A new professional category is emerging that I refer to as Knowledge Entrepreneurs. The shortest definition of a knowledge entrepreneur I came up with is this:
A knowledge entrepreneur is an expert who creates for an audience earning an income.
When I started to apply this definition to content creators around me it felt like a perfect fit. More and more bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, and course authors start to earn an income from their work. Their mediums may differ but they all are experts who create for an audience earning an income. The title fits equally well to some traditional professions such as coaches, consultants, journalists, and book authors. The internet provides them too with new possibilities and demands for self-promotion and self-distribution.
But how do chefs fit in here? Traditionally they create meals for guests of a restaurant. But some chefs start to share their expertise and creations in other forms. This could be a cookbook, an event, a TV show but more timely an Instagram account, website, or online course. That’s when they cross the border to becoming knowledge entrepreneurs. They go from delivering a physical experience to delivering knowledge on the Internet.
I find the knowledge entrepreneur definition to be a great map or formula. It can guide you on how to build up a sustainable part- or full-time income online. All you need for a start is the knowledge you already have or knowledge want to build up in the process. Each of the four words marked in bold in the definition is a crucial building block. I’ll go into each one of them here.
Experts — are knowledgable in something (anything is possible)
The word expert can be intimidating, especially if you are asked to assign it to yourself. But two key questions you should have in mind are expert for what and expert for whom?
Look around the internet and you’ll find how diverse and colorful expertise has become. You’ll see college study experts, cold shower experts, nerd fitness experts, home tidy experts, succulent experts, LEGO bricks experts, goats raising experts, and slow-motion video experts. Look at their subscriber and follower counts to see how thousands or even millions of people seek out their particular expertise.
The skill level to qualify as an expert also depends on the context. Sure, to perform in a world championship your need talent and deliberate practice for thousands of hours. But to show up as the expert in a community or a company is a completely different ball game. It does require far less extreme dedication. To illustrate that point, take the extreme case of parents who are a credible expert in almost anything for their kids. They qualify as experts because of their availability and their personal experience, not because they rank among the world elite. Similar experts in companies, circle of friends and communities can have vastly different skill levels depending on the audience they serve.
What if you already have what it takes to stand up as an expert for thousands or even millions of people? What if the biggest obstacle is not to develop that expertise but to embrace what you already know? I am convinced that everyone is an expert in something (not everything!). The internet allows you to publish your work, connect with others looking for that expertise, and earn an income in the process.
Create — something to deliver experiences
Experts create work in their area of expertise. But to become valuable a creation has to deliver an experience for someone else. It has to get out of your brain and into a medium that transports your knowledge. This can be audio when you talk to someone. It can be text if you send a message or publish something. It can even be an interactive experience, like a game. All these well-known creator mediums — words, audio, video, etc. — transport knowledge. This fundamental point is easy to miss.
It is remarkable how powerful and accessible tools for creation have become. Look at the huge catalog of apps and websites that work with the computer devices you already have. A regular computer or smartphone is enough to start creating. Write an article or a book. Record audio in the form of music or a podcast. Or create all sorts of visuals like a photo, illustrations, or video. You can even create interactive experiences without particular programming skills.
I bet you currently create most of your expert knowledge for yourself in the form of thoughts or private notes. At least that’s why I observe for me. Next up are private conversations with a few people either at work or in your communities. When you provide a friend or a colleague with knowledge, you create value for that person. But if you write an article or record a small video and put it online, it could help thousands or even millions of people.
When demands for essential physical goods are met, knowledge becomes key. This is especially true in a rapidly changing world where learning and insights for how to adapt become so relevant.
So don’t keep your creations and expertise to yourself or your inner circle but start to create in an open and accessible form. This allows your knowledge to be shared with others and spread, multiplying its value. It can guide you to a place, where you can use your knowledge to earn an income.
For an audience — that values what they offer
There is no business without customers and there is no knowledge entrepreneur without an audience. For your creations to provide value there needs to be an audience to receive that value. The larger your audience, the higher the potential value of your creations. But no matter what you create, it can’t be valuable for everyone. That’s why knowledge entrepreneurs slowly but surely grow an audience of people that get the value of their creations.
This takes time. Like planting and maintaining a garden it requires many different steps. And like a garden, the result depends to a large extent on the skill and actions of the gardener. But the process is no mystery as more and more people are sharing their experiences for how to grow an audience online.
It was never easier to reach and stay connected with such large amounts of people. Regular people can grow audiences larger than those of celebrities a few decades ago. Mark Rober is a mechanical engineer sharing his creative hobby projects on YouTube. The last time I checked, he had 15 million subscribers. Jenna Kutcher is a wedding photographer turned marketing coach with roughly 1 million subscribers on Instagram. Leo Babauta is a mindfulness expert who created an email newsletter with 2 million weekly readers. You most likely never heard of any of them in the news.
And the demand keeps on rising. More and more people get accustomed to the internet and the available tools. They actively seek out to stay in touch with the experts they want in their life. And they recommend their experts to their contacts all the time, so audiences organically grow over time. And once your audience is cultivated, it is a huge opportunity to deliver value and capture part of this value in return.
Earning an income — by asking for part of the value they create in return
If you are creating value as an expert, you must not neglect the part where you ask for a part of this value in return. It is the crucial detail that will enable you to keep on doing what you are doing. Depending on the size and support of your audience it will even allow you to do it full time.
Knowledge is equal or sometimes even more valuable than physical objects. Audiences are more than willing to pay for the value they receive. This is something many people accept towards their experts but struggle to realize for themselves.
Many creators skip the part I like to call “to create an economic engine”. They simply don’t create opportunities for their audience to support them. This is tragic because there are so many different forms of revenue channels to choose from:
- general support in the form of patronage
- subscriptions for paid content in newsletters, websites
- paid access to inner circle communities or courses
- booking time for consulting, coaching, or speaking gigs
These are only a few. There are plenty of degrees of freedom and you can choose what works for you most. But you must not ignore this building block. It makes a huge difference in the sustainability of your role as a creator in your area of expertise. It is also a strong motivator and symbolizes appreciation for value for your audience.
More and more knowledge entrepreneur pioneers proving how well this can work. They share not only their work but also their financials openly. Productivity expert Tiago Forte writes in detail how his course Building a Second Brain grew over two years to 250k USD in net revenue. His most recent cohort made over 900k USD in revenue alone.
Now is the best time to start — we can do it together
After doing extensive research on this topic, I believe that most people have what it takes to start as a knowledge entrepreneur. I’ll do it myself and build a community for knowledge entrepreneurs (how meta 😉, I know). It will allow me to connect with peers and share lessons learned. And you should do it, too in your area of expertise.
Though you are likely going to earn an additional income out of that, I would encourage you not to put this on the top of your head. You will deepen your knowledge in something you care about. You will create and engage with an audience of people that get value from what you are doing. And by working in public you will show more credibility than with a degree or certificate. These are all very rewarding experiences in themselves.