I was struggling in a full-time office job, which I’d taken because I needed a break from teaching. I wanted more flexibility in my schedule, and more control over my earning power. I wasn’t sure what type of business I wanted to create, but I had a vague sense that I wanted to work with writers. I’d been teaching writing for years, but not always doing much writing (or publishing) myself. Since I felt so lost, I sought help from a couple who coached people like me. By “like me,” I mean “people who think a business will give their life a purpose.”
Not only did I think that a business would give me a purpose, flexibility, and a higher salary, but I also thought it would bring me a higher profile. I wanted to be recognized. I felt invisible in my cubicle. When I told the coaches that recognition was a personal value of mine, one of them said to me, “That’s not a value. That’s a need born from insecurity.” That stung.
It also stuck.
The truth is: if you want to start a business because you think it will make you seem or feel more important, well, it’s a bad idea. If you want to start a business because you think you can help someone with a problem, well, then you’re on the right track.
The coaches told me, “All you have to do is help the person directly behind you.” In a society obsessed with expertise and credentials, I wasn’t convinced. I thought, “Why would anyone want MY help?” Why would a potential client come to me when they could hire someone with a larger portfolio, or a degree from a bigger name school, or with a history of working with big name clients?
The answer was simple.
Sometimes people want help from someone who has recently gone through what they’re about to go through. Big names don’t matter if those big names are too far removed from where the client is trying to get.
Think of it this way: imagine your life as a ladder. As you grow up, you climb. Each rung is a milestone: getting your driver’s license, graduating from high school, getting your first job or starting your first business. With each step to the next rung, you learn valuable lessons and develop important skills. You knowledge is worth quite a bit to anyone who wants to move up one rung on their own ladder. By offering your newly acquired expertise to the person who is one rung behind you, you can lift them up one rung, and by doing so, create a better view for yourself from your place on the ladder.
When you started started climbing your ladder, you didn’t need immediate help from the person at the top of their own. Even if that top rung is your final destination, the person directly ahead of you has valuable advice that can get you there faster. Their help can eliminate a lot of the trial and error you go through when you figure things out on your own.
Essentially, you’ll be teaching. Typically, you can think about your most recent accomplishments and work from there. What milestones have you hit lately? Maybe you got accepted into your dream school. Maybe you landed your dream job. It’s possible you did all the research and started your first investment portfolio. Whatever the victory, you can turn it into a profit-making venture by offering to help others achieve similar success.
Make sure that whatever you offer comes from a fresh accomplishment. That way, your know-how is timely. That timeliness is a selling point, but we’ll get to that after you know what you’re going to sell. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Help a High School Student Get Into College
There’s a lot to it these days, especially if you want to go to a top tier university and snag some significant financial aid. If you managed to get into a good school, then you’ve got inside information on what it takes to make the cut. I didn’t have a lot of help in the process, and the university from which I graduated wasn’t my top choice. I think about that every time I make a loan payment – and I calculate what I would have paid to have someone help me go where I most wanted to go. Even though I’m ultimately satisfied with my college experience, I look back and wonder…and I know I would have paid a significant amount.
Help a Job Seeker Land a Dream Job
Although the world of work is changing, many people still want to find fulfillment through the full-time job of their dreams. If you’ve managed to make your way to the gig you always wanted, then you can walk someone on the job hunt through the process that got you noticed – and hired.
If you wrote a stellar cover letter that made the CEO weep, then offer a template of that letter. I know that I got my dream job in a non-traditional way. I didn’t even know the school was hiring, but a friend referred me, and I went in to interview. It was all completely by accident, and never would have happened without networking. I would gladly teach my networking secret to the person behind me. Hint: make real friends.
Help a College Student Graduate Debt Free (or close to it)
Financial aid can be complicated for both parents and students. I once had a student ask me questions about student loans while they were on the phone with their parents because neither of them understood a problem. They hoped a professor could help. I couldn’t. If you know how to navigate financial aid resources and earn a degree without going into massive debt, your know-how is a hot commodity. But laws are often changing. Student loans are a bit different now than they were even a decade ago. If you just graduated, then you know what a current college student is going to go through. Lend a hand – but for a fee. It’s information worth paying for.
Help a New Blogger Build a Website (and find readers)
When I had been blogging for six months, I realized I would need a little nudge if I wanted to grow. I had a few regular readers and a approximately 400 Twitter followers. I wasn’t in the big leagues, but I didn’t discount myself, either. I looked at the smaller blogs that I read consistently, and chose a coach from there. I didn’t look at the bloggers with 65,000 followers. I looked for the bloggers with 1,200 followers – because that was my next step. That was my next rung on the ladder.
Help a New Investor Start a Portfolio
Investing can be intimidating. It can be hard to weed through all the information and determine what’s best for you. The terms are confusing to some. You don’t have to be a financial advisor to decode the language of investing. If you’ve learned it, then you can teach it to a willing student.
I am a complete novice, therefore I wouldn’t want help from someone who has a million dollar stock portfolio. I want help from someone who can show me the basics. Sometimes, the people who’ve been at it a while forget how to speak in a beginner’s language. That’s why it’s nice to work with someone with brand new experience. They’re still fluent in the basics.
Create Your Own Business
Got an idea? Great. Need some help getting started? Here you go:
Determine your niche. Keep your focus narrow and start small. If you’re going to help someone get into college, make sure you understand why your school was your top choice AND what steps you followed to secure an invitation. Don’t stray from teaching that particular process. Your niche isn’t “help ANY student get into college.” Your niche is “motivated students who dream of going to a top notch college.”
Find clients. Think about where you looked for help getting into your dream school. If you started with an internet search, then create a website. If you reached out on social media, start posting about your niche. If you had a family friend work with you, then set up meetings with friends of your family and tell them what you’re offering. Don’t overlook your local market. Post flyers in coffee shops. Speak at your high school. Tell your old high school guidance counselor. Go to networking events. Be present, and let people know what you offer.
Charge a reasonable rate. Don’t sell yourself short. When I say “reasonable,” I mean a rate that you’re willing to work for, as well as a rate that a client is willing to pay. If you need help figuring that out, offer to do the work for a severely reduced rate. Then, ask the client what they would have paid for the service. You can also research what others might be doing online.
Any of these ideas could be full-time businesses, but they could also work as side hustles. It’s up to you. Don’t start a business because you need recognition. Start a business because you recognize need. You’ll know it when you see it. Just turn around. It’s directly behind you.
Amanda Page is a full-time college professor, which means she spends a lot of time learning about (and from) Millennials. She writes about her own personal journey with student loan debt at dreambeyonddebt.com. You can follow her on Twitter @dreambeyonddebt.