Snatching opportunities in 2020 (and beyond) with informal credentials

In November 2011, I found this great post by Michael Ellsberg on Tim Ferriss’ site that lays out a plan of action to get what you want without formal credentials. I got excited as I didn’t have any back then.

Despite the post was written close to 9 years ago, I find the strategy still so relevant for anyone wanting to rebuild their career from the scratch. I don’t think but know that you can achieve the job or career of your dreams if you stick with the plan and carry it out as intended.

In all, the process shouldn’t take you more than 8-9 months but you can always rinse and repeat forever. The below is my perfect idea for building your own education program.

Note: I didn’t want to copy and paste the whole damn thing. So, I’ve edited this to the bare essentials while making sure that I retain the wonderful examples that you might find useful. There’s some commentary that you might find useful too.

That said, I highly recommend that you read the original article on Tim’s site.

So, here we go!

Step 1: Choose Your New Field of Learning

Timeline: 1 Month

SN: You honestly, don’t need this much time but in case you don’t have a clue take it easy and slow. A month is enough time to explore deeply.

Step 2: Showcase Your Learning

Timeline: Months 1-2

  1. Start a simple blog detailing your journey to learn everything there is to learn in this field.
  2. Read one professional, business, or how-to book related to your chosen field per week. Choose a mix of classics in the field, along with some off-the-beaten-path books you discover through your reading and research. These books are typically written by active practitioners in your field; they are not the abstract books written by theorists, which tend to get assigned in academic programs. Thus, these books (written by actual, successful practitioners) will be infinitely more valuable in terms of streetwise content.
  3. Then write one blog post each week detailing exactly what you learned from that week’s book.
  4. Why do this? This kills at least ten birds with one stone:
    1. You get the education of reading practical books related to your field.
    2. You demonstrate to potential clients/employers that you understand content related to your chosen field.
    3. You demonstrate your willingness and curiosity to continue upgrading your knowledge in your chosen field.
    4. You demonstrate your researching ability.
    5. You demonstrate your writing ability.
    6. You demonstrate your critical thinking ability.
    7. You demonstrate your creativity.
    8. Through your writing, you develop and demonstrate your unique professional personality and character, setting you apart from the zillions of faceless resumes.
    9. You develop and demonstrate your social media skills.
    10. You begin developing your professional brand, not as a job-seeker in your field, but as a thought leader in your field
      Time: 1 hour to set up a WordPress blog. 10 hours per week to read two books. 4-10 hours per week to write two blog posts. Do this for 2 months initially, so you can accumulate a portfolio of 16 posts.

SN: I would do a podcast too. Or perhaps, just the podcast and use the blog to promote it. A combination is almost always a great idea. Now that the cost of producing a professional podcast has gone down significantly.

Step 3: Learn the Basics of Good Networking

Timeline: Still Months 1-2

Check out these posts for an in-depth exploration on Social Economy. And also this lecture by Michael.

Time: 20 hours a week for the first two months. After that, fit in as much time as possible between the activities of other steps.

Step 4: Within Your Budding Social Economy, Start Working for Free

Timeline: Months 3-5

  1. Begin to seek opportunities where you can practice your skills. Offer small, light services related to your chosen field for free to people in your network.
  2. If you’re trying to hack credentials in design, offer free design services. If it’s copywriting or advertising you’re interested in, offer free copywriting or ad design to small businesses you patronize. (Small businesses rarely turn down free services!)

Time: 20 hours a week spent in a combination of networking to get the gigs, and actually delivering services. Do this for 2-3 months.

SN: I love working for free! But, your time is valuable, so, don’t hesitate to ask for a stipend or a nominal fee. It might not be enough to pay your bills but it sure can be motivating.

Step 5: Develop Case Studies of Your Work

Timeline: Still Months 3-5

  1. For 10 hours per week (when you are not networking or delivering services), blog about your experiences providing these services as case studies. Lessons learned, triumphs, mistakes, etc.
  2. Ask your client if you can use their name in the blog post, and show them what you’ve written before it goes up (so you don’t infringe on their privacy). Otherwise, hide and change all identifying details about the work.

Time: 10 hours per week, during the same 3-month period as in Step 4.

SN: This one’s big! And something most freelancers miss out on. They don’t even think of this until someone tells them! Show your damn work!

Step 6: Develop Relationships With Mentors

Timeline: Still Months 3-5

  1. For the remaining 10 hours per week of this period, reach out to authors of the books you read and blogged about in Step 1, asking to interview them for your blog. The more time has passed since their last book came out, the more likely they’ll be willing to do the interview, as authors are almost always thrilled when someone shows interest in past work. (If they’re in the middle of writing or launching a book, don’t!)
  2. Now you are in the process of developing relationships with potential mentors in your field. This will pay off huge over the long run (for your career, personal development, and inner fulfillment).

Time: 10 hours per week, during the same 3-month period as in Steps 4-5.

SN: This is precisely why I believe having a podcast would be a great idea. Upload these interviews there and you’ll be gold!

Step 7: Learn Sales

Timeline: Months 6-7

  1. Read SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. In my opinion, this is the best book on sales ever written. The focus is on deep inquiry into the customer’s actual problems, needs, dreams and desires — through asking the right questions and listening well — rather than through sleazy pitching. If you’re only going to read one sales book in your life, that’s the one you’ll want to buy.
  2. Once you feel you have a basic grasp of the concepts in the book, find someone in your social economy (see Step 2) who has some kind of business, whether it’s products or services. The bigger the ticket price, the better, as there is a direct correlation between the ticket price of the sale, and the integrity, empathy, listening skills, and caring you have to have as a salesperson in order to sell it.

Time: Devote 20 hours per week to a combination of studying the book and putting the techniques into practice in a friend or acquaintance’s business; devote the other 20 hours per week during this period to continuing Step 3 and building your social economy.

SN: I concur with the book recommendation. SPIN Selling is pure gold! But prepared to read and listen (to its audiobook) at least a dozen times each. Repetition is the mother of all skills!

Step 8: Sell and Deliver Your Services Within Your Social Economy

Timeline: Months 8-9

  1. You’ve got the basics of your craft in place (credentials be damned!), you’ve built up your social economy, and you’ve learned sales. Everything is in place for you to start earning real money in your chosen field. Now you just have to go out and do it!
  2. Have individual meetups with 10 business owners — the ones within your social economy — over breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks. Tell them about the portfolio of results you’ve achieved in the last seven months, both online and offline. Have honest-to-goodness conversations about their needs (a high-integrity sales skill you learned during Step 7).
  3. If they have a need you can address, use your SPIN Selling skills to get them excited about the idea of working with you. If they don’t have a need you can address, connect them with someone else in your social economy who you think can help them. (This is Networking 101: refer people to the best solutions for their problems.)
  4. Tell them about the specific type of problem and/or business owner you can help, and ask for their best three ideas for meeting that kind of business owner. You’ll usually come away with several great ideas, and possibly even some referrals.
  5. If you have been following the steps diligently, you’d have to get worse than a 1/10 closing ratio to not get a sale. If you can beat that (pathetically low) closing ratio, you’ve got a sale.

Time: 40 hours per week spent networking, conducting sales meetings, and delivering services on the sales you close.

Step 9 (Optional): Rinse and Repeat

Timeline: Months 10 and beyond…

  1. If you continue to build on all the skills in Steps 1-8, you can carry on as a self-employed freelancer, working on your own schedule (often from a remote location), for the rest of your life. It’s not a 4-hour workweek, but it definitely allows you to “Escape 9-5” and “Live Anywhere.”

I don’t know about you, but the steps above literally changed my life. They helped me get to where I am today — doing what I love the most. Leading and serving.

Onwards to you.

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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