How to launch your career as a how-to expert

  • Article by: KEVIN DONLIN , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: September 12, 2011 - 12:47 PM

If you have a curious mind and like learning new things, you may find success working for yourself as a how-to expert. That's the message in a new book from Bob Bly, marketer and author.

For some of you in today's economy, your last job may have been your last job.

Literally.

You may have decided to chuck the idea of employment altogether and become your own boss.

But what if you're not clear on what, exactly, to do as a self-employed person?

Good news: If you have a curious mind and like learning new things, you may find success working for yourself as a how-to expert.

That's the message in a new book from marketer and author, Bob Bly, How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit.

I interviewed Bly (BobBly.com) to get his tips for anyone thinking of becoming a how-to writer, speaker, or trainer.

Kevin Donlin: If someone is thinking of publishing their expertise -- they want to turn a hobby into something that pays, for example -- what should they do first?

Bob Bly: First, understand that people want to buy one of two things: entertainment or information.

If you can write or broadcast in an entertaining fashion, you can sell it. Glenn Beck does not have great original content, but some people find him entertaining.

Or, if you have valuable information that people can use to better their lives or businesses, they will pay for it -- dearly, in some cases. You can package and sell it as a product.

Kevin: How do you suggest people gauge demand for what to produce?

Bob: As a start-up entrepreneur, you are probably going to do a lot of your selling on the Internet. I would use Google or a tool like Wordtracker.com to see how many people are searching on your topic per month online.

If your topic is 13th century Peruvian poetry, you may be an expert on this, but if only three people searched on that last month, you do not have a big enough audience to justify it.

However, if you find 50,000 people or more searched Google for your terms, there is a demand out there.

Kevin: What other ways besides writing are there to earn money selling information?

Bob: There are options like adult education, public seminars, coaching, and consulting.

If you are not a born writer, one of my favorite venues is audio. To produce an audio on a topic, you could find an expert, interview him or her, and package the audio as an information product. Audio is an often-overlooked way of creating information products and I sell a lot of them.

Kevin: Let's do a case study. I know a woman in banking who is passionate about gardening. If she wanted to become a self-employed gardening expert, what would you tell her?

Bob: First, she should see if there is a niche. Gardening is a broad topic with a lot of competition. However, if she specializes in gardening for the working woman, something like "How to Garden in 20 Minutes a Day," it could become her niche.

Or maybe she just likes different types of plants. There is a guy out there who is very successful selling information and physical products about carnivorous plants.

Kevin: How should people pick the right niche for them?

Bob: The best thing, aside from the keyword search we talked about, is to take what I call a self-inventory. What is your education? Your experience? What do you like? What are you good at? What do other people think you are good at?

If you answer those questions, you will come up with a list of many things. Go through that list and pick one -- that becomes your niche.

Kevin: You mentioned selling online. Where can people expect to make their first sale of an information product?

Bob: First, put up what we call a "micro-site" -- a Web site dedicated to your information product. If you have three information products, you will have three different micro-sites.

Kevin: How can people best sell their information products from micro-sites? I know services like ClickBank.com and Paypal.com will handle the credit card transactions. But how do you sell online if you're not a sales person?

Bob: As a copywriter myself, it is self-serving for me to say this, but you have to learn how to write persuasive advertising copy. It is not impossible, but it is something you have to learn.

Bly's books are an excellent resource on copywriting, whether you want to market an information product from a web site or promote your how-to services via direct mail.

Finally, remember this: When selling your expertise -- online, in print, or in person -- you don't have to be a shameless huckster. You need only be enthusiastic, genuine, and persistent.

As long as you love your subject and can handle rejections along the way, you can succeed as an information expert using today's technology to bypass today's job market.

Kevin Donlin is contributing co-author of "Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0." Since 1996, he has provided job-search help to more than 20,000 people. For a free Guerrilla Job Search audio CD, visit MyNewJobHunt.com.

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