An Economy Of Knowledge Workers
For millennia, most people made their livings producing goods (food, clothing, candles) or services (wagon-driving, water-carrying, housekeeping). Educated professionals who sold their knowledge, (doctors, lawyers) were rare in the days before the printing press.
Today, this workplace equation has completely turned around. The Wall Street Journal estimates that over 60% of occupations are now held by “knowledge workers”—managers and professionals who get paid for their know-how rather than manual labor or routine services. Knowledge is generally more valuable and salable than products or services. For example, a pair of shoes or a shoeshine can only be sold once to a nearby person, but the software codes for the shoe manufacturer’s machinery can be sold over and over again worldwide. For one who is looking to make more money, selling knowledge may be the answer.
The Many Forms Of Salable Know-How
Beyond the traditional professions, unique know-how of any type, even if gained freely from a hobby or side project, can be packaged into a lucrative business. For example, one friend of mine worked for a charity organization and had to arrange travel to Europe as part of his job. Over time, he accumulated a vast amount of knowledge of the travel industry. He is now a well-paid consultant to those who need similar services.
Another friend went through a specific medical saga and was forced to navigate the medical system, insurance system, and emotional challenges of caring for a loved one. He then turned lemons into lemonade, selling his new expertise to others. In fact, after taking into account the costs of medical school and the overhead of running a doctor’s office, this consultant can make more money than many medical professionals!
The bottom line is: basically any useful knowledge that is not commonly known can be a valuable product when properly presented. I was amused when my nephew hired a young friend of his to plan and coordinate a creative engagement proposal for him… As I said, ANY knowledge. To break it down a bit, three types of knowledge work seem to be most relevant for the stay-at-home entrepreneur: teaching a skill, providing marketplace knowledge, and helping customers navigate complex situations. Here’s one example of each type.
The market for sheitel macher classes seems to be saturated. Not so the offerings for simchah-dance coaching for men. There was recently a profile of a Lakewood yungerman who prepares chassanim (and their fathers or shvers) to dance at upcoming weddings. He offers customized moves as well, and without significant overhead, this knowledge worker doesn’t have to market himself beyond word of mouth. His skills were presumably not expensive to attain, but he can still charge good money for teaching people something they find intimidating.
Within the space of a few generations, the yeshivish and even chasidishe community’s attitude to college seems to have seesawed from seeing it as an acceptable bedi’eved to treif to a reasonable avenue to parnassah. Today, many seminary graduates and post-kollel men are shopping for college educations, trying to balance a program’s quality, cost, and convenience while maintaining proper levels of purity. There is very little college-selection guidance tailored to the frum world, and someone who assembles good information on this can probably become a sought-after consultant.
Assisting With Complexities
Dealing with bureaucracies can be incredibly frustrating, but we have no choice but to navigate medical systems, insurance rules, and the most massive bureaucratic mess, the government. Developing expertise in some corner of these sprawling mazes of law, tradition, and layers of management allows anyone to become a valued guide, for which they can get compensation on their terms. For example, exporting goods requires knowledge of various customs rules, different shipping options, and available banking and government support for foreign customers. A trusted source of this knowledge could easily sell it over and over at a good price at their convenience.
With a little creativity and a lot of study and siyata d’Shmaya, you can get paid more for working smarter instead of harder.
The Knowledge-Buyer’s Perspective
Don’t get ripped off buying fake knowledge. Unlike with physical products, it’s hard to know if the information being offered is of a high quality or even accurate—after all, if you were an expert on the information being sold, you wouldn’t need to buy it! And while licensed professionals require at least a minimum level of expertise before they hang their shingles, those offering advice or courses on careers, parenting, shalom bayis, technology, investing, baking, technical skills, hairdressing, dancing, etc. do not.
While lousy baking advice won’t cause too much harm, impressionable young people can be led well astray in their careers or relationships by someone who may be a lot better at marketing than advising. At best, you can waste a lot of money on these pseudo-advisers; at worst you may blow up your marriage or waste years of your life in a dead-end career. Let the buyer beware.
Within the investment category, I can assure you that the free courses on “secret systems” for getting rich quickly are worthless. Those who have true investment insights that can be profitably traded would never reveal them and degrade their competitive advantage. Also, anyone with a sure way to speedy fortunes wouldn’t waste their valuable time giving free lectures in seedy hotel ballrooms. In fact, these freebies are always hooks to trick the gullible into spending thousands on worthless DVDs or software that contain the “real” goods. The only ones getting rich on these systems are the slick promoters.