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4 Ways to Turn Your Expertise Into a Product

John Warrillow explains how professionals-such as architects, accountants, doctors and dentists-can grow their business beyond themselves.
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Dear John:

I'm a criminal defense lawyer. As much as I would like to, I don't see how I could apply the Built To Sell philosophy to my practice. In my field, clients hire the lawyer to represent them individually in court and get mad if the lawyer they hire sends someone else. Even getting past that, how can I sell a product (vs. service) in the context of what I do, if I can't guarantee a result? For example, someone get's arrested for a DUI. I can't promise what the result will be for obvious reasons. I wanted to make sure my analysis is correct. Is there a way to apply the Built To Sell philosophy to what I do?

—Steve,  Las Vegas

The 'Built to Sell philosophy' the lawyer is asking about is an approach to running a business so that it is less reliant on the owner, making it a valuable and sellable business.

Lawyering is arguably the hardest occupation to transform into a business because clients buy an individual lawyer’s expertise–and they are often deeply loyal to that particular lawyer–by the hour. As a professional, you can create a pyramid of associates underneath you to try and scale your time, but eventually clients want to talk to their lawyer, not an underling.

The same is true of many people who sell their expertise: e.g., architects, accountants, consultants, personal trainers, doctors and dentists. My suggestion to professionals who want to build a business that can thrive without them is to focus on building an information product which packages your expertise into something that can be sold on a one-to-many basis without a lot of customization. For example:

1. Could you turn your expertise into an online course?

Kaplan Bar Review offers an online training course for would-be lawyers to get ready for the Bar Exam. Kaplan is a valuable company not because they are lawyers but because they have packaged up their expertise and sold it like a product.

In the case of the criminal defense lawyer who wants to get out of defending individual suspects, could he develop an online course for defending a drunk driving case? Assuming this lawyer has some unique knowledge to share on the subject, I would imagine a lot of young defense attorneys with their first Driving Under The Influence (DUI) case to defend would be interested in taking his course.

2. Could you create a membership program?

Joe Polish is an expert marketer who got his start teaching cleaning companies how to market themselves. He got to a point where his time was so valuable he was selling it for $20,000 a day. Keen to find a way to scale up his expertise beyond peddling hours, Polish launched The Genius Network Mastermind Group, a program for information marketers to learn his marketing techniques. Polish charges $25,000 per year to be a member of the group, which meets for two days, three times per year. Instead of just learning from Polish, the members of the group report getting at least as much value from each other's experiences as they do from Joe himself. Joe has gone from selling his time to selling access to a group of smart people who offer a lot of the value of the program.

3. Could you train a trainer?

Nancy Duarte had a special talent for building PowerPoint presentations (her firm created the presentation Al Gore used in the movie The Inconvenient Truth). Duarte reached a point where she no longer wanted to be the one designing presentations so she decided to document her knowledge and build a training company. Her methodology is called VisualStory and is taught through company and public workshops by one of the many Duarte-trained facilitators.

4. Could you license what you know?

Peter Hickey is an Australian who started training companies to run better businesses in 1990. Rather than sell his expertise on a one-to-one basis, Hickey decided to develop The MAUS Accredited Partner Program to license his expertise to other business coaches and consultants who pay an annual fee for the rights to use Hickey's tools and techniques.

Selling time can be a soul-sucking way to make a living. You’re constantly having to decide between selling one more hour or doing something you love. When time is your inventory, everything becomes a trade off: should you see one more client or go to the gym? Should you sell one more hour or take your daughter to her soccer practice? To get yourself out of selling time, consider turning what you know into an information product others can benefit from without you having to be there.

Last updated: Sep 2, 2011

JOHN WARRILLOW | Columnist | Sellability

John Warrillow is the author of Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You and the founder of The Sellability Score, a cloud-based software company that helps business owners improve the value of their company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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