into a printed book.
Webinars might be the ultimate way to sell your expertise. By holding a paid webinar, you’re literally charging people to watch you talk about and demonstrate whatever it is that you have to share. Because you’re offering people access directly to you (the expert), webinars are worth the money to your peers. Software like WebEx can allow you to stream presentations, audio and video to up to 3,000 participants. You can take questions from your audience in real-time and the platform offers built-in e-commerce, so you can charge for access.
Also check out solutions from GoToMeeting and Adobe, though you’ll have to handle payment yourself.
5. Online Courses
If live events aren’t your cup of tea and static e-books don’t convey your message clearly enough, another way to sell your expertise is by offering an online course. Using an app like Litmos, Odijoo or WiZiQ, you can create and sell web-based classes that not only share your expertise but teach it step-by-step. You can include multimedia in your courses, additional reading material (maybe you could even include your e-book as required reading), and provide tests so that participants can assess their progress.
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By Josh Catone
Josh Catone is the Features Editor at Mashable. Before joining Mashable in May 2009, Josh was the Lead Writer at ReadWriteWeb, the Lead Blogger at SitePoint, and the Community Evangelist at DandyID. He’s written about technology since 1998 for magazines, newspapers, and web sites, and he is the co-founder of Rails Forum, the web’s largest community for Ruby on Rails developers. He attended the University of Rhode Island and Ithaca College.