I spend a lot of time working. I have my day job, first of all. I also have a demanding side hustle in addition to writing here. I've spent most of my working life like this. I like working and learning something new, but the main reason I seek employment is because making more money gives me choices. I can pay off debt, save for home improvement projects or add to our retirement accounts.
As I get older, though, time is more precious to me. Plus, I no longer live in a maintenance-free apartment as a single gal. Now, I have a house to take care of and a great husband to spend time with. And my spare time is getting ready to vanish for years, because within the next three months, our kids come home.
So instead of chasing after every money-making opportunity, I need to make sure I am making enough money to make it – whatever it is – worthwhile. (I realize this should be obvious, but I like learning new things so much that sometimes I forget that earning $4 an hour is not worth it when I have so many other things I need to do.)
I spent a lot of time being the jack-of-all-trades, but when I realized I was a subject matter expert – and I could make money at it! – it was time to focus on the benefits of being a specialist. And it worked. In 2012, my subject matter expert side gig contributed 36 percent of my total income. (Just to compare, my 2011 side income was 20 percent of my total income.) Way more than my previous experience of cleaning houses, selling produce, or writing a column for a tiny newspaper.
You know what? I bet you're in a similar situation, an expert who could leverage his or her experience to command a higher income, too.
But how? Well, obviously, every scenario is different, and I don't know how everyone can make money as subject matter experts in every area of expertise. I did, however, come up with a few ways applicable to most professions. Maybe you can find one that will work for you.
- Find “needs” in your field. My brother-in-law owns a spray foam insulation business. After working for a few years in his industry, he recognized a need for a new tool and hired a machinist to make one. He has shipped this tool all over the world, and it provides a nice side income for his family. Not everyone will invent a new tool, but every industry could be run more efficiently. And if you have experience, you know what is lacking.
- Teaching. Of course you can teach at a college, whether it's credit classes or the noncredit, fun classes (like knitting and basket weaving). But here's a fresh spin: teaching classes to business owners, classes that will pay off in increased revenue for their companies. The previously mentioned brother-in-law just paid a lot of money for a class that gave him a certification that made him more marketable. I bet the instructor made a lot more money teaching that class than teaching college credit courses, because not just anyone can teach a class on spray foam insulation.
- Exams. Many careers require passing an exam at some point. Maybe it's the GRE before graduate school, or the CPA exam, or nursing boards. Can you leverage your expertise to create study materials for prospective students? Can you tutor them? Most organizations that create the tests desperately want test questions written by subject matter experts. And same thing for the companies that create the study materials for these tests. I am trying to recruit a certain type of expert and few people fit. Still fewer are interested, because they have demanding jobs already. And yet, I still need experts to help turn out a superior product.
- Re-certification/continuing education. Even after the exams are passed, some careers require continuing education. I am one of 300,000 people in the U.S. who is required to complete 12 continuing education credits each year at a cost of approximately $120. That's a lot of money being made by experts. Can you tap into an opportunity like this in your own field?
- Editing/reviewing books. Maybe you're not a writer, but you don't have to be. You can review materials for subject matter accuracy. Someone “checked his jugular for a pulse” in a book I read recently. Not that it matters much, but the pulse is checked from the carotid artery, as it can't be felt from the jugular vein. A medical professional would have caught that inaccuracy. Reviewing textbooks, in my experience, doesn't pay well, but it can open doors for other, better-paying opportunities.
- Homeschool curricula. Can you write materials for homeschoolers? Because we're going to be homeschooling our kids until they are more comfortable with English, I've been researching homeschool curricula, and let me tell you, options abound. Someone has to write that stuff. Why not you?
One day, I was quizzing a colleague about his successful textbook. “Was it worth it financially?” I asked. He graciously responded to my nosiness with, “The book sells well, but it's bigger than that. This book opens doors for me.”
He described speaking engagements, opportunities to serve on boards, invitations to contribute to various professional organizations, all because he wrote a book. Each activity raised the perception of his “expert” status, which in turn, sold more books and got him another book deal.
And that, in my opinion, is the value of leveraging your expertise. Acknowledging (and using) your area of expertise is like pushing a snowball down a hill. As you're recognized as an expert, more and more opportunities will come a-knockin'. Soon your snowball gets bigger and bigger, growing without as much effort from you. And I'm guessing the bigger snowball comes with a bigger paycheck.
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).