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How to Start a Business Selling Your Knowledge

An expert's advice on becoming an information marketer


Part of the America’s Entrepreneurs Special Report

Many prospective boomer entrepreneurs struggle to find a business idea that fits them without realizing that they already possess a valuable asset they can sell profitably: their knowledge.

After a career spanning 30 years or longer, one thing most boomers can offer is inside knowledge and information on at least one topic. But, you may be thinking: Free information abounds on the web. So, why would anybody pay to obtain my information?

Well, the truth is that many people are overwhelmed with all this free information and are looking for a guide to help them understand what they are reading. Also, many don’t have the discipline to turn knowledge into action and really get things done.

These two factors are propelling an explosion of information-selling businesses. I speak from experience. My company, Bizstarters.com, has been an information-selling enterprise for more than 25 years, specializing in helping boomers launch businesses.

Here are my best tips for aspiring boomer infopreneurs:

Start with good content. You already possess the specialized knowledge and experience necessary to instruct others to achieve the outcome you promise. A great example is boomer business owner Melissa Wilson, CEO of Networlding.com. She has written 15 books (sales: 40,000+); the early ones were published by the likes of McGraw-Hill and Kaplan and recently she has self-published. Many are about her specialty — how to conduct corporate networking more effectively.

After being asked by a growing number of her readers to offer a course on writing your first book, Wilson created an eight-week course: “Write, Publish and Sell Your First 10,000 Books.” It combines video learning, online training and group phone coaching sessions with her. The course sells for $497 to $997, depending on whether the participant also purchases one-on-one assistance from Wilson.

Understand what your clients will need next. Shortly after publishing my $17.95 workbook, “Start Your Business NOW!,” I started receiving inquiries asking if I offered a home-study course to let users launch their businesses on their own. I saw a new income opportunity, and over several weekends wrote and launched a $199, eight-module business-startup course called “Start Your Business NOW! E-Course.” It combines step-by-step planning instructions through online learning plus membership in a telecoaching group I lead.

Start small and test. Many successful information marketers work with mailing lists of 50,000 email addresses. But you can make money using just a few hundred, if they are for people truly interested in learning more about your chosen topic. Just ask Lynne Strang, author of Late Blooming Entrepreneurs, an engaging paperback that shares first-hand stories of several dozen older entrepreneurs. By the time Strang was ready to ship the book, email inquiries convinced her that readers would want to share more stories of older entrepreneurs. So, she tested the level of interest by launching the companion Late Blooming Entrepreneurs blog. Over the past couple of years, her subscriber list has grown to more than 24,000 followers, to whom Strang markets her freelance writing services.

Know your time and dollar costs. When considering which type of information product to offer first, choose the option that bests fits your audience and budget.

Let’s take a look at the time and dollar investment for three information products:

E-Books: These are guides that only exist digitally. They typically run 50 to 75 pages and sell for $29 to $97. Many e-book authors today offer a pdf file format, usually downloaded by the buyer from a link sent by email, and in Kindle format on Amazon.

A popular content approach is to present a “Top 10 or Top 20” collection of tips in your area of expertise. Spend around 30 minutes per tip to compose the content. For example, my latest, 20-chapter e-book: The Ultimate Boomer Business Success Guide, took me about 10 hours to compose and cost less than $50 out-of-pocket. I saved hours of design time by starting with a free template I downloaded from HubSpot.com. I offer this e-book free to build leads for my $3,500 Virtual Incubator business startup coaching program, but have had more than $50,000 in sales from six earlier e-books.

Paperbacks: If you have a burning desire to become a published author of a nonfiction business book of 175 pages or more selling for about $15 to $18, start by writing out its Table of Contents. This forces you to think about specific topics to present and in which order. Come up with preliminary titles for each chapter (you can change them later). I have written several workbook-style, 160ish-page documents, and they have required 70 to 80 hours each to write. I pay a professional editor $1,000 to review my manuscript. A number of online services will print and ship your book, including LuLu.com and CreateSpace.com. Plan on paying $3 to $5 per copy to print your books (ones with colored inserts cost more), based on a 100-unit print run. Your total costs to publish and print 100 copies: around $1,500.

Online Courses: In a traditional live class, the instructor hands out printed learning materials, accentuates points on the blackboard and answers questions face to face. In today’s weekly online digital classes, the learning materials are video clips and digital files downloaded from links on a web page, the blackboard is the computer screen and the instructor answers questions during phone coaching sessions. The courses usually last six to eight weeks, accented by periodic coaching phone calls, and sell for $499 to $799 per person.

Start designing your course by writing out the specific topics you wish to present. LearnDash, the popular courseware creation software (one-time cost: $129), can help you organize material into Lessons and Topics. Each of the eight modules in my $199 “Start Your Business NOW!” course is organized as a lesson with one to seven topics under each. You can easily add quizzes and links to outside resources as well as a way to purchase links for course upgrades, such as live coaching and marketing services.

Professional editing runs around $1,500. And most likely you’ll need some computer support; figure $65 per hour for this work. If you’re prepared to do all of the writing with a bit of outside editing, you should be able to launch your course for under $2,500.

By Jeff Williams
Jeff Williams runs Bizstarters.com, where he leads a team of expert business startup coaches guiding people age 50 to 65 through the business planning process. Bizstarters.com offers a one-on-one coaching program, Virtual Incubator.@boomerbizguy

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