The Secret to Leveling Up in Life? Finding Your Marketable Skills

Declan Wilson

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Photo: Lindsay Henwood/Unsplash

Passion won’t save you. But marketable skills will.

There, I saved you from reading the hundreds if not thousands of articles about following your dreams and passions to freedom. I tried it. It doesn’t work.

If you ever want to level up in life, the only thing that matters is skills. Cold, hard, marketable skills.

If you beat yourself up for selling your soul to the corporate overlords and want to escape the cubicle shackles, skills. If you hope to take an expensive vacation every year but can’t afford it on your current salary, skills. If you need a few extra bucks a month to support your dating life, skills.

Gurus love to preach about building an evergreen funnel and watching the money roll in. Others recommend dabbling away with drop shipping, flipping junk on eBay, or hustling your way to the top.

Nah. Not for me.

I’d rather be smarter about this, and by smarter I mean systematically finding out what I’m good at and packaging it up in such a way that others will pay me for it. It’s the guru’s wet dream.

But where do we start? How do we uncover our unique marketable skills? How do we improve our skills? And more importantly: How do we find people who need our skills?

Let’s dive in to find out.

Start with what you love

For me, it all began with a cooking blog.

Back in 2010, my girlfriend (now wife) and I loved cooking together and we wanted an outlet to share our recipes with other college students.

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Nothing screams 2010 like plaid cargo shorts

I didn’t know where to start. I knew nothing about how to build websites or write online so I asked our tech-savvy friend. “You should try WordPress,” he recommended.

As time passed and the cooking blog grew, I picked up a few web development tricks here and there. I learned what HTML and CSS were. I learned how to manipulate the website to behave in certain ways.

I eventually branched out and started creating other sites. First, a simple blog for millennials. Then, a membership site for people like me.

One day, I came across a Facebook post asking if anyone had any experience building membership sites. I raised my hand. I set up a call (which coincidentally was hours after I had walked away from my full-time job) and sold my first project.

Fast forward three years and I now build custom membership and eLearning websites for clients.

You aren’t going to magically pull out a set of skills from a hat.

You need to begin with what you enjoy doing because chances are there is someone else out there who doesn’t enjoy it as much as you.

Do you enjoy drawing? Writing? Building apps?

Great. Keep doing what you love and learn everything and anything there is to learn about it.

Push any thoughts away that say: Who would ever pay for my skills?

I once knew a guy who sold miniature clay dragon figurines. Go figure. There is somebody out there making money doing the thing you love. It’s not impossible.

Start with what you love doing.

Improving your skills

Alright, so you’ve identified a set of skills from things you enjoy doing. How do you polish them up to become marketable?

If you want to break into the market, you have two options: be better or be faster.

Being better is somewhat arbitrary. However, if you want to eventually differentiate yourself in the marketplace, you need to take the hard skills you’ve developed and layer in soft skills.

What are soft skills? Here are a few examples:

  • Being a people person
  • Communication
  • Negotiating
  • Critical thinking
  • Time management
  • Confidence

You get the idea.

Or, you can be faster — and by faster, I mean more efficient. If you build beautiful custom websites but it takes 18 months, not many clients are going to take you on.

Either way, you need to look at the bigger picture and realize that people aren’t going to just pay you for your skills. People are going to pay for your skills because you’re either better or faster than anyone else out there.

How do you become better or faster?

Well, it’s hard to make blanket recommendations without knowing your specific skill set. However — and I think you already know the answer — you improve with practice. Mindful, dedicated, persistent practice.

If you want your skills to be treated seriously, you need to treat yourself seriously. Begin by looking at your skills as a side job, your 5-to-9 as I call it. No more dabbling. No more hobby. Put time on your calendar to work on your skills week after week.

Then keep repeating this process for 10 years or so. I forgot to mention, you’ll also need to remain patient.

Finding those who need your skills

Most people who have the same skill sets as you are either too timid to market them or not as good as they think. I say this because when I was starting out in freelancing I undervalued my services thinking, “Well there are just so many other skilled web developers out there.”

That’s the first step of finding those who need your skills: don’t let imposter syndrome hijack your chances.

The second step is getting in the open. How do you do this? By practicing publicly or by volunteering.

Practice in the open

Todd Brison does a great job of practicing in the open. He uses Medium to showcase his writing skills and has landed ghostwriting projects just by the quality of his work alone.

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Todd B and Yours Truly

He could, in theory, keep all of his words stored in thousands of Microsoft Word Docs, but instead, he shares them publicly. Sometimes he even writes about writing. His passion and his dedication to his skills show in the work.

While practicing in the open, also get yourself a website. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can use Instagram or other social media too, but make sure everything points to your website.

Your website has 5 jobs:

  • It’s a collection of your work
  • It demonstrates how you work through pain points and solve problems
  • It has your email address
  • It stores testimonials (social proof)
  • It communicates your vibe

When you have an idea, write about it on your website. When you run into a problem, write about how you solved it. When someone says something nice about your skills, put it on your website.

Let those who need your skills find you.

Volunteer

We have this wonderful tool called the internet. Use it to poke around and see who’s been complaining about the pain points you are really good at solving. When you’ve found someone, reach out.

If you are just starting out, offer to help for free. The experience and word of mouth are well worth it (but don’t waste your time, get in and get out — the work-for-free model doesn’t help in the long run). Once again, share everything you can about your experience.

When to go pro?

You’re a professional when you can start saying ‘No’ to offers.

When this happens you’ll need to send out an important signal: your price.

Your price does the talking for you. Your price turns away people who will waste your time and attract those who will value it.

The day will come when the skills you’ve identified, cultivated, and developed will be desperately needed. If you find yourself saying ‘No’ too often, raise your price.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado.

Baltimore, MD
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