Here’s The Simple Way To Create A Competitive Advantage For A Promotion, New Job, Or To Start A Business

Last year I was speaking to a group of people about how to get a competitive advantage. It was a mixed audience of professionals and college students, so I wanted to give them some practical ways that they could create a competitive advantage for themselves.

I ended up telling them this, off the cuff, near the end of the presentation and it was well-received and several people asked me to write it out and send it to them. So I did.

I’m including a version of that same information here. And the truth is, I give this same information to A LOT of people (not just those in that one presentation), and I use it for myself. It always pays off. I encourage you to use it.

This applies to anyone who has a job and wants a promotion, for anyone who wants to get a new job, and for anyone who wants to start a business or grow their business.

THE SIMPLE WAY TO GET A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

Hey everyone,

For those who are graduating, entering a new educational program, or who aspire to a better job in a few years from now, here is a very effective strategy to give you a competitive advantage no matter what you want to do…

1. Start a blog. You can get them for free from blogging platforms like blogspot.com or wordpress.com (there are others places but those are the best two.) You can also pay for a blogging platform but it’s not necessary for what I’m suggesting.

2. Blog regularly about the job you WANT to have. For example, write about something you learned that could apply to the future job; ask a question and seek out the answer; share some reading you’ve done and research you’ve encountered; etc. If you’re bold, shoot the occasional video, post it on YouTube, and embed it into your blog. If you’re REALLY bold, find the experts in your field and interview them. There’s a lot more you could, too, but let’s keep it simple.

3. Keep at it! :) Keep at it for a couple of years. Plan for 5 years but you may start seeing some benefits from this even sooner. You don’t have to do a ton of work; 20-30 minutes a week is probably enough. (Of course you can do more but you also don’t want to burn out.) There will be times when you won’t want to blog but this strategy really only works when you persist. During this time, amazing things will happen: you’ll accelerate past your peers in your knowledge, you’ll build a small following of people who read your work and respect what you have to say, and you’ll grow a large body of work that may or may not apply to the job you’re doing now… but will most importantly, it will make you an expert for the job you want to have.

Note: you might wonder how you could possibly blog about a topic that you’re not already an expert in, or why others would even read that. But think of it this way: you don’t have to be an expert to start; you’re blogging about your journey of knowledge acquisition… and that’s exactly what other people want to read!

4. Publish. A few months before you start applying for your ideal job, gather together your best blog posts and turn those blog posts into chapters of a book. Then go to CreateSpace.com and publish your book. It doesn’t cost anything. The book will be sold on Amazon (and elsewhere).

5a. Apply for that promotion or job! Now start applying for that job. You will go into your job interview with an unparalleled depth of knowledge about your field, you’ll also have a following of people who view you as an expert, you’ll maybe have interviewed some industry experts too, and you’re the author of a book ABOUT the very topic of the job you’re applying for. Compared to the other applicants, you will be a rock star.

5b. Start that business. You’ll have a body of work already established, proof that you know what you’re talking about. You’ll be a subject matter expert simply by the fact that you’ve spent that long talking about it and exploring what others are saying. You’ll probably have an audience by this point. And, of course, you’ll have your first product — a book.

BONUS: Leverage. Although this is a long-term view and (at times) you will forget why you’re doing it or you will have trouble sticking with it, remember that this gives you many options. You can go into your interview as an expert and demand a potentially higher wage, in some situations you can pick up work on the side before you even get this new position, you’ll have a network of blog followers who you can reach out to when you want to get a job because they may know of an open position, you’ll make a bit of money off of your book, or you may even choose to branch out on your own and start your business in some situations. In short: this will give you a ton of options.

I actually gave similar advice on my blog a couple of times: Want To Start A Business Someday But Not Ready To Quit Your Job? Here’s What To Do, and, Here’s What You Should Do If You Want To Start A Business But Are Stuck In A Job.

So, think about what you want to be doing in 5 years from now, and start the easy, fun task of becoming a thought-leader today! Good luck!

5 YEARS??? WHY SO LONG?

So, most people who hear this love the idea. It makes sense. It’s painless. It costs nothing but time. There’s a ton of upside and very little downside except for lost time.

But some people will read this and think: “Yikes! Five years is a long time. I want a competitive advantage right now.” Okay, fair enough. I get that. Well, I blog a lot about competitiveness and competitive advantage so just click here and read some of those blog posts.

But my opinion is: Things often take longer than we want them to. A lot of people in jobs may hope to advance by promotion to a better position in 2-3 years but in reality it takes them 3-4, for example. So 5 years might seem like a long time for you to benefit but it will go by in a flash and I think it’s fairly accurate in terms of how long things really take in life.

Fortunately, this plan is laid out in approximately 5 years but I think it can happen sooner — much sooner. I think you’ll start seeing traction in 1-2 years. Even in your immediate job you’ll start seeing things happen as you rise above your coworkers with your expertise. That will likely accelerate your schedule of growth.

HERE’S THE STICKING POINT

The hardest part will be sticking with it for that long. Five years is a long time. And there will be weeks when you don’t feel like writing. But trust me, your 5-years-from-now self will thank you for it. It will be challenging but you’ll be glad you did.

HERE’S HOW TO TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

Maybe you’re not sure what you want to do in five years. Well, here’s a plan: Pick 2-5 topics and create a blog about each one. Is it more work? Yes. A lot more. But you’ll get the following benefits:

SUMMARY

Five years seems like a long way off. But it will be here in a shot. So roll up your sleeves and get to work on developing your competitive advantage so that, when the future arrives, you’ll be perfectly positioned to benefit.

Here’s what you should do if you want to start a business but are stuck in a job

A lot of people have a job but would rather start a business. Problem is, they feel stuck.

… They feel stuck in their job because it pays them a predictable paycheck every week and they need to pay the mortgage and put food on the table rather than risk starting a business and not knowing whether they’ll be able to pay their mortgage during the early start-up days.

Friends, former coworkers, potential clients — many of the folks I know are in the same boat. Just recently someone reached out because they were facing exactly this scenario: They want to start a business, they have entrepreneurial aspirations, but they weren’t ready yet to give up the predictability and assurance of a paycheck.

HERE’S THE ADVICE I GIVE TO EVERYONE WHO IS STUCK IN A JOB AND WANTS TO QUIT

(The good news: It’s easy and fun to do, and there’s ZERO risk).

First, decide what problem you want to solve and determine what target market you want to serve. (Check out this blog post about how to research niche markets).

As well, start thinking about how you’ll solve this problem and serve this target market. You do not need to nail down a specific product or service that you’ll offer, although you should start thinking about it. However, you do not need to have a product or service yet, nor do you need to figure out price, etc.

Second, build a website about that problem and the solution. You can create a free website on a site like blogger.com or wordpress.com, although it doesn’t cost very much (and it looks way more professional) if you build a website that you pay for (i.e. buy a URL and get it hosted on a server). It’s simple and affordable (maybe $100 a year) and it gives you a ton more credibility.

Once you’ve built the site, just start writing about the problem and solution. I recommend a blog, although you don’t have to use a blog. But I do recommend that you blog about the problem and the solution regularly. At least twice a month, although you should probably blog about it a little more frequently than that. (Once a week is great).

Blog. Blog. Blog. Just keep blogging. Keep it simple, have fun, and most important, be helpful! Don’t worry about giving away your secret sauce too early; just add value to your audience and get them reading your site and listening to you.

The reality is, you probably won’t get much traction in the early weeks or months. That’s okay. There’s a few things going on here:

  1. You’re building a great foundation of content that will benefit you later
  2. You’re positioning yourself as an expert
  3. You’re testing the water to make sure you enjoy it and can sustain talking about it

… and of course you’re doing all that without quitting your job; you can do it about half an hour a week, in an evening. Easy!

Third, start sharing your content on other sites. Slowly start building marketing accounts at sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and start participating on industry forums. Don’t aggressively market, just start building content and interacting with people who find you there. Expect this to take a few weeks or months. That’s okay. Just keep working and having fun building this foundational component.

Fourth, assuming you’ve done the first three steps correctly, and a few months have passed and you’re now starting to get some traffic and some people listening to you, then you can decide what to do. I would consider building an email list at this point using a service like Aweber. Sign up for Aweber and add a contact form to your website. Then website visitors will add their email address to the contact form and you can start emailing them to connect with them on a deeper level. Again, expect to take a few weeks or even months to do this. There’s no rush.

Fifth, at this point, you should start thinking about something to sell. If at all possible, start with a content-based product that you can create and sell for passive income (such as an ebook or video training). That’s the best option, because it allows you to do this all while you’re still working.

If it’s impossible to start with a content-based product (for example, if you want to start a service-based business) then you need to make a decision:

  • Are you able to provide the service in the evenings and weekends? If so, you might consider starting that way. Lots of businesses start that way and it doesn’t take long to ramp up from there.
  • Are you able to outsource your customer leads to someone who can run the business? If you can sell your leads to someone else, or hire someone to perform the service for you, then you’re good. No need to quit your job if you don’t want to.
  • Or, you might have enough work to quit… then go ahead.

The easiest way to do assess whether or not you have enough potential business to quit your job is to do this: Send out an email to the list of contacts you built in the previous step and say, “Hey, I have some availability in about two weeks. You can hire me to (… do whatever service you’re selling). If you’re interested, just reply back.” If no one replies, there’s your answer. If people do reply, give them a small discount if they pay in advance so you have some cash flow during the transition. Then march into your boss’ office and hand in your two week’s notice.

QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK ME ABOUT THIS METHOD

How long does it take to get this going? It takes only a few minutes to set it up and only about 30 minutes to an hour each week to keep it going. But the time to get to the point where you can quit your job, that part depends on you: You could be looking at weeks, months, or even years, depending on the target market you chose, the problem they feel and the solution you offer, how much you charge, and how much you position yourself. But I’ve seen this work over and over, and I’ve seen it take as little as 2-3 weeks. If you want, you can do this over a period of years; there’s no rush.

How much does it cost (or, can I use free services?) You CAN do this entirely for free. Actually, this is exactly what I did way back when I first started (using a blogger-based blog and a yahoo email address!) However, I wouldn’t recommend it. Setting this up doesn’t cost much — maybe $250 a year, max — but the level of professionalism that you achieve with that investment is priceless. Plus, if your business grows really big, you’ll need to eventually switch over to a regular (paid) site and that switch can be challenging after all the marketing you built up to your original free site in the first place. So seriously consider a paid site.

What happens if someone contacts me to buy from me but I’m still working and can’t serve them? If you can, see if you can help them on an evening or weekend, if appropriate. Or, sell them as a lead to another company who can help them. Or, if neither of those two things are possible, just tell them that you’re fully booked and can’t serve them at this time.

What happens if it doesn’t work out? Great! You’ve lost nothing but some time. Consider selling the website to someone else or just shut it down and consider it an investment into an education.

NOW GET STARTED

This is a simple, painless, and even FUN way to build the foundation of a business with no risk. I would advise anyone with a job to start doing this right away, even if you love your job and don’t want to quit. This creates options for you down the road but doesn’t expose you to any downside today. You may be able to build up a business that will replace your income (or just augment it)… and it’s easy to do.

10 best practices of freelancers

For over a decade I marketed my services as a freelance writer. Today, I’m a lot more specialized but technically I’m still a freelancer (because I’m not an employee).

I’ve been at this game a while and I love it. And, unfortunately, I’ve seen many others come and go.

Here are 10 best practices of those who freelance or are thinking about it:

1. Work at home.

When I tell people I write for a living, many tell me how envious they are that I can go work at a local park or a local cafe whenever I want. They picture me sitting there, sipping my frappa-mocha-cappa-whatever while I think about the perfect word.

It doesn’t work that way. You get paid to produce, not to mull over the perfect word while you sip a barista-pulled dark roast. Work in a very focused home office (or, occasionally, at a client’s office). Save the park and the cafe for client meetings or breaks.

2. Freelancing is selling.

Your ability to write will not get you hired. The only thing that will get you hired is your ability to find people who need content and to present yourself as the very best option for them. Most freelancer I know who have failed or struggled or given up, have done so because they didn’t realize how much selling was required.

That happened to me the very first time I started my freelancing business. I simply wasn’t prepared to sell. So when my first freelance biz folded, I got a job in sales, learned to sell, and then restarted freelancing when I was ready… and the difference was profound.

3. You need to master your time.

No employer is looking over your shoulder. You’re the last line of defense for your own productivity. So when you set a deadline, work toward it. Put in time every day until you are done. Projects don’t write themselves and you’ll get even more productive work done when you do a bit every day instead of piling it all on just before it’s due. Set a timer and write for that period of time each day.

Full disclosure: This is a best practice that I have not yet fully achieved.

4. Figure out what gets you paid and do it over and over.

Newbie freelancers spend too much time researching, thinking, crafting, pondering. Stop doing that. You get paid to produce. You get paid to write. Of course you need to research and think and craft and ponder but the money is in the handing over an excellent piece of content. Therefore, you need to think very carefully about what you do that actually gets you paid and focus on that.

Systematize your research by building a research checklist and a library of categorized links to great content. Become good at thinking quickly about the project. Stop trying to craft something clever and instead work on something effective. Focus on what gets you paid and minimize, automate, or delegate the rest.

5. Protect your body.

You’re sitting all day, writing. That can be bad for your weight, your back, and your wrists. Invest in a good chair and an ergonomic keyboard. And maintain good health by eating right and working out and getting a good sleep. You don’t need to invest in a lot of stuff to get started as a freelancer but you’ll be far more productive when you invest in these things.

6. Build a marketing system.

Freelancers can too easily fall into a boom/bust business. When times are good, they focus on writing for their clients and they skip out on the marketing. This is fine while they have clients but once those clients’ projects wrap up, they need to be replenished with something else… and until they are, it can be a very dry period.

A strong marketing system (emphasis on SYSTEM) ensures that new clients are always coming in and replacing those that leave. Keep it simple and work on it every single day.

7. Raise your rates.

One of the things that saved my business early on and convinced me to make a living as a freelancer is a practice I adopted with my clients: To replace my lowest paying client with a highest paying client. So if I had 10 clients, I would wrap up my lowest paying client and try to find someone who paid even more than my highest paying client. This ensured that my income always trended up. Sure, it didn’t work that way all the time, but it’s still a practice I adopt to ensure my income is headed in the right direction.

8. Start early.

When you get a client project, do something big on the project within the first 12 hours. Just get started. Do some research, crank out an outline, maybe write the first chapter. Whatever. Just get some action on it in the first 12 hours and that will help you think about it when you’re not working on it, and you’ll complete the project sooner and at a higher quality.

9. Specialize fast.

If you start out as a freelancer, that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. But my recommendation is to find a specialization as quickly as you can and zoom in on it. You’ll get paid more and the work is actually easier (because you’re not starting at zero with every project).

Sure, at the very beginning it doesn’t hurt do be a generalist — just to get your feet wet and find out what you’re interested in writing about. I would have never discovered my niche if I hadn’t done that. But as soon as I specialized, everything changed for my business.

10. Write, dammit.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Never have. Maybe it exists for fiction writers, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t happen to me. Am I lucky? I don’t think so. I understand that freelancers get paid to produce. So I sit down and write. I start typing, even if I’m not 100% sold on what I’m putting down. That first paragraph might be rough but I can always go back to fix it later. The most important thing is getting started and building momentum. The rest gets fixed in the editing process. So just write, write, write, write, write, write, write.

Starting a business? Start with a service.

I’m going to get into trouble writing this post. I think people might comment (in this post or privately by email) who will chastise me for suggesting this. I can predict the emails now.

But I’m here to tell you that they are wrong.

Regardless of what the experts tell you, start a business that offers a service.

Years ago, I started my business as a freelance writer. Although different aspects of my business changed (including what I wrote and who I wrote for), I always came back to the one key element: I provided a writing service for other people. It was my default position.

Later, I branched out into other things — selling infoproducts, writing ad-based or affiliate-based content, and more. But writing was always there, always funding that expansion and always putting food on the table.

I’m a big fan of starting a business by providing a service to other people. That service could include something you do (as in my case — writing — or perhaps it’s something else, like renovating houses or consulting on social media or being a plumber, etc.). If you find a group of people who want what you sell, and you market to that group effectively, you’ll always have work… and you’ll always have income. And if you ever want to make more money as a service provider, you can always increase how much you pitch and how much you charge. That’s true security as a business owner. There’s a very simple link between the work you do and the success you enjoy.

A service also makes you relevant and keeps you sharp. It keeps you in the game. It helps you establish and strengthen your position in the industry. It gives you a “laboratory” that you can experiment — see what works; see what doesn’t.

And no matter what happens, you can wake up and make money… and you’ll always have the confidence that more money is just a few phone calls away. (If you have the right service to the right group of people, of course).

Once you have a service established and in place, then you can extend to other monetization opportunities: Products, information, etc. These are awesome because they are “do-them-once-and-profit-continuously” opportunities. Often, they require a lot of work up-front but then can become serious profit generators in the future because the hard work is done initially and all you need to do after is market them.

And eventually, product sales might even outstrip your service sales so you get to the point where you don’t earn much money at all from services. And a lot of the gurus will tell you that starting with a product is the way to go because they can generate a lot of profit.

But I think you should start with a service. Find something you do well and provide it to a well-chosen market.

Products (whether physical products or infoproducts) are good to sell and can boost your income considerably. And products are often heavily promoted by the gurus as THE way to monetize your business. But here’s what they don’t tell you:

  • Cost and effort: Products take a lot of work up-front to do well. Physical products may require that you pay for them to be imported or manufactured. Digital products require time spent in writing and design.
  • Risk: Along with the effort, there’s a considerable amount of risk offering a product that is designed and created… but then turns out to be a dud.
  • Income and timeline: Products are (often) not a windfall. They trickle money in — and sometimes it’s not a lot of money at all. Yes, you could eventually get to a point where your product business is bringing in decent cash from product sales but in the very beginning, you won’t be lighting cigars with $100 bills.

Now let’s compare those same factors with a services offering:

  • Cost and effort: Services don’t need to be “created” so they take zero dollars to do. (You might point out that some services require costly tools or training. That’s a good point but I cover it in my next point)…
  • Risk: If you offer a service and no one buys, you haven’t lost much. You can adjust your service to offer it to a group of people who do want it. Or if you want to make more money, you can offer different services. In other words, services are much more agile. (And as for the point about expensive tools, here’s what I think: If you have the tools required to do the job then you probably have the experience and skills necessary. If you don’t have the tools then find something else that you can do).
  • Income and timeline: With services, you can potentially earn a good living right from day one. The more you sell your services, the more the money comes in. It’s fast and it’s relatively substantial (compared to the profit you earn from most products).

Once you start selling your services, don’t stop there. If services are the only thing you sell from now until you die then you run the risk of capping your income and burning yourself out. However, if you start with services and then start adding products or other “passive” monetization opportunities, you can grow your business further while always having that income from services.

The naysayers of this idea will point out that services limit you by taking your time and capping the amount of income you earn in an hour. It’s true that services pose that risk. However, I’ve seen enough people who dreamed of starting a business but couldn’t earn enough money from products to earn enough income when they needed it.

What I’m suggesting is not a popular recommendation, and it’s not surprising that products are hailed as the best business choice over services. But I think a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs could become actual entrepreneurs right now if they stopped trying to find the perfect product to sell and instead focused on the service they could offer.

If you aspire to start a business, think about what services you could provide. What could you do well that other people might be able to hire you for. Use that as your starting point, enjoy the fast income you can earn from it, and use that income to fund expansion into other monetization opportunities.

What is (business/financial) security and how do you achieve it?

One of my clients is a large corporation that contracts a lot of consultants. I had a recent conversation with an employee there who was wondering about life of a consultant. We were “comparing notes” about the difference between being a consultant and an employee. They said that even though there were drawbacks to employment (such as being at the mercy of a manager, as well as having little control over increases in pay), they mentioned that the comfort and security of employment far outweighed the uncertainty of being a consultant.

They wondered how I can sleep at night, knowing that once the project ended, I would need to find more clients. They pointed to other consultants who were contracted by the company who struggled through “boom/bust” careers and sweated the days leading up to the end of a contract.

I mentioned that I didn’t lose a wink of sleep at night. With or without this large corporate client, I’m fully booked through 2016 and have a waiting list of people who would hire me once I have some availability.

I’m not relating this conversation to you to boast. Rather, to make a point about security: Employees think they have security because they are part of a union (at least in the case of this particular company) and because there are many other people involved in the longevity of the business… and perhaps there’s some value to their tenure at the company. And entrepreneurs (and consultants and writers, etc.) seem to have less security because they are not only responsible for delivery but they’re also responsible for client acquisition. And it seems like they live from project to project.

Security is a funny thing: As an entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of sleepless nights in the very beginning of my business; those sleepless nights came from the gnawing question of “will I find enough clients to pay the bills this month?”. Today, I sleep well because my business is in a different place now.

But even more than the list of clients I’m fortunate enough to have, I recently realized that there’s something else that makes me feel secure.

SECURITY IS EVEN MORE THAN HAVING A JOB OR CLIENTS RIGHT NOW

What inspired this realization came from an old podcast I stumbled over in a forgotten folder on an external hard drive I was cleaning up. There were several podcasts — some of them too old and irrelevant to be valuable — but one of them was quite interesting, compelling, and inspiring. It was an interview with Jay Abraham. In the podcast, Abraham was describing his own journey in his career and how he got his start. He admitted that he started as a clerk and didn’t really contribute anything to the company he worked for. Deciding to change that, he immersed himself in becoming an expert in business and sales.

And then he said this about business/financial security: “I realized that security is nothing more than the faith, the confidence, and the trust you’ve got in yourself and your ability to perform.

I’ve been thinking about that statement pretty regularly ever since I heard it. I think most people believe that security comes from having a specific dollar figure in the bank and a job and a decent insurance policy.

And that might be true for some but it’s not true for me. Or for other entrepreneurs I’ve met. For me, a sense of security doesn’t come from those things. I’ve had them and I know that they can disappear.

Rather, Abraham’s statement revealed to me a reason why I feel very comfortable living the life of the self-employed: Because I know without a shadow of doubt that if everything came crashing down around me today, I could be up and running right away, serving new clients and building a profitable business from the ground up… even if I had to start with new clients and zero dollars and no website. My sense of security comes with my knowledge that I can deliver something of value to people who need it.

HOW TO GET SECURITY FOR YOURSELF

Jobs come and go. Money comes and goes. Clients come and go. Technologies come and go. Strategies come and go.

So how do you get security? Regardless of whether you want to work for someone else or for yourself, you need to build up in yourself the disciplines and knowledge and skills and mindsets that will allow you to deliver.

You need to know your strengths and understand who needs whatever you bring to the table. And you need to always sharpen yourself — to become better and better so that your employer or your clients or your target market consider you indispensable.

Indispensability comes from just what I’ve described above: A combination of disciplines (focus and willpower), specialized knowledge (in whatever category you work in), related skills (sales, negotiation, and others), and mindsets (positivity and opportunity-seeking, and probably others).

Whenever you want to build an even bigger foundation of security, you need to increase those elements of indispensability — either by deepening your existing ones or broadening them to acquire others.