How to Make Money: Use Skills to Solve Problems for Specific People

two guys shaking handles

Picture this. You’re back in 5th grade. You’re standing in a line with your fellow classmates, facing an open field getting ready to play kickball. And you’re all about to be humiliated because you’ll now be ranked by your kickball skills. 

There are two team captains and they’re staring you all down and sizing you up. The first picks start and of course, the kids with the most kickball skills are picked first. Then the kids with the moderate skills are picked. They don’t even need hard kickball skills, they can have skills like the ability to boost morale, being a team player or not getting in the way of the star players. And then the last picks are the kids who might not only lack skills; they might be a liability. On the dusty field, it’s not about feelings or friendships, it’s all about skills. After all, it’s not called friendship ball.

So, Get Skills

Thankfully, in business and in life, having skills isn’t just limited to being able to kick a bouncy ball far or having gazelle-like legs that allow you to effortlessly bound across a field. But the fact of the matter is, in our current system of capitalism, those who have skills are the ones who can get rewarded for them.

Skilled people get jobs or get customers. And in our current system, some people who struggle with acquiring skills, for reasons that may not be their fault, struggle to get picked. I have no solutions for that greater societal issue, I’m not that clever - I lack the skills. But if you’re reading this and you have skills...well, that’s your hand to play, my friend. 

Here’s one qualifier about skills. My mentor used to say in order to make money you first need “marketable skills.” Marketable skills means that people are willing to pay for your skills. That’s the kicker. 

If you’ve ever been to a professional basketball game, you may have seen some very skillful half-time entertainment. My all-time favorite half-time show (thus far in my life) is a woman who rides a very, obnoxiously tall unicycle, mostly with one foot. Because the other foot has a bowl on it. She pedals slightly on the unicycle, mostly going to and fro a couple inches. Then she hurls a single bowl from her foot all the way to her head. The bowl then lands on top of her head, right side up. And then she does it again, but instead of just one bowl, she hurls and stacks two. Then she does three and then four. I don’t remember what the biggest stack was, but by the end she’s basically riding a very tall unicycle while balance a tall stack of balls on her head. Clearly, I was impacted by her insanely sharp and marketable skills.

We all have skills, but are they good enough that people will pay you for them?

Excellent Skills Are a Baseline Requirement

Keep working on your skills until you don’t suck. I don’t think anyone will pay you for your lack of skills, so sharpening them is what you should focus on. 

Choose a skill set to hone, preferably something you might be predisposed to be good at it. Stick with it. Learn more. Practice. Learn from your mistakes. Be patient. Keep showing up. Remember with this long-game stuff, it’s not really about what you feel like doing, it’s about just showing up. And in a couple years (or like, ten), you’ll probably be good at it. 

One note about sticking with something. Seriously, pick something. Millennials, I’m talking to you. Yes, it’s scary to pick something because maybe that thing will define you for the rest of your life or maybe you’re concerned about whether or not you’ll be happy or if you are settling. But also, you’re more than your job. Your worth in life isn’t defined by your work. You can have a full and rich life outside of the thing that makes you money. Trust the process of life and for fuck’s sake, pick something and stick with and get good at it. 

Solve Problems for Specific People

I grew up in Southern California, which means I have had a lot of delicious Mexican food. I’ve had enough chips and salsa for many lifetimes. Through my own personal and informal research, I’ve concluded that the chips are just a vehicle for salsa. It’s all about the salsa. Even though it’s all about the salsa, in this specific, very odd analogy, you still need the chip. 

In the game of making money, this part is the salsa, y’all. Solving problems for specific people is the salsa and your skills are the chip. 

illustration of chips and salsa

First, what does “specific people” mean and why?

Specific people can also be known as your target market or your audience. They can also be your ideal client.

When you’re specific about the people you serve, you’re focused. You have a target audience that you’re trying to reach.

  • Being focused means you can be more effective in how you market and how you solve problems.

  • Being focused means you don’t waste time trying to win over customers who aren’t the right fit.

  • When you focus on a specific group of people, you have a higher chance of becoming well-known in that specific group.

  • When you’re well-known, you build trust. People will tell you all about their other problems. Which means they’re literally telling you what solutions they’ll pay you for. 

Here are examples of a specific groups of people:

  • People who want to start an online business and value good design,

  • Yoga instructors located in California,

  • People looking for an electric car repair shop that is located in their neighborhood,

  • Production companies looking for we designers.

Next, look for real problems and use your skills to solve them.

If you are in within the audience you’re trying to reach, what problems do you have? Do you have the skills to solve them? And would anyone pay for a solution? 

A great example is the company Basecamp. They originally started as a group of web designers. They didn’t have a way to manage projects in a clean, central location because this was back in internet ancient times, like ‘04. It was all strung together through emails and phone calls. Since they had the coding skills, they built their own internal solution, Basecamp. While they were working on projects, their clients would see Basecamp and would want it for their own company. Eventually, they started to make more money from Basecamp than design and so they focused exclusively on it.

If you’re not exactly your target audience, spend time talking to your target audience to find out what problems they have and what solutions they’d pay for. Or like the folks at Basecamp, observe and be open.

venn diagram skills solutions solving problems

Sometimes It’s Shining a Turd

Forming The Hell Yeah Group, an awesome vehicle that allows me to help people, was me shining a turd. Before I started it, I was pretty sure that I was going to walk away from the finance world because it really sucks.

But eventually, I realized that I had these marketable skills that I had stuck with for many years and that I could most certainly use to solve a specific problem for a specific group of people. 

While we truly don’t know how things are going to end up or turn out, if you focus on skills and solving problems for specific people, you’ll always be able to convince someone to pay you. And then that’s just one less thing that you have to figure out.