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Earning more money: How to turn your skills into services that people will pay for

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Since this is such a huge post, I’m going to start off with 2 notes.

  1. Below, you’ll see how to take your skills and identify what “the market” — or prospective customers — will pay for
  2. I added lots of examples below, but it’s still complex and information-dense. When you sign up at Earn1k.com, I’ll be going over a more structured, step-by-step program.

* * *

In a survey of over 1,000 people that I recently did, the #1 reason people don’t start earning money on the side is this: They don’t know what to do.

SurveyMonkey - Survey Results

How do you take your skills and turn them into something that people will pay for? Let’s say you have a full-time job as a project manager or salesperson or software engineer. How can you help that make you $200/month, $500/month, or even $5,000/month on the side?

I want you to pay attention: This is the #1 barrier because it is the hardest step. It’s not some simple 1-2-3 checklist, which is what most people want: a one-size-fits-all solution that they can blindly follow to earn extra money. But because it’s so challenging, the rewards are disproportionately large. That’s because 90%+ of people will wash out at this step, leaving the few, the proud, and the now-earning-a-lot-on-the-side.

So if you expect this to be easy, go away.

If you expect this to be customized to your situation, go away.

You’ll have to take a leap to tailor the advice here to your own situation.

My goal is not to have you start earning money immediately after reading this post — even though we all love 1-2-3 steps, earning more successfully is much more complicated than that.

With that, let’s get started on the first steps of taking your skills and turning them into income.

Freelancing: The easiest way to earn more money

There are a few things that we need to acknowledge up front:

  • Out of the 3 easiest ways to earn money, we think the easiest way to earn money on the side is to freelance. You can start earning money immediately, you can rapidly test your offerings, and you can cut through the unnecessary work of productizing and increasing your salary. Accordingly, we’re going to focus on freelancing for the rest of this course.
  • My guess is that 95% of jobs could translate into related freelance work. But 5% of could not: For example, you don’t see any freelance cardiothoracic surgeons. (But you can see some doctors moving in that direction.)
  • Just like dating, it will probably take repeated failures to find a good match between your skills and what the market wants.

That last point is very important. Sometimes people spend so much time building up a business — with business cards and websites and licenses — that when they actually launch and find the market won’t pay for their offering, they give up, exhausted and frustrated. We’ll teach you how to streamline the launch process so you can rapidly test ideas and refine them. Just like in the dating world, you probably won’t find your right match the first time, second time, or the 5th time. That’s where people give up. But if you optimize your system of learning what people want (and are willing to pay for), it’s simply a matter of time until you hit on something that matches your skills to the market.

Two examples: Turning skills into income

Example: How I used these principles to launch this blog and find readers

I originally started “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” as a 1-hour free course that I taught at Stanford. (I consider the blog a mix of freelance and product since I spend ongoing time writing here.) It was never designed to make money, it was just something cool that I wanted to do. When I’d hear friends complaining about money at the dining hall, I’d say, “Hey, you should come attend this class I put together…it’s free and it takes about an hour, and I’ll show you all the basics of money — banking, budgeting, saving, and investing.” The response was VERY positive. People said, “Wow, that sounds awesome!”

And then they would never show up.

Repeatedly, over 1.5 years, I struggled to have anyone show up. I would wonder to myself, “Why am I trying so hard to give people GOOD, FREE information about stuff they really need to know?” I felt like a career counselor, one of the most under-appreciated (and hopeless) jobs.

After trying all kinds of strategies to get people to attend, including emailing THEM and trying to coordinate times, I switched approaches. Instead of in-person events, I launched iwillteachyoutoberich.com so people could read it out of the comfort of their own dorm rooms. Later, I learned why this was so successful: People don’t like attending events about money because (1) it makes them feel bad about themselves, (2) the events are usually boring and/or scammy, and (3) people have to publicly admit they don’t know about money.

It was a classic mistake of not understanding my users (substitute “customers” in for your business).

Lesson learned: You MUST get into your clients’ heads. What are their fears? Hopes? What do they care about most (hint: How much it costs is almost never the first priority.) Similarly, once you get in their heads, you learn that the medium in which you serve your clients matters. (Is it an in-person event or a blog or a weekly phone call?) The way you approach your client matters. And the way in which you sell to prospects matters.

Example: How I consulted for venture capital firms

Like all of us, I know how to use YouTube, Myspace, Flickr, and Facebook. A few years ago, during college, I was able to turn that into consulting gigs with multiple venture-capital firms who wanted to learn how young people were using consumer services on the web. This consisted of me giving them a course each week — online music, videos, social networks, etc — including showing them how guys checked girls out on Myspace. This was perhaps the greatest achievement of my life: Showing how guys found hot girls’ profiles to a bunch of venture capital partners.

Would you have ever thought you could turn your daily routines into a consulting gig? I wouldn’t have before I landed those gigs. But people were willing to pay for it because they had concrete needs: They wanted to understand how young people were using new technologies so they could remain sharp investors. Money wasn’t an issue, but time was: They’d rather hire someone who lived it than try to learn themselves. Once I’d established that I was skilled at these services, but more importantly that I could create an effective structure for teaching the VCs, they hired me.

Lesson learned: It’s not enough to simply be good at something, whether it’s freelance writing, dog walking, or graphic design. Millions of other young people know how to use YouTube/Facebook/Flickr far better than I do. It’s not just knowledge: You have to package your knowledge into something that clients can recognize as valuable. Usually this involves them making more money, saving money, or saving time.

Should you pursue your passion or just make money?

People love talking about passion. Your job should be your passion! You should be a passionate lover. Eat food passionately.

Some of this is true, but passion is also overrated and used as a panacea for everything under the sun. Guess what? You get passionate when you start winning.

As Cal Newport says:

“Passion: The feeling that arises from have mastered a skill that earns you recognition and rewards.
[...]

My alternative definition claims instead that passion is the feeling generated by mastery. It doesn’t exist outside of serious hard work.

When Scott’s readers say “I have too many passions,” what they really mean is “I have lots of superficial interests.” When my readers complain that their major is not their passion, what they really mean to say is “I don’t have a level of mastery in this field that is earning me recognition.”

This is a controversial view, so don’t get hung up on Cal’s definition.

The 2 major takeaways are these:

  1. Your job does NOT have to be the source of inspiration for freelancing. If you’re a project manager by day, you can be creative writer on the side. Both share similar skills, anyway! You have to be organized, create structure out of chaos, and focus on delivering on time, every time.Now you see why turning your skills into income isn’t some cookie-cutter formula. Because if a project manager can earn $1,000 on the side being a creative writer, what could you do? Suddenly, it’s overwhelming.
  2. Your job skills CAN be transferred, no matter how unique you think you are. So you’re a dolphin trainer at Sea World. Wow, unique job! Not really. You have skills in working with animals, obviously, which would suggest training pets. But you also have expertise in behavioral change, which many academic labs and companies would love to tap — and pay for. You can tutor children. You can help people stop biting their nails. Or 100 different options.

Don’t simply say, “I’m a process engineer! Nobody hires freelance process engineers. I give up (wipes face with tears and reaches for a large slab of beef). Instead, ask yourself: What do I enjoy? What am I good at?

Skills

A friend of mine left a management consulting firm to start a local events-based business because he became an expert on estimating attractive local markets.

Another friend left Deloitte to do system optimization for bloggers (integrating email, Twitter, YouTube, etc).

A third friend, who finds cleaning her room therapeutic, is starting a freelance business where she’ll be a professional organizer. Her full-time job at a non-profit has nothing to do with this at all.

So: “Think outside the box” is the sort of trite advice that I hate, so we’ll go into this in more detail later. But you really do need to challenge yourself to see what skills you have that the market would potentially pay for.

Start with your goals

Too many people jump into the tactics without understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing. To be honest, I did that with iwillteachyoutoberich, and I still do it sometimes.

It’s better to do something WRONG than to do nothing at all. But if you can spend a little time planning — and still continue executing — you can save hundreds of hours of missteps.

Here’s a simple rule.

If you want to start freelancing because you want to earn extra money, identify a profitable market first, then adapt your services to it.

However, if you want to freelance because you want to take your passions and turn them into side income, first create your services that are based on your passions, then identify a profitable market.

Do you see the difference?

Example: Jack just wants to earn money

Let’s say Jack wants to earn an extra $1,000/month because he wants to pay down credit-card debt and propose to his girlfriend after he’s debt-free. Great! His first goal, then, is to generate income. As a simple rule of thumb, he should figure out the most profitable market that matches with his skills and pursue it relentlessly.

Jack is a customer-support rep for his fulltime job, so he looks outside to the market to see where he can generate income with his skills. He reads lots of mid-size bloggers via his RSS reader, and he realizes they might need help editing their email newsletters (such as iwillteachyoutoberich. He gets in touch about a paid freelance job. Success! 2 clients in a month start generating an extra $500 each month. Since Jack cares about generating income first, and his passions second, he simply found an easy market that would help him earn more immediately.

Example: Mary is passionate about jewelry

By contrast, Mary is passionate about jewelry. She feels like she has a lot to teach other women about accessorizing the right way. Jewelry is her passion, so she wouldn’t want to, say, start a freelance business helping CRM companies optimize their sales funnels.

Since she already knows she wants to earn income in the jewelry field, she spends her time researching different services she can offer to create that people will pay for. Will she help jewelry makers appear at trunk shows? Will she be the trusted jewelry specialist who delivers to high-end clients? Or can she be a jewelry specialist who handles return or customer-service calls? We don’t know what will be profitable yet — but Mary will find out via rapid experimentation.

Remember: Whenever possible, start with your goals, then let the tactics (How should I reach customers? How much should I charge? What software should I use?) follow.

And, as always, if you don’t know what your goals are, I’ll show you a way to get started anyway. That comes later.

The simplified process: Matching your skills to earning money on the side

This is a simplified process to turn your skills into side income. Later, I’ll get into it in extreme detail. But I encourage you to try to fit the general principles here to your personal situation.

It’s overwhelming to consider that you could literally have 500 potentials ways of earning money. That’s why people love simple SEO or other automatic ways to earn money on the side, which give you a repeatable formula…but rarely work.

Take it one step at a time.

  1. What industry are you in? Oh, finance? Ok, you probably don’t want to be a freelance investment banker. But..hmm….you spend all day doing analyses. How can you use that? Example 1: Excel is a breeze to you. Maybe there are people (like me) who HATE Excel yet need detailed analyses for their business. Could you build models for other people? Example 2: You’re really good at doing valuations of industries. Are there pre-launch founders who need that skill? (Alert: Observant readers will have noticed a BIG RED FLAG over the last example of pre-launch founders: They can’t pay you. So if your goal is to generate revenue, you want to re-think your target market to make sure they can afford to pay you.)
  2. Identify your skills and interests — then think more broadly. The most common thing I hear is, “I’m a really good communicator…but I don’t know how to turn that into a side income.” That’s because you can’t. Nobody hires a “good communicator.” They hire people to solve their problems. What does a good communicator mean, anyway? That’s just a lazy way of saying you haven’t spent the time doing research on the available options you have to channel your skills into something that’s worth money. Are you great at writing press releases? (I’d pay for that.) Are you great at training public speakers? (You might be able to find a specific segment of people who’d pay for that. This one is tricky, though. Can you identify why?) Are you a good communicator because you can speak Chinese? Boom, I’d instantly be a tutor for Chinese kids since their parents will love/trust someone who speaks Chinese — even when tutoring their kids for any subject.
  3. If you don’t have any marketable skills, there are still options. Etsy is a perfect example of people making great side income — and many of them don’t have any skills that would commonly be considered “valuable.” Yet they do well selling niche products to a niche audience. If you aren’t some professional with software-engineering skills or online-marketing experience, that’s okay. Can you hammer something into a wall? (I’d pay for that.) Can you cook? (I’d also pay for that…infact I am.) Can you walk dogs? Tutor kids in 4th-grade math? Help moms with routine tasks? You can make money on all of these things — good money — without having to have some hard technical skill…as long as you find a market that will pay for them.

I want to go a bit deeper.

People are very bad at identifying their own skills. They’ll say things like, “I dunno….I guess I’m good at writing and communication, and, like, general organizational skills…” AMAZING!! HERE’S $4,000/MONTH RETAINER!!!

Get a life, please.

Repeat this over and over: People pay for solutions, not your skills.

For example, I was recently on a webcast where I was suggesting ways for people to earn money on the side, and I mentioned that I hate cooking, am not good at it, and would love it if someone cooked for me. I got an email later that night from someone in SF who said, “Ramit, I can help. I can teach you everything you need to know over one weekend, and you’ll know 3-5 great dishes to cook.” I appreciated the offer, but wrote back, “Thanks for the offer! But you don’t understand. I don’t want to learn — I want someone to do it for me.” He ended up sending me another proposal and I’m now working with him. (I’ll release the details, including the exact email script he used to persuade me, at Earn1k.com.

Again: People have problems. They want solutions. They don’t care what you’re “interested” in. Are they too busy to organize their closet? Do they need someone to help them redesign their website? Maybe they want someone to teach their kid how to play flute.

When you make your offer, you’ll have to deeply understand what the market — your prospective clients — want. And then you’ll be able to turn your service offering into something so compelling….that they’ll actually pay you for it.

Let’s take a look at another example.

Case study: Identifying skills that people will pay for

This is one of the most difficult real-life questions I got from an iwillteachyoutoberich reader, so I thought it’d be instructive to tackle it.

“How would a systems process engineer earn money on the side?”

Warning this will be tough. First of all, what the hell is a systems process engineer? I dug around and discovered that they basically build and manage complex engineering systems. Perfect.

Start off by asking yourself this:

  1. Do I like what I’m doing at all, or do I want to do something totally new? If not, remember, you don’t have to use your job for inspiration or passion — you could just as easily earn money teaching people to surf.
  2. What if you DO like your work as a systems process engineer? Step-by-step: Is it freelance-able directly? No, most likely not.

Ok, you love your work but can’t find a freelance job that replicates your full-time work (plus, your boss might not like that). So you dig deeper into the skills you use on a daily basis: You…

  • Do a little PHP coding
  • Organize systems
  • Automate complex processes
  • Project manage
  • Create technical documents that can be understood by lay audiences
  • Lead a team

Don’t get stuck here. Ask yourself: Which of these skills can solve a specific problem? Brainstorm those out.

  • I could do some PHP coding, but I’m not the best. Don’t censor yourself — put everything down.
  • I could help businesses automate and streamline their income-generating processes. Vague, but okay.
  • I could manage projects and lead teams towards deadlines / organizing. This is super-vague, any 22-year-old college grad would say he could do the same, and it doesn’t take advantage of my specific skills. Skip this.
  • I could be a technical writer and help companies demystify their technical-support documents. I could even rewrite the technical portions of their websites to make them more comprehensible to normal people, especially companies in the consumer-energy field. Very promising, especially since I follow a few of these companies online.

Each of these individually is a potentially viable freelance trade – can you pick one and do it? The answer should be YES/NO to each. Put “YES” if even remotely feasible.

  • PHP coding: YES
  • Automate systems: NO (too vague for me to know where to start)
  • Project manage: NO (too vague)
  • Technical writer: YES

Excellent. Now you have a list of skills that might potentially be profitable. Optional: Combine skills together to make a more compelling, more niche offer.

You can often charge more and help clients more by packaging offers. In this case, it’s not very relevant, since technical writing and PHP coding are pretty different. But one of the people who helps on iwillteachyoutoberich pitched me to do video editing + marketing. Perfect fit. I hired him.

Next step: How can you prove to people that you’re knowledgeable enough for them to pay you?

This is something I’ve been encountering as I’ve been trying to hire a sysadmin for my blog. I’ve gotten a lot of recommendations, and the first thing I do when evaluating someone is look at their portfolio and past clients. At least half of potential hires don’t have this section. Easy solution! I move on to someone who does.

  • For our systems engineer, can he point to a PHP project he did on the side?
  • What about a sample of technical writing where he turned something very complicated into something totally palatable?

Having one portfolio entry increases your odds of landing a client by at least 200%. Having 5 increases it significantly more.

Which market should he target?

People tend to think about the market they work in only. But remember, virtually every industry needs the same skills — marketing, sales, engineering, etc. Our systems engineer shouldn’t limit himself to his field (energy). With his skills, he can limit it to technical companies, since they’re the ones most likely to need PHP consulting and technical writing. But to broaden his view and find more potential prospects, he could:

  • Examine the companies he follows in magazines, blog readers, and TV. Does he love reading about technical blogs about how mom-and-pop shops automate their sales? (There really are a lot of these.) They might be the perfect target to reach out to.
  • Examine the community of people he interacts with. Does he have a lot of friends or professional acquaintances who are all writing code for XXX purpose? He might: It’s not surprising that people with similar interests hang out together, so if your hobby is writing PHP, you may very well have some friends who need the service.

Our systems engineer has now taken his full-time job, excavated it to find skills that he might be able to use on the side, eliminated the unattractive ones, and limited the potential outreach to 4-10 companies he can reach out to.

The next steps would be understanding the needs of his prospects — to see if there is indeed a match with his skills — and crafting his service offering. We’ll get to all of these.
But for now, notice the takeaways of how to really think deeply about your skills, which may or may not have anything to do with your full-time job, and systematically narrow them down to something that people might pay for.

* * *
If you want to learn more about turning your skills into paying clients — with materials, scripts, tactics, and techniques that you won’t see on the blog, join my private Earn1K insider’s list:

 

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78 Comments

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  1. Hello Ramit,

    Thanks a lot for the last post. It was quite thorough and provides examples that are simple to follow because they are specific and detailed.

    Hope I will shoot you a success e-mail in the next year!

    Maria

    P.S. Found a tiny error: On the table with “Skills that are existing, tangible things that you’re good at”, in number 2 the brackets are not complete.

  2. Wow “They wanted to understand how young people were using new technologies so they could remain sharp investors” that is something I would never have figured out!
    That has lead me to think more deeply about other unknown skills everyone have, eg, setting up electronical devices, or how to find things on the internet. The type of things I do daily and surpringsingly to me many others don`t even know.

  3. Very nice and valid points. One technique I use – after identifying the money making skills is to run a blog and talk about it. In fact, most of my top clients are gained through my blog.

  4. Ramit,
    Very nicely written, and some great thoughts on really taking this to the next level! What I thought was especially great is real examples of how putting freelancing to work can be be don.

  5. Ramit,
    I have been following your blog for few weeks now. i have been implementing the automation a few month back even before i know your existence. But on earning more money, I still have nor clue neither the will or courage to take the first step despite I have been reading books and websites on personal financial for few years.
    Hopefully I’ll take the first step soon. Thank you for your great work here.

  6. Great post!

    But just curious: “He reads lots of mid-size bloggers via his RSS reader, and he realizes they might need help editing their email newsletters (such as iwillteachyoutoberich. He gets in touch about a paid freelance job. Success! 2 clients in a month start generating an extra $500 each month. ”

    ‘mid-size bloggers’ would 250 dollars per month for editing an e-mail newsletter? is that really a realistic example?

    thanks.

  7. Great post, Ramit! — I have learned this process the HARD way over 20 years — and yet I learned several strategically important things from this post that will directly increase my profit from my next venture (launch date: March 21, 2010)

    Thank you for your excellent content!!!

    I signed up at Earn1K — How do I sign up for your other entrepreneurial or Earn More Money virtual communities?

  8. Ramit,

    You said, “People pay for solutions, not your skills.” People really need to think about that. Freelancers need to provide valuable results.

    If your customers are buying your services to make more money, you need a product that will help them to make more money.

    If you are a freelance writer, you need to think about how much extra money you are helping that site owner make. If he make great money from his site, chances are your articles will make him more money than a site owner who is not making much. Therefore, the successful site owner will pay you more money.

    You need to understand your customer’s business. Your business needs to be the right fit for him. Your services need to provide results, not just work.

  9. Ramit,
    It is amazing how many people will shell out tens of thousands of dollars and years of their lives for higher education so that they can earn more money down the road someday but won’t do a little hustling and preparation own their own to develop skills and contacts that can have a big payoff in the future. If the road is not well-traveled, many people a afraid to take it. Thanks for helping show people that there are other options out there.

  10. Wonderful post Ramit. The step-by-step thought process of how to break down skills that the process engineer already has was particularly helpful. Thanks for your constant honesty … looking forward to future posts in the series.

  11. Ramit,

    Do you want my first born daughter now or later?

    Take a look below and see if I am thinking right on this:

    I can organize, design, and help you implement systems that work with how you live your life. I find or design the right tools that don’t interrupt your work flow. These can be business systems, financial, or communications (e-mail).

    On this one, I think I need to be more specific or nichey.

    I can fix small business computer problems, website, or blog problems.

    I can synthisis a topic into a simple to read format that you can read and then make a more informed and better business decision. This could be drupal vs wordpress. One wordpress plugin vs another. It could be finding the right host for your needs. Things of this nature. What is the right camera for you to do video blogging with. I think I would also add in support as a value added service. You’re not alone once you’ve made your decision based on my information I’ve provided to you. I think this includes the specificity that the first one lacks.

    Am I heading in the right direction with these?

  12. This is a really interesting post – I’m wondering if such a strategy might also be fruitfully integrated with selling information based products – i.e. putting your marketable skills into ebook or other form and selling that as a ‘lead in’ to freelancing work.

  13. Ramit,
    I’ve been following your blog for a while now and this is my favorite article to date. I’m in similar situation as your examples above… a 40 hour cubicle jockey seeking a side income to cover my mortgage, but having trouble identifying money making areas. I will certainly use these tactics to break down my skills and identify market needs.
    Thanks!

  14. Hello,

    Some comments:

    One:
    You give most of your attention to the kinds of things that can be done at the end of a wire and give short shrift to things that require a person’s physical presence. (You did mention walking dogs and hammering nails into walls.) Jobs done at the end of a wire can be done anywhere in the world. People in other countries may charge a lot less for a job, too.

    Two:
    You’re kind of hazy about how many hours it might take you to earn the thousand bucks.

    Three:
    When you discuss money you ignore taxes and other realities.
    One of your recent posts suggested that if you put your monthly thousand bucks into something that gives you an annual return of 8% you’ll end up with millions of dollars. Where can you get such a return today? I and every other one of your readers would like to now.
    There are also taxes to pay on the 8% you earn on your (eventual) millions.

    If you earn an extra $1000 a month you won’t get to keep all of it.
    First there is FICA. You may have to pay both parts of this which would take 13 or 14%. Even if you pay only half this is still about 7% Next you have federal income tax. Then there are state and local income taxes. You may also have expenses associated with ythe production of your new income. You could easily end up with five or six hundred dollars instead of a thousand.

    You may also have expenses associated with this new income.

  15. “Guess what? You get passionate when you start winning”

    Ramit,

    This is the most thoughtful and helpful post I have ever read. Thanks for giving me a direction.

  16. Nice outline of how to go from a worker mindset to taking ownership of your skills.

    I think part of the problem is people are so buried in their job, they can’t see the trees in the forest (their skills being the trees). They think they have to sell people the forest, but the trees are more valuable and adaptable.

    I have a couple business ideas just from reading this post and thinking very briefly about my skills, can’t wait to see what’s next.

  17. I think your comment about people sucking at recognizing their own skills (I’m paraphrasing here) is dead on. One reason: once you’ve mastered a skill, you tend to think it’s easy and obvious for everyone. “Of course I can [surf Facebook] [finish a sweater] [build a line/bar chart in Excel] [construct a sentence], can’t everyone!?” The answer is, no. It’s like when someone says “Oh, I love your dress” and you say “What, this old thing!?” (You say that all the time, don’t you, Ramit?) If someone has ever said “Wow, you can do such-and-such?” don’t just shrug and say “Yeah. Duh.” You’ve just identified a marketable skill.

  18. I like the social media bit–reminds me of the job I got during school (I suppose you could call it freelancing with school as my full time job…I just called it under the table income from a part time job). I was brought in to do a lot of administrative assistant/tech support work for a guy but his main reason for wanting me (over someone who could easily work more hours and be paid less) was for my insight into social media (he was in advertising). It worked out pretty well…even got paid to spend some time “playing” second life in order to tell him how stupid it was for companies to be dumping ad dollars into it (and look where they are now).

    I have a nagging fear of the section where you talk about finance people. Most employers in that arena seem to have a contract clause relating to outside business ventures (or at least those that are in exactly the same line of work…so valuing companies is out for ibankers and helping with business plans is out for consultants). Most of these companies could care less if you spend some of your free time selling jewelry or running a company that designs murder mystery themed corporate events but I would be careful about unintended consequences in your real job.

  19. My mom fell into freelancing almost by accident. When my dad was diagnosed with early-onset alzheimer’s, he had to quit his masonry business. To slow the drain on their savings, Mom took a job at a local tourist shop. After about 2 years Dad got to the point where he couldn’t be left alone so she had to quit, but by that time something had happened.

    Mom’s always been great at baking. Especially cookies, and decorating them. Every now and then she’d bring in cookies or cinnamon rolls or something she’d made and share it with her coworkers. One day one of the store’s suppliers was there and saw some of her cookies, and Mom ended up periodically making cookies for her, which she resold to other people. Eventually Mom started taking custom cookie orders from coworkers and people she knew. I designed a business card for her and she started distributing them with the orders. She’d do an order for cookies or a birthday cake for some party, and someone at the party would see them and she’d get another customer. It’s all word-of-mouth because she can’t really advertise, as she doesn’t have a commercial kitchen and it’s not really legal. But she has customers who are like 7 or 8 degrees of separation now from her original customers.

    In a good month (especially around the holidays) she brings in 5 or 6 hundred dollars from this, especially since we’ve convinced her to raise her prices (at least for new customers). It’s not enough to cover their expenses, but it does slow the drain on their savings.

  20. Whoa!

    You really spent some time on this one, eh?

    Admittedly, I’m going to need to re-read this a handful of times before I truly internalize the information completely. I can already tell that breaking down my talents and comparing them to my goals is going to really help me zone in on my potential money making opportunities. I have a feeling this post is going to become a go-to guide for me.

    Thanks for taking the time to not only provide us with information, but for helping us really understand it in way that’s useful to everyone.

    P.S. I rearranged my schedule and can make the web cast. See you tonight.

  21. Lots of good info. Do you need someone to freelance for you by making your looooooong blog posts into shorter ones?

    Seriously, I love your stuff Ramit but this is a lot to take in at once and as you say, “knowing your customers is key” so please think about a different structure to this. Perhaps you will go into more depth on each section in future posts but I think it’s pertinent for everyone to stop reading after the section on “Start with your goals” before trying to digest more…at least that’s what I will be doing.

    Thanks for the great info though, Jarred.

  22. Amazing post–am bookmarking it, and I never use bookmarks.

  23. @mary: Alas, if you earn a thousand, the big bad socialist government might take 40% of it. Oh well. You’re right: we might as well not even bother. After all, it IS better for my balance sheet to have 100% of $0 extra than to have 60% of an extra $1000 each month

    Ramit,

    Thank you. Insightful, direct, and no-nonsense as always. One of my goals for this year is to start a side business and to get $500 in extra income from it four consecutive weeks. I’d designated January as brainstorming month, and you’ve really given me some more helpful tools.

    And here’s an insight into barriers that I’ve had since biting the bullet and tackling this goal one step at a time: Eliminating barriers is kind of scary, because I’m left with no excuses. Excuses are comforting, accountability is intimidating.
    I always said “I have no technical degree and no special job. What can I do? [pause for 30 seconds while I try to 'brainstorm'] Oh well. I can’t think of anything. If only…”
    But, forcing myself to do it (dedicating only a couple hours of concentrated thought so far), I’ve already come up with 7 concrete ideas that I can do and that could pay. And that’s before I read this post! Let’s see if we can’t double that in the next week.
    Next barrier: choosing.

    PS – It might be a cool idea, with this great iwillteachyoutoberich community that we have, to gather a repository of business ideas that people have/will come up with. That’ll be yet another illustration of how this isn’t just an all-read-no-action crowd and how this blog produces results!

  24. Thanks for this great post. Very thorough step by step approach. There is a lot of takeaways here and I’m looking forward for your office hours live webcast and the Earn 1K program, of course!

    One question I hope you can help address is that some of us are working for large companies that signed non-compete clauses in our employment agreement.

    Are we legally allowed to use our skill sets to solve our client’s problem that might be a competitor?

    If we have patents (pending) with the company, can we use the patented knowledge to solve different problems in similar areas?

    Thanks,
    Mark

  25. Ramit, your point that there is no easy, customized recipe is so true. I was just thinking about that this morning from the context of coaching. Even if your coach was foolish enough to attempt to prescribe a course ofaction for you, it wouldn’t be a course of action that you emotionally own.So even though its often difficult, challenging, and confusing to figure it out for yourself, that’s the only way that will work. It’s definitely a catch-22 – your coach can’t tell you what to do because it won’t work if he does.

    As for business cards and website, I’ve had my side software development business for over 10 years. I didn’t have a website for the first 6 years, and I didn’t have business cards until last November, over 10 years after I started the business.

    You definitely make a good point about the portfolio too. For example, I could easily take on your sysadmin role. But I don’t have a portfolio up right now. I plan to do that after finishing a medium size PHP/MySQL project that will be the core of my portfolio, of course with a glowing testimonial :)

    Now that you mention it, there’s another blogger that I do sysadmin for that I could add to my portfolio… Hmm, maybe I should take a break from development and get that out there!

  26. Ramit,

    My last comment made in your blog was a rant’ on Erica’s post (Oct 27th) that made no sense at all when others start reading it.

    However, since then I took on a job in Nov to pay off some bills, only to quit in Dec to be re-hired by the same company as a freelancer (I’m finding this post timely with one of your advice was on freelancing as a new income); by Jan I became very frugal (only spend that which I truly enjoy — like lan game meetups and a dinner with friends), and started 2 businesses with my best buddy. I’m now working on a third to expand my parent’s business, while waiting payment for my freelancing.

    I’m excited now, and sharing this out as one of the 2 business actually became profitable today—that’s less than 3 days since doing a soft launch!

    If I could add a 2cents worth to this thread, I’d say that:

    1. Get the essentials up, and launch.

    Tweaking and refining can be done over time. Launch and listen to what the customers (audience) gotta say, then make the updates to the product / service.

    2. Goals first.

    There are really easy markets to tweak our skills in and provide a solution. I’m passionate in writing my 2nd book and building an audience, but I know that it’ll take anywhere between 1 to 2 months to get that done—with no assurance of results either. While it took less than a week to get a business and it’s system up and running. I went for this first; and really thankful for positive results today.

    It is totally possible turning skills into services that people will pay for.

    Definitely ain’t easy—the advice in this post gotta be tailored to your situation.

    Thanks :)

  27. Hi! Ramit!

    Thanks for these insights! Because they’re SO great – I have included them in my weekly “Wednesday Wisdoms” post – the latest and greatest in blogs, articles and good old fashioned paperbacks!

    Check it out: http://createyourgreatlife.wordpress.com/

    Your friend,
    DeAnna
    @DeeLynn

  28. Ramit–great post. I’m a college student and just started doing some social media consulting for a huge NPO. It’s great experience, I love doing it, I get paid, and even got a free flip cam that i’m going to use to add a video section to my blog. This article is great, and I’ve bookmarked this to use after my surgery recovery to figure out what further services I can offer the NPO I’m working with. Thanks again!

  29. This is a great post. In addition to an individual using these techniques to earn more on the side, companies can look into their employees hobbies and other skills to find additional revenue streams. This is why Google encourages their employees to spend time on personal projects.

  30. Hey Ramit!

    Great post, but man! It’s complicated. There is a lot going on here. One thing that could help is transforming this into a flow chart.

    I am a visual learner myself and I understand that you material is very good and valuable, but comprehending it to the fullest is a different story.

    I used graphs and charts to lay out complex concepts when studying for my CPA exam. Matter of fact, if it is something you would be interested, I’d love to give a shot and if you find useful, then you could post it somewhere as a JPG attachment.

    Best,
    Tomas

  31. Thanks so much for this Ramit, it’s really been that great push for me to get something together. I finish university in the summer and I hope to set something up on graduation while travelling.

    Look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Josh

  32. I’ve created a Ramit 1k Cohort project in Basecamp. If anyone is interested hit me up at noah@noahc.net. I’m looking for about 6 more people. Anything more than that and I think we might loose our focus. If you’re serious about this, but want feedback along the way on what you could do better hit me up and we’ll make this happen!

  33. Hi Ramit,
    I loved your book and am just getting into the blog. This post was great- I am right in the middle of establishing my freelance business- private bartending and a blog on bartending that I will monetize in the future. This post gave me lots of new ideas.
    Check out my blog, I’d love to hear what you think!
    http://www.DavidtheBartender.blogspot.com
    -David

  34. Ramit, I’ve refreshed earn1k about 30 times over the course of three days. If this is some sort of market research where there isn’t actually a signup page: uncool.

  35. Lxmorj,

    There is something there. Turn off your Ad Blocker and I bet it works. Failing that clear your cache and/or try a different browser.

  36. Thanks Ramit for the tip. I just picked up a project matching a solution for a friend and my skills.

    He runs a website design company for small business in a very niche market. He offers a turn key solution, but he noticed that many of his clients don’t even have decent marketing content. A wonderfully designed website won’t be as effective and kind of hurts him. Writing content for those clients to build interest is not his skill or passion, but it’s a skill set that I have.

    It’s some extra income and I’m developing a better portfolio for hopefully higher paying gigs.

  37. Great post. Very useful as well as motivating.

    It makes it easier when 90% of the people will bail on this plan at step #1. They will be content with their current job situation, I know from experience.

    But so much the better, makes it that much easier to get started for the rest.

    “People pay for solutions, not your skills.” – Well said.

    Kudos for giving an example (sys process engineer) that doesn’t take the easy way out as far as creating a new creative path. Many similar articles use easy examples and not ones that are different from the main skill/job.

  38. great site sir,thanks for all the tips.i don’t want to spam but try http://www.moneymakerseoinfo.blogspot.com/ you will find interesting new ways to make money online!!
    good luck

  39. Hi Ramit,

    This is one of your best posts that I’ve read. I’ve had most of the basics down for a while now, but I’ve been looking for a way to break through and start doing more than just manage my money well. This seems like a great start.

    I can’t wait to see what you have in store for http://www.earn1k.com/. Ping me if you’re looking for early adopters/beta testers/feedback on your new project.

  40. @Noah Clark

    Thanks for the update – I didn’t realize that there was anything there.

  41. Hi Ramit,

    I just want to thank you fot this amazing information, it really inspire me!

  42. [...] phone sells a mere 20,000 in first week Real Life RPG [Comic] God & VideogamesdeliciousEarning more money: How to turn your skills into services that people will pay for | I Will Teach Yo…FINCH :: Fresh Creative10 Musts for Marketing to Women on [...]

  43. Hi, Ramit. I’ll be on the office hours vidcast tonight.

    The question I want to figure out is:

    Okay, I’ve got a service people might pay for, a target audience, and a researched plan to reach them.

    The plan to begin emitting signal to target audience is in process.

    What are the best strategies to lift my signal out of the noise?

    Research, yes; finding out what people want, yes; using networks, yes; trial and error, yes.

    And then… bite your nails, and wait, and keep trying?

  44. I think that there are some additional benefits to having another income stream. When you increase your income each month, you also will become more focused on the things that matter naturally. Your time is more valuable because your leisure time is cut. So if you start another project and didn’t have a streamlined life, you will quickly find yourself making your life more and more efficient. But don’t let the fact that you haven’t set up automatic bill pay/saving transfers be a barrier! And when you do earn more money, you can include this when you apply for a promotion. I have one friend that used the income from both of her jobs to justify a higher rate when she went accepted a promotion at another company.

    I also wanted to mention that while I completely appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit that this blog takes, if you are in the category of people who want to earn more for the sake of more money, you can also go for highly-paid part-time work. This would also be a suitable option for those who don’t want to figure out self-employment withholding, etc. I’m not a self-employed business owner, yet I’ve managed to earn $650-900/month take home working 7 hours a week.

    My final point is I truly believe that the difference between people who let their mental barriers get in the way and those that get past them can be summed up with one question – “[Fill in the blank here] is a problem/the reason why I’m not earning more/etc, what am *I* going to do about it?” Either you’re fix it/adapt or ignore it and continue to let it be the reason why you aren’t getting it done.

    Just some thoughts,
    B

  45. While it’s not really viable in the office hours podcast, it would be great to get a real nuts & bolts example of a service story or product story (e.g. ebook or just regular product) – how did they come up with the idea, how do you get it made (or by whom), how do you get packaging done, how do you handle distribution, etc. etc. (or analogous service related questions). This would look a lot like the story Tim Ferriss told in 4HWW w/ his product Brain Quicken, but with much more detail. On this point, no post would be too long :-)

  46. Nice Post Ramit! I just found this from Tim Ferris’s twitter. You are providing some very valuable content for your readers.

    I graduated from college and started my first business at 22. That was almost 20 years ago. Finding ways of making money has always been easy for me. Ideas are never the issue. Time and execution are. I now have a successful and established company that I am focused on, but I definitely started at the bottom.

    Here are some of the crazy things I have done to earn money that anyone can do:
    -I went to garage sales at the end of the sale and negotiated to take away the rest of the stuff for free or very cheap. I had my own garage sale the next weekend and earned a few hundred dollars a week doing this. Total time: 5-10 hours on weekends.

    -I bought and sold refrigerators!

    -I bought and sold furniture!

    -I bought and sold fruit!

    The above three were done before the advent of the internet and craigslist! Now it would be totally easy.

    -I started a maid service and hired other people to do the cleaning. I did the marketing.

    -I wrote complicated sales letters for companies to generate business.

    None of the above business/activities are even closely related to what I am doing now.

    The key is to be flexible, creative, and to just try things. It is much more valuable to have “money confidence” – the belief that you have skills to make money wherever and whenever you need, than it is to have a specific set of skills. Besides, “skills” can be learned rather quickly with all of the tools available online and in libraries.

    In my mind, the #1 reason people don’t take the time to do the basics to earn extra money is fear. Fear of failure or maybe even fear of success…..

    I wish everyone the best of luck!

  47. Hi Ramit,

    I have been following your blog for the past year and half. Although I live in India and some of your ideas may not be applicable here, I still like your work. Thanks for posting out such an awesome post.
    I will apply your concepts in the Indian context and will post my results in the coming weeks.

    Wishing you the very best in life!

  48. Yo–just got back from the Office Hours vidchat.

    Testimonializing: yes, it was awesome.

    Specifically, b/c Ramit likes specifics: it was a fast-paced, high-energy group all focused on a single goal: problem-solving barriers to earning more money.

    A few lucky people got solutions and everyone else got inspiration/ideas/next steps.

    Also Ramit is a hoot. Not to sound like my grandma or anything.

  49. First off…I would like to say, that this is one of the best post I have read in years that actually brings a process to turing your skill sets into income. I can tell that you have been through the process yourself through your writing. You bring science to the art of trying to figure out what you are good at and how it can be used to generate income.

    Excellent, I look forward to your extended post.

  50. Is the office hour video up on ustream? I wasn’t able to attend due to a dinner appointment…

  51. Jennifer Rockford Link to this comment

    Really helpful post and Office Hours chat, Ramit! Thanks to you I am making progress getting my freelancing idea from the mushy nonspecifc stage to a level where I can make some money from it.

  52. Norman Dacanay Link to this comment

    Hi Ramit,

    It’s my first time reading this post and your blog, and I have to admit that I am very much impressed…I read a guest post of yours on Tim Ferriss’ site and thought that was very interesting as well.

    I am currently trying to get out of my regular 9-5 jail, and the tips, structure set-up and advice you have given are totally priceless.

  53. @Kurt: That was a bit harsh. Failing to budget for your tax liabilities is an easy way to turn extra income into a problem rather than a benefit. It makes sense to use Ramit’s automation ideas to put aside an appropriate percentage.

  54. Hi Ramit,

    I want to print some of your articles, but there is no printer-friendly version available (?)

  55. I am an occasional reader of your blog Ramit. I did exactly what you recommended… a few days ago.

    I edit ESL student papers for extra income. In university, I was always great at writing and editing essays. Two days ago I made $160 in a few hours doing something that I do for friends all the time. I also tutor students in a wide array of subjects and hold English conversation sessions.

    None of my friends who are equally qualified (if not more qualified) have even considered trying any of these!

  56. Ramit,

    A truly wonderful read!

    Cheers!

    - CT ENB

  57. Barbara Saunders Link to this comment

    This habit of thinking in terms of “my skills” comes from indoctrination in the lower rungs of the employment world. (By lower rungs, I mean right on up to middle management.)

    People of my generation were taught to present ourselves as obedient souls with skills that could be put to use by someone else without our asking too many questions.

  58. May I return to one of your comments…”You have to package your knowledge into something that clients can recognize as valuable.Usually this involves them making more money, saving money, or saving time.”

    I would say many services or products I’ve sold don’t touch other people’s financial lives, but rather their emotional lives– their bonhomie, thrill, beauty, comfort, humor, escape, relief, sense of being “understood,” or cared for.

    And of course I pay for these things as well. Wonder if you have any comment about that.

    I also would like to hear your thoughts on “personal appearance,” since that looms so large in many people’s work lives, and there’s such a big gap in gender and age considerations about it as well.

  59. Love your article! Keep’em comin’ !

  60. Thanks for a great post, Ramit!

    I kind of hope that by writing this comment I am committing myself to something I wanted to do for at least a year now, but never got round to doing it. My problem is definitely psychological, I am not confident enough and I am afraid that someone will judge me/think that I am going to fail. But as of yesterday, I started taking action, not on the business idea, but started with your 30 day challenge, and called my bank and insurance company. I failed, but I am happy I tried, I had nothing to loose and at least I know when I can call them again to negotiate :) So I consider it to be a success!

    Anyway, I will keep you updated on my business idea, I know I can do this!

    Thanks again

  61. Fascinating overview and well thought out.

  62. [...] excerpt is from an amazing blogpost Ramit Sethi did on freelancing. And it rings very true, take it to heart before we move [...]

  63. To quote Mary If you earn an extra $1000 a month you won’t get to keep all of it.
    First there is FICA. You may have to pay both parts of this which would take 13 or 14%. Even if you pay only half this is still about 7% Next you have federal income tax. Then there are state and local income taxes. You may also have expenses associated with ythe production of your new income. You could easily end up with five or six hundred dollars instead of a thousand.

    You may also have expenses associated with this new income.

    Yes Mary you are quite right about all the things you have mentioned. I understand your problem and I have a little business solution for you that is tax free and will make you an excellent income.How does 18 year contracts grab you Mary and some instances 22 years . Also a plus is that you won’t increase your taxes and actually decrease them. Bonus ! Bonus ! The government will actually become a personal collector for you and your new found income will not be income that has to be spent from your clients but will automatically be deducted from their paycheck for a total 18 year contract. Downside is that it will take 9 months to initiate the first of potential income plus this opportunity will require good health and good looks plus a touch of seduction. Are you sure your up for this? Find a rich Bastard let him make you pregnant. Carry the pregnancy to term, Have nothing to do with the guy and than get the Government to work for you collecting the owed to you child support. Another alternative is to perhaps start yourself a business on the side doing part time work but instead of letting the government take all your money away in taxes and self employment taxes expand your business by investing that money into your business and deducting those expenses to become even bigger. Now you can become full time self employed and perhaps buy or lease a car for the business if needed and deduct that. Plus you can deduct expenses of part of your house if used for your business. So what I’m trying to say is if our ultra liberal government is stealing to much money from your $ 1000 dollars a month than that means you need to make $ 2000 per month or balance out actual usage of the business and with deductions. Example If you drive a junker car and for the business you find that you are doing more driving than perhaps you can get a nicer car and deduct it for your business expenses and pay for your personal usage and guess what your new side business is helping you move up in life by having the nicer car. Just an exaggerated example. Your point though about taxes is correct and keep that in mind when voting. Look at the individual that your voting for not just the party line because there are big spenders in all the political party’s.

  64. [...] here, especially considering how important it is. One of Ramit’s recent posts describes how to turn your skills into services people will pay for. Great [...]

  65. Excellent post. I think I will reread this from time to time.

  66. [...] here, especially considering how important it is. One of Ramit’s recent posts describes how to turn your skills into services people will pay for. Great [...]

  67. [...] How to Turn Your Skills Into Services That People Will Pay For – Ramit Sethi breaks down how to figure out what you’re good at and then turn those skills into an income. [...]

  68. Another badass post. I know several people with transferrable skills who just have no idea how to market them as freelancers/consultants. Nicely done, Ramit : )

  69. [...] Earning more money: How to turn your skills into services that people will pay for [...]

  70. [...] I Will Teach You To Be Rich: Earning more money: How to turn your skills into services that people will pay for [...]

  71. I am a long-time reader, first-time poster. I’m interested in earning income on the side. I am newly married and looking forward to buyer our first house (and taking advantage of the tax credit). I essentially live in excel for my job building models and doing analysis. You mentioned that there are people like you that HATE excel and would pay for the skill. Are you, or anyone you know, looking for someone to help with Excel models and analysis?

    Thanks for your great blog!

  72. [...] specifically to people willing to pay, not just focus on features. Ramit’s article on how to turn your skills into services that people will pay for is one of the most useful freelancing/consulting free resources I’ve ever [...]

  73. Once again very easy to understand and implement. Many gurus give us theory but here you are once again with actual steps we can implement.

    @Barbara Saunders – so true!

    @Noah – sent you an email.

  74. [...] to Tomas Stonkus and Ramit Sethi’s Earn1k course and free articles for helping me fine-tune and focus my service page. Of course, both the page and the service will [...]

  75. [...] « Earning more money: How to turn your skills into services that people will pay for [...]

  76. [...] If I had to do it all over again, there are a couple of things that I would do in order to keep marketing expenses low when starting a business (especially a freelance business). First and foremost, one thing that would have saved a great deal of time, costs nothing to implement, and can be done by anyone: talk to people. Specifically, talk to those who would potentially buy your services. (Ramit Sethi talks about this, and has a good explanation how to get inside your customer’s head) [...]