Category Archives: Trends

14 Tips for the Underemployed Independent Knowledge Professional

The era of the good job is mostly over. It may have been a 20th century thing. Don’t wait around for lots of good jobs to show up begging for applicants. Between outsourcing, the slow economy, automation, downsizing, offshoring, benefits reductions and corporate mergers, the job market aint what it used to be.

Even if you still have a good job or decent job, keep reading. The thing is that companies don’t do business like they used to. They minimize the number of permanent, full-time jobs they have and maximize the use of independent contractors engaged on a temporary, part-time basis. This is a rational adaptation to accommodate (1) our rapidly changing environment and (2) global competition.

You are a business of one — an independent contractor — who may currently have a full-time gig. If you would like to develop or expand your own knowledge-based career, read on. Here are 14 ways to use all that underemployment you are complaining about to better your situation in a big way.

I’m speaking to all you talented people who can do lots of good things and want to be working more and enjoying it more both personally and financially. A lot of people are out of work, got laid off, don’t have enough work in their own chosen business or profession since money is tight and the economy has taken a breather.

A lot of people are stunned and confused to not be getting the quantity of work they want. Maybe you are over forty and can’t seem to get the job you want competing against casts of thousands of other job applicants. Maybe you were getting enough work as an independent knowledge professional without extending yourself beyond your comfort zone when times were better. Whatever the reason, there’s work to do now to set the ship aright.

Nothing prevents you from creating value for yourself and others without an official job. We need a clear set of concepts about this because a ton of people are out of work and a lot won’t get their jobs back.

Jobless? That may not be the problem you think it is. What else is there to do? You don’t need an employer, necessarily. There are other options for making enough money without one. Here’s a list of 14 constructive ideas:

1. Train yourself by reading, doing exercises and creating branded web presence and your own information products or software. Read free blog posts. provides affordable online training in various content-creation applications. YouTube training videos are incredibly useful for a lot of short subjects you may need to learn to better compete in this environment. Apple’s own iTunes University is a new source of free education. Re-training and education has always been a smart choice during economic downturns.

When you train yourself, you use your time – the same time that gets sold to employers when you have a job. You create value for yourself in terms of increasing your marketable skills and knowledge. Your projects described here also increase your desirability, accessibility and visibility in the marketplace or actually create info products that can be sold.

2. Groups and Buddies. While you are doing #1, do a lot of it in tandem or in groups because that makes it more fun, provides a structure and builds valuable informal partnerships that broaden and deepen your social network which gives you more points of contact with the marketplace. Your teams and partners can trade services and products with you. Your own personal marketplace outside the jobs world we’ve been brainwashed to believe is the only way things can be done – everything else is viewed as not “real” and not of much value.

3. Off the Grid Can be Good. While you are in the informal cooperative economy, you are largely off the grid relative to the IRS and therefore will reduce your taxes. At the same time, if you both deduct expenditures on the other person’s services and those services can be described as for business, there’s no net tax consequence anyway.

4. Get out there and Start Trading. People may be reluctant to hire you, but they might be more than ready to trade their services for yours if you ask. On a trial basis, start doing something for trade where you get something back. That payback can be in the future a little bit. This is how most social networking works. We help each other back and forth over a period of time without major scorekeeping. If things get too far out of balance, we renegotiate the relationship by talking it over and finding a way to rebalance or if that doesn’t work, letting that relationship drop to lesser centrality or actually drop completely if it doesn’t provide mutual benefit and the net giver doesn’t want or can’t afford the gifting aspect of it.

5. Ask for what you want as long as it is an authentic request where no is an acceptable response to the request. Some of us, many of us may have difficulty with this but it is a necessary skill to develop in this informal economy.

6. There are already lots of freelance kinds of work. At the most basic we have babysitting, housesitting, house painting, handyman kinds of stuff, ghost writing or editing resumes, letters, web copy, application essays, housekeeping, organizing, helping with garage sales, fixing, training, tutoring, setting up computers, smart phones, etc.. There are a million and one possibilities… Making a specialty out of one of these works or creating a portfolio of things works if done with some structure and smarts. See below.

7. You are likely to need support to get enough structure for yourself. You can scrape by without it but with or without money changing hands, you need a mentor or coach and a group or buddy to check in with, problem solve, see what’s hard to see about yourself. This is someone and someones who are committed longer than this week – preferably long- term to your success. A good friend who can give you feedback, encouragement and help you stick to your goals and guns can be extremely valuable. Be careful here because informality and friendship can deteriorate rapidly into undifferentiated meandering towards not much of value. Sometimes it pays to trade with or pay someone to keep the conversation and alliance at a higher level of commitment, focus and consistency.

8. You Might Want to Hire Some Help. If you can’t arrange a trade with the person you want help from, consider working out an affordable pay for service arrangement. Make sure you create a structure to evaluate the benefit you are getting relative to what you are spending. Some benefits are measurable. Other benefits will be long-term even character-building things that keep on giving for the rest of your life. Others will be infrastructure improvements that will keep paying off whether that’s a better marketing strategy, web presence, blog posts done, better attire, better grooming, better business practices. Typically, you hire a coach, tutor or consultant for these types of things.

9. Resist a big upfront non-refundable payment in advance for a program. “Get rich quick” sales pitches are hard for us gullible humans to resist and very lucrative for people who are good at selling and not necessarily 100% legit even if they’ve deluded themselves otherwise. These pitches understate the difficulty and overstate the odds of success and make you pay before you realize either. This is the business model at fitness clubs, for example. When you find yourself at the wrong end of one of these programs, you are often left worse off than you started partly because you’ve lost the big upfront fee and partly because you feel like a schmuck. You are left discouraged and less confident in a lot of cases. So avoid those – ok?

10. Offices are overrated. Bricks and Mortar stores and offices are on the decline. The reason why is that it is more efficient to use digital tools and the Internet to get things done – things like shopping and in a lot of cases working. Our means of production have shrunken in size and cost and fit into the average home with a little creative juggling and design. Face to face meetings still have a value. It’s just that moving people around in cars is incredibly time and energy inefficient. And maintaining a separate work location for every worker outside the home no longer makes sense for many things. What does make sense is occasional meetings – not living together 8 hours a day at a location that requires commuting and parking. The rise of Starbucks (now with free wi-fi, yay!) and other coffee places as meeting and work spaces provide an alternative to office space. This is accepted practice nowadays. Co-working spaces will multiply that offer office space on an as needed basis rather then full-time.

11. Work where you are. Computers are cheap and iPhones, iPads and other portable devices are computers of the handiest kind. If you have cellular data, you are always connected to the resources of the internet and your own data stored online. You can not only work but now sell your services and products online with a DIY web presence with shopping cart and even charge someone’s card or Paypal account from your iPhone. This means little guys like us have a chance to do everything necessary to make money without an employer.

12. It may be “easier” to just HAVE a job but 3 things work against this:

  1. Getting good jobs is very difficult for the majority – people don’t retire creating a downline jam.
  2. Keeping jobs ain’t easy.
  3. You wind up working 12 hour days and being on call 24/7 in a lot of cases due to staff reductions making you responsible for 3 people’s jobs and now we are available by phone and email 24/7 practically.

13. Institutions and infrastructure don’t support the independent knowledge professional – yet. You have to invent solutions. Lack of structure is perhaps the hardest problem especially for those who haven’t developed good self-management skills – the majority of us.

14. Key Independent Knowledge Professional skills and requirements:

  1. Self-management with help from structures
  2. Resourcefulness and creativity to problem-solve ways to work outside the traditional systems
  3. Working well with others and relationship-building.
  4. Tech knowledge and literacy. Writing is worth getting better at by blogging or other means.
  5. The right tools – investing wisely for utility, avoidance of obsolescence and usability so the tools aren’t more trouble than they are worth.. Learning curve for the tool needs to be reasonable given the return you get. Buying off-brands and dead-end tech is the rule.. Don’t do it!
  6. Streamlining your housing/office situation.

Most of us don’t have all of these but necessity is the mother of invention so start getting yourself up to speed. There is a world of opportunity out there.

Why Knowledge Professionals Should Try iBooks Author Now

Independent Knowledge Professionals benefit greatly from writing eBooks. Writing a book puts you on the map as an expert in one stroke. Since you are a knowledge professional, you can also augment your income by selling knowledge products, especially eBooks. A small eBook purchase can be the starting point for a future full-service client. You’ll be writing non-fiction books, the kind that benefit most from graphics, charts and other engaging elements that old-style eBooks don’t provide.

I Thought iBooks Author Was for Textbooks. Not really. Actually, Apple says it is for lots of other kinds of books too. They are just leading with text books right now. Think reports, of the jaw-dropping variety. If you give one of these eBook reports away, you don’t even have to talk to Apple or give them a percentage.  You can post a link to your website or send it in an email.

Ebook Prep Sucks — Until Now. We’ve been stuck with arcane and limited tools to create eBooks. This patchwork quilt of marginal tools has been perfect for eBook prep specialists, but a nightmare for independent knowledge professionals who can’t spend all their spare time fiddling with unwieldy tech. Writing is hard and time-consuming as it is.

Apple’s new iBooks Author solves these problems. It is easy to use and lets you add tables, graphics and widgets to your eBooks. There is a catch in that the eBooks made by iBooks Author require an iPad for display. I’ll explain why that limitation isn’t something that should stop you.

System Requirements for iBooks Author. First the bad news, you need an iPad to display your eBook while it is in progress and you need a Macintosh running OSX Lion. If you already have an iPad and are running Lion, you are set. Otherwise, read on to see if it would be worth your while to upgrade and/or expand your technology now.

Compelling Reasons to Adopt iBooks Author Now. It’s the only end-user eBook creation tool. There are no other options if you want your eBook to look the least bit good short of spending a lot of money for it to be created in InDesign and even then it won’t look that good in the Kindle Format. There’s a new Kindle Format that is supposed to be good for media-rich eBooks, but there’s no creation tool for it yet. Cross that off your list.

Apple has leapt into the void here. If you are writing novels or non-fiction that doesn’t require illustration, you could scrape by using current tools if you could figure or hire them out. But knowledge professionals need to illustrate ideas with visuals. You can open up iBooks Author and start inserting graphics and more in a few minutes. The output on an iPad will be delightful.

Kindlestore vs. iBookstore. Right now Kindle books are the only game in town you say or may have heard. That’s true up to a point but that point of change is now. Even Amazon has started to abandon the lame eBook format (Mobi) they’ve been using and replaced it with what they are calling Kindle 8 which allows for decent graphics and interactivity (see above). Amazon released the Kindle Fire and broke all their own rules about how e-Ink is the best way to read books.

A lot of people compare the Kindle Fire to the Kindle Touch and like the Fire better for books because of the vivid color and responsiveness. I don’t think things will end well for e-Ink devices. They are niche devices in a world that is filling rapidly with full-featured iPhones, Android and Windows phones and iPads.

Ebooks Won’t Stop at Imitating Paper Books. Paper books are wonderful, but as we move to digital, other possibilities emerge that cannot be ignored. For example, iBooks Author lets you add glossary words in your eBooks. You get the most gorgeous glossary (with search) at the back of the book without any additional effort. And, automatically, the reader gets electronic flash cards that allow them to review and test their recall and comprehension. The eBooks you create for the iPad are truly eBooks. They are apps as well as books without you being a programmer — at all!

But, Shouldn’t You Wait and See? Maybe Apple will fall on its face this time. Don’t bet on it. The cost of waiting is that others will be there before you. Early adopters on this Apple juggernaut will be learning things as the technology rolls out. They will be looking tech savvy with eye-popping eBooks they’ve created themselves — running on the most desirable gadgets of our times.

Some technology is a pain and not worth adopting early. But, iBooks Author is made by Apple and is simple and easy. It is designed to be something anyone can pick up and use. I like blogging software like WordPress and recommend it to independent knowledge professionals, but iBooks Author is much more powerful yet as easy as using Pages or Keynote (Word or Powerpoint).

Resources. There is already a $4.99 eBook available that teaches you how to use iBooks Author. The title is iBooks Author: Publishing Your First eBook. The author is Maria Langer, an established tech writer who has written over 50 books. The moment iBooks Author was announced, Maria spent day and night and wrote, edited and prepared the book over a ten day period.

Even if you don’t have an iPad yet, you can check out Maria’s book or eBook and the materials and videos at This first version of Maria’s book is created with traditional tools to get the book in your hands as quickly as possible. She is working on a fancy iBooks 2 version but I recommend getting in on the ground floor now. Don’t wait for the fancy book. I plan to buy the iBooks 2 version for my iPad when it is available, but this chance to get a jumpstart on a new kind of eBook is too good to pass up.

CEO Steve Jobs Exits – Filling Steve’s Shoes

I am a huge fan of Steve Jobs. He has taken some of the best dreams the computer industry has had and made them real – in fact enhanced them further. He’s made amazing technology available to the Masses. He has delivered on his goal to change the world. And then some.

But now Steve has kicked himself upstairs to the Chairman position where I think he will stay until death do us part. My impressions are that his health is failing and he must cut back severely to stay alive at this point. Barring a miracle, the end is near. So, what happens to Apple with Steve’s role further diminished?

First of all, I don’t see a successor to Steve Jobs anywhere at Apple or not at Apple. At Apple, Steve has been gutsy, bold and tireless. He has been idealistic but practical and committed enough to actually fulfill on those ideals. That’s a great human to emulate. He has also been a flag bearer for a vision of technology + art and humanities.

The problem for us, not so much for Apple, is that some of the things we’ve loved about Apple products may be diluted as Steve’s influence subsides. Values like excellence, aesthetics, design, minimalism and innovation may suffer without their strongest exponent – how could they not? Although a great man in his own right, Jony Ive isn’t going to be able to champion these values as well as Steve has done. If there is one more thing for Steve to do, it is to find that someone that can fill the gaps he will leave at Apple. All the other pieces are there right now. Apple is unstoppable – short term.

The Steve-sized hole I see at the future Apple is in these intangibles — we need an insanely great advocate who can go against the temptations to play it safe. For example, minimalism a la Dieter Rams’ ten principles, is bold. It is placing your bets and going for it. You don’t get little failures that way, you get big ones when things don’t go as planned.

When push comes to shove, Steve would stand in the fire and find that bold place. He has kept calling for redoes of various products well past the point anyone I’ve heard of would just say, we’re done. That’s a print!

But Steve was not cavalier or reckless. Look at that cash stronghold Apple’s got. Far from it. Steve has just been unwavering in his vision and commitment – and it paid off. Two of Steve’s greatest talents have been to (1) find and hire awesome people to work at Apple and (2) to inspire and cajole those talented people to work in tandem to accomplish great things. I would think a big part of the draw at Apple is to have this opportunity to change the world and work on cutting edge products. These people are still there and they are there not just for Steve.

We have the incredible people. We have a Steve-shaped hole that is only partially grown. I want Tim Cook at the helm right now. Stay there, Tim. Short term, I would like to see a CEO-wannabe arty, design kind of person developed within Apple’s midst or hired from outside (there are probably 10 of these or more at Apple right now) and brought onto the executive team asap. Maybe this person just helps make up for the hole. He or she doesn’t have to be CEO necessarily. But this person needs to make it easy for Jony to keep doing his thing at the level he’s been doing it.

My Stevie J man or woman would need to be a leader. Would probably need a pretty great track record. How do you fill this hole? As they say, though, when one door closes another door opens. Our whole world has learned from what Steve and Apple have wrought. For all I know, generations will be affected by these values. There are an awful lot of Apple fans. Look at China’s adoption of the iPad of late.

Don’t in any way consider this to be a negative opinion on Apple’s short term prospects. How can they lose? I’m hoping MG Siegler’s idea about Steve’s One More Thing comes true this fall. And, no one has written better and more insightfully about all this than Jean-Louise Gassée in his recent Monday Note: Who’s Going to Protect Us from Cheap and Mediocre Now?

Have iPad. Will Travel.

This blog is called Independent Knowledge Professional for a reason. It’s where the action is in our crazy global, info-everywhere world. Workers don’t necessarily work at work anymore. They work wherever they need to or want to. It just so happens that an iPad fits in really, really well in this environment.

Part 1 – Have iPad. The iPad is the Post-PC device Steve Jobs envisioned and created a year ago with the help of his awesome team at Apple. Steve hires the best of the best and they pretty much eat sleep and breathe the excellence cocktail Steve has brewed for them. Forget about the iPod and the iPhone for a minute. Those were a starter set of tools for our mobile selves.

Now we’ve got the big brother or sister of iPhone 4 to make our way in the world. The iPad and its newer companion the iPad 2, are personal devices. They aren’t really like the *big* computers we’ve grown up on.

PCs. I’ve got the smallest *big* computer I can think as my main Mac: the new Macbook Air. I got my first one in November 2009 and didn’t look back. The Air is a little like taking a sow’s ear and seeing if you can make a silk purse out it. I would say, Apple succeeded admirably with the Air. I liked the slightly limited gen 2 Air and now am in love with the 4th gen Air I’m writing on right now.

By the way, I’m writing in bed. I do have one of those chairlike pillows to lean up against, but this Air can do writing in bed quite nicely thanks. So, I don’t want you to think that you will never want to use a computer again. And, I want you to see that we aren’t in Kansas with a big honking desktop PC, chained to the desk – even before iPad.

Part 2 – Will Travel. We have moved on, out, around the house, on the bed, the sofa and the kitchen table. We’ve moved out to the local coffee shops of all stripes en masse.

Knowledge professionals working fulltime jobs (probably a minority but it still happens) often bring their own laptops to work and back every day. Some take the work laptop home if the company supplies nice laptops. The main point of all this is we are mobile in our computing and have been. Things just keep moving in that direction.

The word computer is getting stretched a bit thin these days. It is true that the iPhone, for example, is a computer. It’s small and sexy and has a phone and all sorts of sensors and extras on it, but its still a computer.

Most cell phones seem to be on their way to becoming smartphones. When smartphones grow up they become mobile computers that are also phones. Calling isn’t the only way people communicate these days. Look at those Blackberry folks thumb-typing to beat the band. They are into email and will talk to you on the phone if they have to. Texting is popular across the globe at this point. Social communications on tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and a whole slew of others seem to consume a lot of people’s time as well. This is going to keep getting more interesting as the phone continues to morph.

So, that leads to the question, what does the iPad have to do with any of this? Steve says its the car to your PC pickup truck. He says it can do a lot and is easy to keep with you all the time. That’s true by the way. I can testify that keeping an iPad with you almost continuously is something that is not only possible but desirable. The iPad is the daytimer or clipboard of our decade.

The iPad is new and Apple took the opportunity to make a new iOS with different rules and tools. They didn’t play nice like us lazy humans wanted. They didn’t do cool new stuff but also stick every single standard thing we’ve become accustomed to on computers into the container. They said no again. That darned Steve and his minimalism. He just won’t quit on that no stuff.

So, with an iPad you don’t have a USB connector at all!!! It is heresy of the first water to deny people of USB ports. What will we do with all our usb sticks not to mention the 101 USB devices we purchased with our hard-earned money? I ask you.

And forget about a file system you can navigate around in and set up folders wherever you want. No way. The file system is there but you don’t get to play in that fun little sandbox. Every app has its own place for files hidden in the back somewhere. All we get is a way to send files from App A to App B. To send email attachments to Apps that can deal with them. It is not seamless no matter what Steve says.

So, just take my word for it that you won’t be able to just run with an iPad as a smaller, thinner laptop sans the keyboard. You can’t. You have to learn new things and all the pieces are not perfectly synchronized yet. Remember how long it took to get copy and paste on the iPhone?

In spite of all that inconvenience, the iPad is a resounding mega hit. Apple sold so many iPads in 9 months that they almost made as much money there as they made selling all models of the Macintosh. Something is going on here and even Steve’s marketing and incessant commercials couldn’t do that if the product wasn’t pretty phenomenal.

I’m writing this on the Sunday after the international launch of iPad 2 in 25 countries on Friday. The lines were really long. And happily lots and lots of people brought home shiny new iPad 2’s. Even with Scalpers running amok buying up iPads to sell in the rest of the world that hasn’t gotten lucky yet.

I am starting to think that the PC as we’ve known it was longer in the tooth than we realized. The PC is 30 years old and sure its gotten faster, has bigger screens, has applications that can jump through all sorts of hoops. Maybe the time has come for something a bit off the charts. Something smaller, lighter, more personable and human-friendly. That’s the iPad.