How to make money from your expertise

The problem is not that you have no expertise. If you've been doing anything for any period of time, you probably have something you can teach. Sure, you won't necessarily be an “expert” the first time you try to share your insight, but most of the time the problem isn't a lack of insight.

I meet a lot of people who are really smart. Even the people I meet who aren't brilliant often have figured out a “hack” or “trick” that works for them to make them more productive in some part of their lives.

Yet, when you ask about their experience monetizing it, you hear horror stories. All the ways they tried and failed at turning their expertise into revenue.

The truth is that expertise isn't the problem.

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you can explain it

One challenge most people have is that they may or may not know how they got to where they are. Hasn't this happened to you?

I know for me—on several different aspects of work or life—I have sometimes found success only to have no clue how I got there. I once worked for three days trying to connect a database to the web (in 1994). When I finally got it working, my co-workers asked which thing I tried had worked. My answer? “I have no clue.”

Sometimes people are really good at something and when you ask them what they've done to get good at it, they have no clue. Not because it was chance but because they tried twenty million things and they can't articulate clearly which things helped and which didn't.

Other times people just struggle to break it down into a system that others can grasp. Without that, all you can say is, “just do what I do long enough and maybe it will work for you too.” That's a hard sell, isn't it.

Just because you explain it doesn't mean others will grasp it

On the other hand, one of the most common challenges out there is that something that makes perfect sense to you is still opaque to someone else.

Ever ask someone how to play a card game like bridge? I love the game. I love the strategy and challenge of it. But what I love most is listening to others try to teach people how to play it. They can explain the game, but even as they're doing it, they're talking from an “insiders” perspective and a novice doesn't even know how to grasp the meaning of what's being shared.

Just because you can talk about something doesn't mean you've figured out how to onboard someone else. That's a completely different art altogether.

The other night I was sitting with friends and they asked me a question. My answer started with, “In the mid-1990's, there was a conference called Comdex…” and we all started laughing. I tell stories. All the time. I find that they're useful onramps. But that doesn't make it less funny when someone asks me a question and I kick into a story.

Just because others grasp it won't get you the price you want or need

And the last challenge, of course, is that even if you can explain what you know, and do it in a way that others can grasp, it doesn't guarantee that people will not just say, “no duh, that's common sense” and still want to pay you less (or ask for a refund).

Commanding the right price is its own challenge. Am I right?

Here's how to make money from your expertise

So now that I've explained all the reasons why it's hard to make money from your expertise, you're likely wondering what I'm selling. I'm not selling you anything. I just want you to be clear on the problem. It's not expertise. That's never been the problem. The problem is something else completely.

And I'm going to tell you what it is. Because once I do, you're going to say, “no duh, that's common sense.” But I don't mind. I'm not selling it. I just want you to know what it is so you can get working on it.

How to make money from your expertise requires a different expertise completely. It requires a framework.

That's right. A framework. If you can't turn your experience into a system or structure, if you can't depict it in a schematic or drawing, if you can't show people a framework that holds everything together, then it's too overwhelming to them to grasp.

I can't tell you all the smart people I know who can't make a dollar from their knowledge while others out there peddle a simple system. All because of a framework.

Why frameworks work

Frameworks work for a variety of reasons:

  • People can catch their simplicity and brilliance in a quick moment just by looking at it.
  • People have an “aha” moment but look forward to the details after seeing it.
  • People have a way to remember the various steps, phases or actions because of how they hang together.
  • The abstraction suggests you have your stuff together.

The bottom line is that when you put your knowledge into a framework, it's like dressing up in a tuxedo. It makes people look a second time. It suggests you're serious. They like that you clean up well. Some people will finally listen simply because it looks sharp.

In the end, getting your expertise into a framework not only helps your customers. It helps you – because it creates structure and people like and can embrace structure.

And it will often result in better revenue. After all, tuxedos always sell for more than t-shirts, right? (Except maybe in LA or NYC.)

What kinds of frameworks might you consider?

There are a lot of frameworks I've used in the past. Here are two that are common and might help.

Phase-based. You've heard of those diets where you eat one way for two weeks. Then, after that, for the next several weeks you eat a different way. And after that, you finally settle into a third way of eating. That's a phase-based system. And they focus on moving people thru predictable dynamics. They know that there's a transition to change and they codify their knowledge in a framework that helps that transition.

Step-based. You've heard people say, “My three-step plan for…” That's a step-based framework. First you do one thing. Then you do another. And after that, you do a third. My favorite? The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It doesn't say “steps” but that's what it is. Most people tackle one habit after another to develop mastery.

Of course, there are more. The more you look out into the world – from books to online courses – you'll find a lot of frameworks that you can use. I think my own list is now closer to 8 different frameworks that make sense in different situations.

But all you need is one.

A single framework.

One that works for your content and your expertise. Once you take all your knowledge and drop it into a framework, you'll find it's easier to share, easier to explain, easier for others to comprehend, and easier to sell.