“… get paid for something you were going to do anyway…”
That thought made me sit up and take notice. A response shared by many in the audience, as a palpable ripple of excitement spread through the auditorium.
Several hundred people leaned forward in their seats.
Some anticipating learning a magic formulae. Others looking for the inevitable trap.
All eager to hear what the speaker was going to say next.
I was attending a talk at a trade show focussed on data. The speaker regaled the audience with an entertaining tale of how he had transformed an underperforming resource-starved back-office data munging function at a large oil and gas company from a cost centre into a self-funding profit-generating enterprise.
The revenue was generated by casting an entrepreneurial eye over all the data the firm was already collecting, then creating saleable information products containing those datasets that were not commercially sensitive.
The firm’s oil tankers and offshore rigs routinely captured weather data. The team sold this on to insurance companies who covered business continuity, hurricane, and windstorm risk.
Dash-mounted cameras had been installed across the fleet of fuel tanker trucks to assist determining traffic accident liability. Given the trucks followed a routine delivery route and schedule, the team was able to train a robot to monitor the video feeds and collate saleable high street footfall and traffic pattern information.
A murmur of astonishment ran through the assembled crowd of geeks and IT executives.
For something you were doing anyway?
Become a self-funding profit centre?
Think of the status. The increased political power in the corporate game of thrones. The bonuses!
The presentation made me think of shopping around for financial services products.
This is the sort of research we all sporadically perform for ourselves.
First, when we wish to make a start at investing.
Again, as our experience matures, and we outgrow the range of products offered by a single broker.
Perhaps in time we grow disillusioned with a dubious value proposition of high fees and poor service.
Maybe we seek to diversify our exposure to the risk of broker failure, identify theft, or platform outage.
Whatever the reason, we find ourselves trawling through the terms and conditions on dozens of broker platform offerings. Evaluating annual fees. Entrance fees. Exit fees. Holding charges. Inactivity charges. Margin rates. Range of investments offered. Regulatory status. Trading fees.
Every broker presenting the information differently. Much of it hidden away in opaque small print.
There is a reason we so seldomly change providers. Researching brokerage platforms is no fun at all!
In early 2013, the enterprising team at Monevator realised that their investing minded readership was experiencing a vast duplication of effort. They decided to share the benefits of their own research, and ease their reader’s burden by allowing them to copy the answers. The result was a broker comparison table, published with all the usual disclaimers and warnings to do your own research.
Their motivations were not entirely altruistic, as some of the broker platforms operated affiliate commission schemes to reward those who referred new business their way. Regardless of whether a reader clicked through an affiliate link or made their own way to a broker site, the comparison table was freely provided to help ensure that platform selection was a well-informed decision.
Any referral income the comparison table generated was a nice bonus for the Monevator team’s efforts. Resulting in them getting paid for doing the research that they were going to do anyway.
Once I started to look for them, I began to see numerous instances of people getting paid to do something they were going to do anyway.
A simple example is “travel hacking”. The practice of funnelling personal expenditure onto credit cards affiliated with loyalty programs, in pursuit of subsidised vacation travel and accommodation. In other words, punters being rewarded with loyalty points for expenditure they were going to incur anyway.
Many FIRE bloggers who target the American audience cross over into this travel hacking niche.
Unlike most of them, one entrepreneurial blogger known as the Mad Fientist figured out how to get paid for his research into the various reward credit card offerings.
He created a simple search application to assist readers identify those credit cards best suited to achieving their own travel hacking goals. If a reader successfully applied for one of the credit cards via links contained in the search app, the blogger received an affiliate commission.
Another example is study guides for professional accreditations.
Many professions require members to obtain a qualification issued by the profession’s own industry body. The stated goal is to ensure a certain basic level of competence amongst members of the profession. It is no accident that these accreditations also allow the industry body to regulate the number of active members in the profession. Controlling candidate numbers and pass marks to preserve the earning levels of existing industry practitioners.
An architect named Pat Flynn once studied for one of these professional accreditations.
Digesting course materials. Doing practical exercises. Summarising. Taking notes.
At any given time, hundreds of architects were doing exactly the same thing preparing for the exam.
Unlike the other architects, Flynn created a study guide from his exam preparation work product. A guide he then marketed and sold to candidates studying for the professional accreditation.
After passing the exam, Flynn was able to ply his trade as an accredited architect. His study guide sales created a nice supplementary income stream, rewarding him for the studying effort he was going to do anyway.
Several years ago I had a similar experience.
A client had mandated that team members working on a particular project hold a meaningless industry certification. The qualification was little more than a cash grab by the issuing professional body. The accreditation process was expensive and time-consuming, yet offered little real value.
To minimise the disruption, I hired an offshore technical writer to read and summarise the certification syllabus. Distilling the weighty paper-based textbook full of turgid self-indulgent prose. Creating an easily digestible electronic study guide, consisting of no more than two pages per chapter.
Each team member then invested half a day to review the study guide and sit the exam. We all passed with flying colours, before returning our attention to the real work of delivering a successful project.
To recoup the cost of commissioning the syllabus summary, my firm offered it for sale on our website. I had hoped it might interest time-poor accreditation candidates, who wished to signal they were investing in themselves, but who would otherwise struggle to wade through the dense course materials.
Instead, the primary class of customer proved to be the human resource departments of industry firms, who sought a cost-effective means of supporting the continuing professional development of their staff.
Our guide became a victim of its own success.
To maximise revenue generation, the professional body had long been separately charging candidates for the course materials and to sit the exam.
Now the course material sales dried up. Many candidates opted to purchase our study guide for £20, rather than pay hundreds of pounds for the official course textbook. Coincidentally the number of candidates passing the exam on their first attempt soared, further diminishing the industry body’s gravy train.
Roughly six months later the industry body took decisive action.
Combining the course materials and examination fee into a single chargeable item.
Updating the syllabus for the first time in nearly a decade, and issuing their own “official” study guide.
Finally, they sent my firm a cease and desist notice, threatening legal action over an alleged unapproved usage of their intellectual property.
A dubious claim, but one that would be expensive to contest. It mattered not, by that stage my firm’s now out of date study guide had paid for itself many times over.
That timeliness aspect is an important consideration when identifying opportunities to get paid for something you were going to do anyway. The value of a comparison table, search result, or study guide diminishes as their content becomes dated and stale.
These types of assets require ongoing investment to remain accurate, relevant, and useful to their users.
Getting paid for something you were going to do anyway is not restricted to just products. It can also apply to services.
A couple of years ago I hired a French freelance developer. She was young. Confident. Fierce. Hugely talented.
The project team consisted entirely of remote workers. We assembled in London for a couple of days of team building and briefings ahead of commencing what would be a challenging delivery schedule.
Towards the end of a rowdy team dinner, the project sponsor invited each person to volunteer something about themselves that was extraordinary but not common knowledge.
One guy had played in same local youth team as a future World Cup winning national cricket captain.
Another used to make money as a performance artist, entertaining tourists in Covent Garden.
A third had once appeared on an infamous property television show, where amateur developers messed up or overcapitalised renovation projects, only to be rescued at the end by a rising property market.
Next, it was the French freelancer’s turn. She chuckled and said in certain internet circles, she was quite famous.
That got everyone’s attention. Imaginations ran wild! Having won the game, she declined to elaborate.
Several months later our project go-live day had arrived. Predictably, technical gremlins caused a last-minute delay to the release. After ten minutes of back and forth over a chat application trying to troubleshoot the issue, the French freelancer tired of typing and called my mobile.
Except she had hit video call rather than voice call by mistake.
This was a little surprising. All our previous conversations had been via chat or voice call. Never video.
Upon answering I was greeted by the sight of the French freelancer wearing a superhero mask and… not much else. That was a lot surprising!
I goldfished. Grinned like an idiot. Raised an eyebrow.
She glared at me out of the phone. Frowned. Glanced down at herself. “Merde! Anyone would think you have never seen breasts before? Stupid man!”
Then she hung up and immediately called me back. Voice only this time.
Once the technical issue was resolved, the project went live. By days end we had thousands of happy users and a project sponsor grateful to the team for under-promising then over-delivering.
One by one, I phoned the remote team members to pass on the positive feedback and thank them for their excellent work. When it was the French freelancer’s turn, I was dying to ask about the mask, but couldn’t figure out how to raise the topic without setting myself up for a sexual harassment claim.
Fortunately, blunt and confident as ever, she solved my dilemma.
She asked if I had ever heard of the tsundere fetish?
I had not.
She said that she was an attractive woman. Statement of fact, not opinion. Ever since her teenage years, creepy men would leer at her. No matter what she did. Or said. Or wore. Still they would stare.
“Just ignore them!” her mother advised. “Don’t make eye contact. Don’t engage. Just keep walking“.
Then one day she had an epiphany. If men were going to stare anyway, and they didn’t seem to care whether she interacted while they did so, then maybe there was a way to turn it to her advantage?
She invested some time researching the idea, and stumbled upon a dark corner of the internet where submissive men got off from the humiliation of being ignored or dominated by assertive women.
Curious, she followed a link to a live streaming site that catered to less common kinks and fetishes.
A middle-aged performer made gnocchi by hand, while bare ass naked.
A body sculptor with musculature worthy of an ancient god performed a yoga routine. Naked.
An anonymous pair of immaculately groomed feet modelled high heeled shoes.
In each case, hundreds of viewers appeared to be watching the show. Contributing the occasional tip. Offering compliments or making requests, which were mostly be ignored by the performers.
The French freelancer was intrigued. The pasta maker and the body sculptor would likely have been doing the exact same thing were they not on camera. Only fully clothed. And for free.
Deciding to give it a try for herself, she signed up with the streaming host, put on a mask, and began experimenting with broadcasting herself mostly ignoring her webcam.
It turned out that creepy men would just as happily ogle her on the internet as on the street. The only difference was that on the internet, some of the creepy men would pay for the privilege.
By the end of her first week, she had earned her normal freelancing billable hours, plus more than one hundred US dollars live streaming herself performing that work.
Her confidence grew as she explored what the audience responded to, and what she was comfortable with.
Coding in a bikini. Developing in an unbuttoned business shirt. Programming naked.
Pretty boring stuff to her mind. Thousands of viewers appeared to find it compelling viewing.
In time she found a sweet spot that worked for her and seemed to work for her audience.
Wearing normal business clothes suggestively, the chance of a forbidden glimpse seducing viewers to watch for far longer than an overt display.
She didn’t play with herself nor fake ecstasy at audience tips. She just looked alluring while working on her freelance projects, occasionally teasing the audience with attention or “accidentally” exposed skin.
For the most part however, she followed her mother’s advice and just ignored them. The French freelancer rewarded only exceptionally generous tippers with acknowledgement or praise, and charged heavily on the rare occasions she granted a special request.
The earlier video call mistake had occurred during one such special request. Apparently a generous regular had a thing for batgirl!
The French freelancer said she typically earned a couple of thousand US Dollars per month from the live streaming, all while working her normal hours undertaking freelance projects. Not enough to live on, but it helped fund some very nice vacations.
Getting paid for something she was going to do anyway. Mostly!
What do you do already, that you could potentially convert into a revenue stream?
- Flynn, P. (2007), ‘The History of My First Online Business‘
- Mad Fientist (2020), ‘Card Ratings‘
- Monevator (2013-2020), ‘Compare the UK’s cheapest online brokers‘