With the gig economy booming, there is a way to take a path beyond the classic career one, by productizing your expertise, and then developing a business around that product.
I'm a software engineer and I started my career as a Java developer. I was working in an office as an employee in the traditional way for three years, and everything was just fine.
It’s just that just fine was not fine any more when I fell in love with windsurf and kitesurf. I wanted to be able to follow the wind and the sun and move around the best spots in the world. I wanted to wrap my work around my life, instead of the opposite. So here is how I did it, following an alternative path.
Even though remote work and digital nomad lifestyle were barely existing terms back in 2010, I started freelancing, working 100% remotely and living as a full time nomad. When you have a goal and put your mind to it, the progress happens sooner or later. I kept landing projects and working. I was getting more and more experienced in my own field (programming), and also in freelancing itself: communication with clients and team members, selling my services, productivity and self-starting, multi-tasking and juggling projects and time zones, financial planning for the rainy days, investing in courses and always learning.
In addition, I was getting more and more into the startup world, as those were the companies contracting me, rather than the old school 9-5 corporations. Even in 2010, the startup scene, as early adopters, was open to freelancing and remote work, as well as to any kind of experimenting in general.
Soon I found out that many startups, presumably due to the limited budget, didn’ t really have proper management in place. Usually a founder would contract just me and one or two other programmers to work on his application. No actual specs, management tools, planning etc. This is where my other skills and experiences came in handy. It happens that I used to do events management when I was in college, and so I knew how to deal with people, timelines, resources. I was pretty good at having the overview at all times, the big picture, the vision, the strategy. On top of that, as a nomad, I was good with people, as I keep meeting new people all the time. And so it turned out that I was the very much needed bridge between the business and the tech side. Plus years of experience with remote teams, while most of the people were just hearing about it for the first time. I’ve started thinking that I might just have a unique selling point to go with.
Meanwhile, the gig economy was getting stronger. The more serious companies joined, the remote work became a thing and we all started openly advocating it as the future of work. I started getting invited to give talks and share my experience. The coworking spaces started popping up. The networking events were taking place more and more frequently. The nomad hubs were forming in various locations around the world.
And I was working on various projects. And I was talking to various people on all sorts of events. And at one point I was sure there indeed was a gap between the business and the tech side of new ventures. And in entrepreneurship, a gap is a niche, a gap is an opportunity, a gap is business. I was seeing founders with amazing ideas struggling to implement them, wasting a lot of effort trying to assemble and lead a tech team, prepare clear specs and plan releases etc., instead of being out there selling their idea and getting the money in.
A recognized pain point plus a solution - means business. That is how I came up with StartupSetup where I help founders with their journey from the idea, over requirements specs and team recruitment, to introducing remote collab tools and efficient management processes. And finally launching their MVP, of course.
This is exactly what it means to productize the expertise. In my case, that’s management as a productized expert service. And again, expertise is like any other product - you need to have a growth and investment strategy. It’s crucial to be able to balance between client work, networking, branding, learning new skills - upgrading and selling your product essentially.
Here are the 10 crucial points to understand in order to successfully sell your expertise as a service:
Your superpower is actually the combination of your standard powers — but a combination unique to you. Each skill on its’ on may sound as a very common one to have, but combined they make for your unique selling point.
A resume is for an employee. As an independent expert, you need to make it clear which kind of problem you are dealing with, what your proposed solution is and, again, what your unique selling point is.
A resume is a list of ingredients. Customers buy ready-made products.
Think product. It’s a game changer. Everything is a product. Your expertise included.