Leverage Your Intellectual Property for Fun and Profit

Karl Wiegers
Sep 16, 2019 · 6 min read

When I began giving presentations at conferences long ago, I wondered if I needed to develop a new talk each time I spoke. Some other speakers told me this was necessary; I quickly learned it was not. In fact, I have delivered several short presentations more than two dozen times in various forums — conferences, professional society meetings, webinars, and for clients — as well as selling recordings of them. Generalizing this insight, I recommend you try to leverage the intellectual property (IP) you create as a writer, speaker, trainer, or consultant as many ways as you can.

The entertainment industry is the gold standard for this sort of IP leveraging. A hit movie or television show might lead to sequels, prequels, spinoffs, comic books, graphic novels, toys, games, clothing, and theme park attractions. Star Wars is one stunning illustration. Okay, so maybe your articles and presentations aren’t Star Wars caliber, but leveraging opportunities still abound in the technical and business worlds.

Let me give you a great example of how I amplified a tiny IP acorn into a giant IP oak tree. In 1999, a magazine editor invited me to write a short article, just 1500 words, with “20 or 30 quick project management tips” to plug a hole in their editorial calendar. In about 90 minutes I banged out a piece titled “Secrets of Successful Project Management.” Over the years, this small starting point grew in a surprising number of ways.

  • By adding some more content, I created a one-hour presentation called “21 Project Management Success Tips,” which I have delivered 12 times. The written version of the material — an enhanced version of the original short article — appeared in the proceedings of numerous conferences.
  • The enhanced “21 Project Management Success Tips” paper was incorporated in a compilation of project management articles published by the IEEE Computer Society.
  • I created an on-demand (but not free) webinar version of the “21 Project Management Success Tips” presentation.
  • By adding detail to the tips, coming up with another dozen topics, and building in many practice activities, I expanded the one-hour talk into a full-day course called “Project Management Best Practices.” I’ve taught this course some 20 times at companies, government agencies, and conferences.
  • I created an e-learning version of the “Project Management Best Practices” course, which I sell through my company website, and through another training company.
  • I selected about three dozen slides from that e-learning course and packaged them as the “5-Minute Manager” e-learning series, also sold through my website. This series provided quick-hitting micro-tutorials on focused topics for busy people who didn’t need to take a whole course.
  • I wrote a series of articles amplifying on certain of the project management tips, which appeared in various print and online magazines.
  • Next, I collected several of these papers into my Project Initiation Handbook e-book.
  • The Project Initiation Handbook, several other articles on project management, and some new material evolved into a book titled Practical Project Initiation: A Handbook with Tools.
  • Going the other direction, I serialized selected chapters from Practical Project Initiation and licensed the resulting articles to several project management-oriented websites.

All these spinoff products have yielded a total revenue of approximately 100 times what I was paid for that initial article. Sure, it took a lot of work to create the additional material and deliver the presentations, but it was a high-yield investment in my professional consulting career.

The moral of the story is this: As you create your own intellectual property, look for opportunities to leverage it into other forms, both to increase your impact and visibility and to generate revenue. For instance, an article can turn into a podcast or a video, and vice versa. People learn in different ways, so packaging content for delivery in various media increases its potential value to your audiences. It also helps your company’s bottom line.

Do the Rights Thing

If you publish an original article in a magazine or on a website, make sure the publishing agreement gives you the rights to reuse the material in a future book and to license it to other channels for reprinting. That is, you want to sell the periodical “first serial rights” (or, sometimes, “first North American serial rights”) to the piece.

A key word in the contract is “nonexclusive,” meaning that you’re not restricted from using the material elsewhere. You might need to acknowledge the original publisher when you reprint materials and indicate that it is being reprinted with permission from that publisher.

Some publishers and websites want only original material. Therefore, if you submit previously published material to another outlet, make sure to state that it has appeared previously so they can decide if it’s right for them. I ask a lower licensing fee for previously-published material than I do for a new article.

If you publish a book with a traditional publisher, verify that the contract gives you the right to repurpose content adapted from the book into other forms, such as magazine articles and blog posts. Publishers generally are happy to have you participate in promoting your book in this way. I have licensed many such derived articles to multiple websites, each of which generates a small amount of revenue.

Starting the other way, if you write a series of blog posts, you might be able to combine them into e-books and perhaps ultimately into a full book. For instance, my book titled Successful Business Analysis Consulting (from which this article is adapted) grew out of my now-retired Consulting Tips and Tricks blog.

Who Owns It?

You have to be careful how you use materials that you create exclusively for a single client at their request. You do not own the rights to such a work for hire — the client does. Therefore, you may not reuse or resell that material without their permission.

On a few occasions, I have negotiated with a client to retain the right to reuse items I created for them. I typically cut my fee for creating the item in half, and we agree that we have joint ownership. These sorts of negotiations are perfectly fine, if the client doesn’t mind.

I recommend you get a statement of any such agreement in writing to protect yourself in the future. The individual with whom you made the original agreement could move on after a few years. You don’t want any conflict with his successor, who might suspect you are violating the company’s copyright to the material.

The same holds true if you create presentations or write articles while you’re a regular corporate employee. Make sure you clarify who owns the material. I had to do this when I was writing articles and books for publication while I worked at Kodak before I became an independent consultant. I made sure that I wrote only on my own time and my own computer.

All the materials I created for presentation or publication had to pass through Kodak’s internal corporate clearance process for approval; I had the thickest corporate clearance folder at the company. When I left Kodak, I asked my manager to write a letter explicitly acknowledging my ownership of specified materials that I had created during my tenure there, as I expected to use them in the future. It’s best to avoid any possible confusion and legal entanglements.

By the way, delivering your intellectual property to diverse customers in a variety of forms is a tip I picked up from Alan Weiss’s highly useful books Money Talks: How to Make a Million as a Speaker and Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice. Those books were worth every penny I paid for them.

Next Steps

If you’ve produced a collection of articles, blog posts, or other short pieces about your field, consider whether you could leverage any of them into other publications or formats. Did you post a thoughtful response to a LinkedIn article that you can expand into a full article? Can you amplify a blog post into a more substantive piece? Can you use several articles as a starting point for an e-book? Can you develop a short presentation from an article or, conversely, write an article based on a presentation you gave?

You might also consider whether you could adapt any of your writings to be pertinent to a related technical or business area. Perhaps you have an article about business analysis that you could modify slightly to make it just as useful to project managers. If so, maybe you can place a modified article at a relevant website, blog, or trade journal and gain exposure in a new domain.

With a bit of creativity, you’ll be surprised at how readily you can amplify your IP portfolio into diverse opportunities for exposure and income. That strategy has worked wonders for my consulting career.


If you’re interested in software requirements, business analysis, project management, software quality, or consulting, Process Impact provides numerous useful publications and other resources.

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Karl Wiegers

Written by

Author of 12 books on software, design, management, consulting, and a mystery novel. Guitars, wine, and military history fill the voids. https://karlwiegers.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +785K followers.

Karl Wiegers

Written by

Author of 12 books on software, design, management, consulting, and a mystery novel. Guitars, wine, and military history fill the voids. https://karlwiegers.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +785K followers.

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