100% of your income from a single source is still the standard for most of us. Yet for some reason, reducing that percentage is seen as the risky option. Starting a business, becoming a freelancer, taking on a few consulting projects, part-time teaching — while these are all increasingly popular, those who haven’t diversified their income are terrified of it.
The thought that working for yourself (the one person who is truly vested in your success) would be less risky than working for a company that could toss you to the curb for factors out of your control remains puzzling to those who have already made the leap. If someone gave you a million bucks, would you put it all in Apple stock?
Why then do we refuse to view our work that way, even when we live in a time where it is increasingly viable and practical to do so? Doesn’t it only make sense to diversify our income streams the same way we do our financial portfolios? Working for someone else (or at least working entirely for someone else) is inherently the riskiest option available to us.
So why do we tend to look at this backwards?
It’s simple: predictability gets mistaken for security
At a moment’s notice, we could get moved to a new department or a manager that we struggle to work with. At a moment’s notice, our branch could get shut down. At a moment’s notice, we could get laid off. We’ve mistaken subsidized insurance, paid time off, and a predictable payment cycle as security blankets. But the biggest risk of all — trapping yourself in the wrong career or losing all income entirely — lives in this space too. We’ve evolved to view order as a means of survival, so the risks associated with that order have become too deeply integrated into our daily lives for us to even acknowledge.
“Nobody panics if things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.” — The Joker, The Dark Knight
If comfort in predictability is what handcuffs us, how do we spread our risk once we are willing to make a change? First, let’s think about what to expect.
What CAN the alternative look like?
Picture this: the full-time job starts to bleed into a few consulting or writing projects. Moonlighting as an independent blogger leads to getting picked up by a couple of key publications with significant reach. A now robust writing portfolio built over the course of a year or two generates opportunities to ghostwrite for executives for solid pay. Your writing and personal branding efforts start to augment your consulting work, and your consulting work augments your writing and personal branding in a perfect cycle.
You still have your expertise from your day job, so you combine your new skills with your old ones to create and sell some e-books on Amazon, maybe cross-promoting with some paid online courses on Udemy and your expanding email list from your website. You start a podcast on SoundCloud to amplify the path you’ve taken and inspire others. Sponsors latch on. Speaking engagements arise. Maybe one day you even write a book or two to string together all the breadcrumbs you left along the way.
YOU become the product, and your job becomes being the CEO, CMO, CFO, and [insert fancy title] for that product, with all seeds of your digital and offline footprints growing from one another.
What WILL the alternative probably look like?
The above scenario is obviously a highly fortunate one predicated on years of relentless work and probably a lot of luck. Maybe that’s in the cards for you, but even if it isn’t, what if you got 20% of the way there? What if simply planting the seeds in the ancillary streams of value closest to your areas of expertise started to sprout to the point where, collectively, they replaced over half of your corporate income with an uncapped potential for future growth? How on Earth would that not be worth it?
The snowballing effect that your content and brand can have across your social graph is among the most powerful elements of distribution that exist today. It does, however, require patience. Notoriety and audiences grow inch by inch, person by person, with only the occasional shot in the arm (landing a huge client, getting published by an A-list media outlet, etc.). If there’s one idea of success I hear repeatedly from those who are far further along in this journey than I am, it’s this:
The media, blogosphere, and entire Internet are endless, crowded streams of content and individuals attempting to be heard and to live on their terms. But the vast majority of people who attempt any version of this quit within the first few months, or even less. Simply remaining persistent and pushing through the barriers where most people decide to stop puts you in exclusive company.
This doesn’t mean you’re going to be a blogging millionaire — you’re not. But if you actually put some effort into it and break through the technical and psychological barriers that stop most of your peers, you can probably change your life dramatically by doing what you want to do and getting paid for it. (Crazy concept, I know.)
The takeaway: assets vs. hours
The beauty of productizing yourself is that you can generate income from your assets instead of your hours. You might write a book that barely sells—and that’s fine. It might actually continue to trickle in sales years later with no maintenance or upkeep. Do this a few times and it can add up. Or better yet, one of them may actually hit and more than offset lackluster sales from all the others.
Regardless of the immediate benefits, you get to create something and own it. There are royalties behind whatever you build, either formally (e.g., books/publications) or informally (e.g., content generating ads/affiliate revenue, even months or years later). You should fully expect these royalties to be small or even non-existent at the beginning. But just as with investing a $500 investment here and a $1000 investment there, this creates seeds that grow without you needing to constantly maintain and nourish your initial investment.
Understanding the effects of asset creation and compounding investments will undoubtedly encourage you to diversify your work, spread your career risk, and create lasting value doing something you enjoy with ultimate flexibility.
After all, why chase the needle in the haystack when you can own the haystack?