Selling what you know and learning while you sell

Bluffing your way into learning skills, paid.

Most people are continuously learning. While some will realise it and some won’t, we all have skills that differentiate us from others. I believe that these skills, even in their smallest scale, can be utilised in your advantage. You can share them, sell them or even use them to bluff your way into something bigger.

Realisation of knowledge

When I was 16, I bought a moped scooter. It was the first motorised vehicle I owned and shortly after buying it, I started reading all about it.

I joined a (Dutch) online forum, called Scooter Freaks. Here people asked questions about their mopeds and discussed them. The topics ranged from the law to how-to’s to technical questions but were also about style and inspiration. There were even people who shared the complete process of customising their moped or scooter.

When I joined, I didn’t know a thing about mopeds or engines in general. I hadn’t ever driven a car before and we didn’t have a tractor or motorised lawnmower at home. All I had done was driven a friends moped once or twice, to see if I liked it.

Being inspired by the people at the forum, I soon wanted to customise my scooter. I started with the exterior, but it didn’t take long till I was changing parts of the engine too.

After owning the moped for half a year, others started asking me for advise about their moped. That’s when it struck me.

By being genuinely interested in something for a relatively short period of time, you know more about it than someone who is just starting out.

Selling your knowledge

I was never particularly interested in how the engine worked. However, I did want it to be faster or to stop making that weird sound. Sometimes I just wanted shinier parts. I didn’t work on my moped because I loved working on it. I worked on it because I wanted it to do better, look better or to just work. At the time, it wasn’t about the progress or about learning. I was solely focused on the outcome.

When you begin, you often know nothing about the subject. When you’re in that stage, 100% of the challenges you face are new. After putting some time in and learning more about the subject, you will, surprisingly, experience that still about 90% of the things you do are new.

In my case, with determination and some plain “I must f***ing make this work”-ness, I kept being able to beat those challenges.

So think about it. What’s there you enjoy doing every day, every week or maybe just once a month. Is it drawing, writing, designing, photographing, writing code or working on mopeds? There will always be people with less experience than you. People who are looking to get their struggle fixed or who are looking for support or guidance to do the things you’ve already done.

Jump on that boat. Reach out or make sure to be heard. You will be able to help them, even if you have just enough knowledge to get by.

Yes, there will be people who know more than you, but there will always be. And those aren’t competitors, because they are further up the pyramid. They have been in your position too and by selling their knowledge, they have climbed that pyramid to where they are now. That said, they will probably not be doing the work that you are planning to do.


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Taking it a step further: selling before you know

I’ve got to admit, I have never sold my ‘moped experience’ to anyone. I did, however, sell my web development experience.

I’m a primarily self taught developer – I only had introductory lessons to the main web development languages during my bachelor course. Yet, I now design and build things on the web for a living. This all started with one single question from a family friend: “Can you build websites?”.

Photo by William Iven (https://unsplash.com/@firmbee)

And well, I couldn’t really. I had only built a terrible portfolio website for a school project so far and I hated it. But I replied: “Yes, I can do that. What are you looking for exactly?”. After she explained her requirements, I told her that I would think about how long it would take me to make her requirements into a website and that I would get back to her soon.

I then reached out to people I knew from university that had been freelancing already and asked them how much they would ask for a website. By taking that amount and subtracting 25%, because I knew I was a beginner, I wouldn’t be overcharging – something most beginners are insecure about.

Even though everyone tells you to get a deposit from your client, I decided not to. By not requesting a deposit, you play safe. In case you fail after all, nothing is lost – except for some trust. I worked hard, I made tons of mistakes and learned on the way, but I delivered.

“This strategy of learning can always backfire, but to my knowledge I never disappointed anyone but myself. I always delivered, because I had the pressure and a deadline.”
- Tobias van Schneider

Those skills we thought about earlier, your drawing, photographing, writing, designing or what ever skill you’re (trying to become) good at, how many people actually know that you are working on those skills? How often do you talk about them? Projects can evolve from anywhere, but you’re most likely to get your first projects from people you already know.

Remember that while reaching the skill level you are at now, you have already passed so many people. Hundreds, thousands or millions of people won’t have learnt as much about the skill as you have.

By bluffing about your skill level, you grant yourself an opportunity to work on projects that are more challenging. Those more challenging projects force you to dive in deep. They force a deadline and therefore pressure, which then forces you to try harder, work quicker and learn faster.

I hope this article helps you to overcome your fears in starting to get paid for your work. I hope it inspires you and helps you land your first, tenth or one hundredth client!


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I’m Sander Visser. I work as freelance designer & developer under the name Sanderfish and I build products like Wordeys. I design in Sketch and code in HTML, CSS, JavaScript (Vanilla, React, Meteor, Vue), Ruby on Rails and PHP. Lately, I designed and built the front-end of Cribber, worked on Broaap and on Shakabookings.

Looking for me in other places? Find me on Twitter @fishsander or visit my website at sanderfish.com.