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Building a Business by Teaching Others


"Industry Expert" Opinion

Building a Business by Teaching Others

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You’re a new business owner, but it’s difficult to find new customers or clients, and your budget doesn’t allow you to advertise. Or maybe you need to be able to demonstrate your expertise so a hungry population of potential clients will choose you over your competitors. 

How do you get your foot in the door and start bringing in money? 

Whether you build websites or make jewelry, whether you’re an accountant or an app developer, sharing your expertise can establish your credentials and get your name out there, and in turn, you will be able to grow your business. 

Why It’s Important to Make Personal Connections

Part of the process of gaining customers or clients is convincing them that you possess the expertise they’re looking for, or you can solve a problem they have.

But how do you do that? If you exist as nothing but a website or a social media profile, how can you demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about? You can always write a blog or a nonfiction book in your field. As we explored in previous articles, these are both great ways to establish yourself.

However, teaching—ideally in person, but also via video courses—gives you an extra advantage. By speaking at a meetup or giving a workshop, you get an opportunity to make a personal connection with your audience, and people are more likely to hire people they feel like they know. As productivity author Laura Vanderkam writes, “The more we see someone the more we decide we like him or her. The person becomes part of our ‘tribe’.”

And once someone likes and trusts you, it is much easier for them to want to hire you or buy from you. 

What Can You Teach?

Almost everyone in business will know something that others want to learn.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Basic technical skills – Even though it seems like everyone is online these days, there’s still significant demand in certain communities for fundamental computer skills, such as how to use a computer/smartphone, how to build a basic website, how to use Wi-fi safely, or how to use social media. For some groups, more advanced workshops on WordPress, Photoshop, or Google Docs could also be very welcome.
  • Marketing – many different people in business struggle with marketing. Things you could teach include how to use email marketing, how to write effective email/website/blog content, how to use digital advertising, or how to rank higher on Google. 
  • Lifestyle and life-management skills – You might be amazed at how many people would love to learn how to create and stick to a budget, be more productive, keep track of business expenses, or better manage their taxes. Some groups might love to hear someone talking about balancing work and family life, or how to find affordable health insurance.
  • Other skills – People running their own business might need other knowledge you can provide that might not seem obvious at first glance. Depending on the audience, you might find interest in a talk on how to take effective Instagram photos, how to dress and do makeup for a professional headshot, or how to publish a book on Amazon. You might be amazed at how many things you take for granted could be very popular talks!

When you talk about any of these topics, you bring both your own professional training as well as your own experiences as someone with a successful (or new) business. Don’t be surprised if someone asks you how you got started—so you might want to build that into your presentation!

Where You Can Offer Your Expertise?

Once you decide that offering your knowledge is a smart business move, your next step is finding places where people want to hear what you have to say. 

You have a number of options. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Online – look for Facebook groups and online forums. You can also create your own page and do videos about whatever topics you want to cover. You could also start your own YouTube channel.
  • Professional meetings – these might be networking groups, small business support groups, or groups sponsored by the local chamber of commerce. Many of these might be limited to certain types of professionals (e.g. women, people in a certain age group, new professionals), so be sure to do your research to make sure you’re a good fit.
  • Meetup groups – these are groups usually organized by Meetup.com or Facebook groups that also have in-person meetings. Generally speaking, these are open to anyone who has an interest in the topic.
  • Community groups – both online and in-person, these are just groups of neighbors who gather to share news and help each other. You can find them online through NextDoor.com, Meetup.com, Facebook, or through local newspapers and other media. 
  • Local schools and nonprofit organizations –  these organizations almost always operate on a shoestring and welcome professionals who can teach their students or members useful skills. Life skills, basic business skills, and technical skills are always in demand. The downside is that it can be more challenging to identify contacts and get your foot in the door.

If there’s no local group that suits your purposes, or you’re dissatisfied with the online opportunities, you can also start your own group to offer specialized training on your own terms. This can be a great choice if you have noticed a “pain point” in your community that isn’t already being addressed. Or you can even offer a training course or free webinars on your own site.

How Giving Away Expertise Brings in Money

Some of the best opportunities to teach others won’t be paid. 

Lots of groups need regular guest speakers for their meetings, schools always can use professionals to drop in and teach kids or adults a special skill, and there are thousands of Facebook groups and forums that rely on knowledgeable folks to answer questions. 

Hedgehog watching webinar on laptop

Furthermore, you might want to offer a free video course on your website, or create your own meetup group and provide a free course for people who are interested in what you have to say. 

But why work for free? Can’t you get all these same benefits from paid speaking gigs? 

Yes and no.

When you’re a keynote speaker, the audience might think you’re “out of their league,” especially if they’re just starting out. And your potential customers might not be ready to shell out money for a course without knowing if they will get their money’s worth.

Furthermore, by volunteering to speak at local events, you demonstrate community spirit and your willingness to help others, which speaks well to your character. 

Business relationship expert Amanda Gore points out that connecting to your community is key to your success. As she writes on her blog,

“if your business has a strong community connection and profile, you will have people supporting you over your competitors.”

More pragmatically, it’s also far easier to find gigs where you can speak for free. And a savvy speaker will make some kind of offer or run a competition during the speech to collect email addresses—and then you are building your list of potential customers with warm leads who wanted to stay in touch with you.

Other Tips for Success

If you decide to network and proactively look for groups that can use your services, you need to proceed with caution. Here are a few tips for success:

  • Start slow. Don’t join an online group and start posting all the time, or join a meetup group and take over the conversation at the first meeting. Let people get to know you. Engage with others, learn what they’re about, and help them find solutions to their problems without just talking about yourself. 
  • Learn about the group. Attend a new group and listen, or lurk in a Facebook or other online group and read other posts. Who are the other members? Are they small business owners? What is their education level? What do they want to know the most? If the group has an online presence, do they have members asking the same thing over and over again?
  • Be friendly to everyone. Don’t ignore attendees in favor of schmoozing with the group leader, or skip questions that are too simplistic. You never know when the person sitting next to you or asking a basic question could become your next client. 
  • Don’t be pushy, and avoid selling. While you should feel free to tell people what you do/sell, and give them a business card, you don’t want to go further unless someone asks. If someone thinks the only reason you’re helping them is to get them to open their wallets, you’ve lost the trust you had worked so hard to build.

What If Teaching Isn’t Your Thing?

That’s what almost everyone says at first. It’s really challenging—and intimidating—to put yourself out in front of others as an expert. 

After all, who are you to claim to be an expert at widget manufacturing? The fact of the matter is, you wouldn’t be in business making widgets if you didn’t know something about it—and the likelihood is that there are lots of other people who don’t know anything about widgets but want to learn.

Yogi Bhajan, the man credited with bringing one version of Kundalini yoga to the US, once said, “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.” If you want to really get good at whatever you do, teaching will help you get there. Having to explain something to others means you have to think about how things work, and why—things you might never have thought of before. 

If you need a little more convincing, check out this great article from technology designer and author Joe Toscano about why he loves teaching

What do you think? Do you believe teaching is a good way to build your business (and get better at what you do)? Let us know in the comments.

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