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As a freelance online community consultant, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to stabilize my income to reduce the ups and downs that come with having my own business. The most obvious solution is to manage your pipeline to make sure that you have new projects to replace the ones that are completing, but it’s also a good idea to have alternative income streams to complement your main client work and fill in any gaps.
In an ideal world, you finish one project on Friday with your next project ready to start on Monday; however, we don’t live in an ideal world, and even our best planning efforts occasionally go awry. While my client base has been fairly steady, I’m always concerned that I might have gaps. I would rather have plans to fill those gaps rather than being caught off guard and unprepared, so recently, I have been experimenting with alternative income streams that will generate regular revenue without relying entirely on client work.
This isn’t a new topic on WebWorkerDaily. Georgina recently wrote a great post with some of her recession avoidance techniques: saving more, managing debt and spending, and strategies for finding new work and staying motivated, while Anne Zelenka wrote a great post with 10 new ways to make money online, and Mike and Aliza followed up with 10 more new ways to make money online. However, I wanted to write about my personal experiences with alternative income streams.
Regular blogging and writing gigs in your area of expertise are a good place to start. I started blogging here on WebWorkerDaily last December, and I have really enjoyed the experience. I can do the writing whenever I have some spare time, in between client meetings or in the evening, so it doesn’t interfere with my regular client work. In this case, I get to do something that I love and I get paid for it, so the revenue stream from blogging was an easy first step for me.
My second regular income stream comes from a self-published book. Late last year, I decided to take the online community content from my blog and turn it into an e-book: “Companies and Communities: Participating Without Being Sleazy“. While I started this project as a PDF e-book, it eventually snowballed into something bigger with Kindle and paperback versions now available. This was a great experience in a couple of ways. Not only is the revenue from the book useful, but by taking the existing content from my blog, updating it and reorganizing it, I found several gaps in my writing where I had talked about the later steps in the community-building process without first outlining the work that needs to come before. You need to be a little careful with this approach, since you must make sure that you own the rights to the content before republishing it. If you are blogging for a company, you probably don’t have the right to republish that content.
I am also experimenting with training classes. I held my first Yahoo Pipes training class last week in Portland, Ore., with about 10 students. As a first class, it went pretty well, but I still need to work on the course content to make a few improvements before I do a second class in late June. I’m hoping to expand my training classes with face-to-face training on other topics, like online community management, and I also hope to reformat the material into an online course, too. Offering it online would allow me to make it available to a wider audience and, hopefully, increase the frequency of the class.
These efforts have come with a whole new set of challenges for me. The biggest challenge has been pricing, which seems to be part art form, part science that I have yet to master. I tend to make the rookie mistake of pricing things too high and then needing to offer discounts or lower prices later. I am starting to get a better feel for pricing these types of products and services, so hopefully this should get easier. My second challenge is marketing. While I do a pretty good job of promoting my work and getting the word out via social media, the people who need more training and my book are not the people who live and breathe social media, so I need to get better at finding traditional marketing channels to augment my marketing strategy.
What are your alternative income streams? What are your success stories, and what challenges have you experienced?