Stephen Boucher has been a reader of mine for a good while. We had a Skype conversation recently where he told me about his challenges as a college dropout and how he was able to get an opportunity by using free work, one of topics I write about regularly here and on Quora.
This is a great read.
You really don’t need to do much to get great professional opportunities. Stephen breaks down what he did and why it was so valuable to him.
I don’t know about you, but I remember always being the guy who was an expert on entrepreneurship, marketing, and success. It’s kind of true: I bought the 4-Hour Workweek, listened to hundreds of podcasts, and consumed a ton of content on building wealth and a career until I quelled my angst and uncertainty about my future for a while.
Here’s the problem: I didn’t need to be an expert, waiting for an opportunity to put this knowledge to use. I needed to just do it now.
In my pursuit of knowledge, I downloaded the free ebook How to Get Any Job You Want: Advice for Future Career Seekers from the Praxis website. The ebook covers a few main topics: why you should learn by doing, how to create an effective value proposition, career advice, and why you should work for free, among other things.
I read the ebook in one sitting, and subsequently I emailed a short value proposition to a small, independent game developer (whose work I’m a fan of) offering to work for free, as suggested in the ebook. I offered to do web analytics for their marketing team and provide recommendations based on the data. They loved the idea as they didn’t have anyone dedicated to that role, and welcomed me aboard.
I actually had no prior experience with my tool of choice, Google Analytics. In spite of all my “knowledge” of success, I realized I lacked many of the skills required to actually build something that could add real value to an organization. In the two weeks after I sent my value proposition, a lot of this had changed: I used trial and error, read several online guides, read about best practices and implemented them, and eventually became the resident expert on web analytics at this company (though I still have much to learn). As it turns out, I found that I really enjoyed digging deep into data and coming up with recommendations based on what I found.
Had I continued to simply read about marketing, there wouldn’t have been a chance in hell I’d actually learn it. Since reading How to Get any Job You Want and putting the ideas into practice, I learned my way around Google Analytics and other tools, how to collaborate effectively as part of a remote team, and most importantly, how to prove my ability to add value to an organization with zero formal credentials.
By building a tangible skill through free work, I learned that you don’t become an expert by reading about how to become an expert. You become an expert by just doing the work. Sometimes these work opportunities don’t pay off at first, but the confidence, experience, and skills gained pay for themselves.
Some takeaways from my experience:
Books on business, self-help, and marketing are great, but there’s a downside.
I found reading books about doing great things quickly became an excuse for why I shouldn’t do those things right away. Thoughts like “I just need to read X, then I will be ready to do Y!” can lead to creative paralysis. Recognize this thought pattern and do your best to overcome it. There will never be a time when you’re completely comfortable trying something new. Just create something of value, and learn from the experience. Then do some research to refine your approach. For more on this, check out “Don’t Be Prepared: Why the Best Learn to the Task, Not the Test.”
If you’re interested in entrepreneurship, just build something. Even a crappy mobile app that exists is better than the best idea ever that will never come to fruition because you are paralyzed in your pursuit of the best way to make it happen.
Don’t wait for an opportunity to open up: create one.
Similar to the above point, there will never be a perfect time for you to fire off a value proposition to a company you want to work for. If your goal is to demonstrate your ability to create value, show that eagerness by creating a role for yourself. If your value proposition is rejected, that’s yet another opportunity for personal growth.
Working for free is one of the quickest ways to accelerate your career.
Working for free holds you accountable to others, and gives you an opportunity to build a reputation which is crucial, particularly if you are lacking any formal credentials. It also provides an opportunity for you to learn new skills and gain experience creating value for others at zero cost to your employer. Check out the next takeaway for more information on free work.
Download the free ebook How to Get Any Job You Want: Advice for Future Career Seekers!