You get paid for work that falls into one of these four boxes:
1. Not urgent, mild or no business pain
- “I’m curious and I just wondered something.”
- “I want to know best practices for ___.”
- “Fragmentation is high, and I want help fixing it.”
To solve these kinds of pains, build blog posts, YouTube videos, or other self-help resources that people can consume on their own time. Expect to get a lot of “just curious” questions from the readers.
But don’t expect any direct revenue.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t build it – building solutions for these non-urgent, mild pains is a great way to build your brand over time. Pinal Dave’s SQLauthority.com is a great example of this – everybody in the SQL Server business knows who he is, but he can’t charge access directly on that site. (He can, however, run ads for other companies.)
2. Urgent, but mild or no business pains
- “My restore from production to development is taking forever. Why?”
- “A long-running query is rolling back. What do I do?”
- “I’m building a new server. How should I configure TempDB?”
There’s urgency, but note that the urgency is coming from the person asking the question – not necessarily from the business users who control the checkbook.
To solve these pains in your spare time, answer questions on StackOverflow.com and watch #SQLhelp on Twitter.
To solve these pains for a living and get paid for it, get a database support job at Microsoft, an application vendor, or a large company.
In both cases, though, expect to work with under-trained people who never seem to get better. The world is full of people who are doing these tasks for the first time and have no budget, and they’re always going to seem urgent. This can get exhausting.
3. Not urgent but severe business pains
- “Our reports take forever to run, and it’s slowing down our decision-making processes. We need to build a data warehouse.”
- “The SAN is really slow, and we need to figure out how to make it go faster, but we don’t want to make changes to it while it’s running.”
The business wants to improve something, but they’re afraid, and they know it’s a big project. Woohoo, finally some direct payments, right? Well, these are long paid engagements that involve budgets, approvals, committees, multiple staff positions (could be full time employees or contractors), vendors, and long sales cycles (months or years.)
You can make a living doing this kind of work, but typically you need to be part of a larger firm. Companies rarely hire a lone gunman to design and build an entire data warehouse from scratch – and if they do, it’s as a full time employee, not as a lone contractor. After all, if this person gets hit by a bus mid-project, you don’t want to start again from scratch.
Note that these issues pop up online, too, like “I need to build a data warehouse – how do I do it?” The person asking this kind of question online likely doesn’t have any budgetary approval – they’ve already been hired to do the task, and they’re in over their head. They’re getting you to do their job, they’ll never stop asking questions, and they won’t pay you a dime.
4. Urgent, severe business pains
- “Our database server fails every time we run a national sale, and these outages are costing us millions of dollars.”
- “The database is corrupt, and business has stopped.”
The business needs help desperately, money is less of a concern, and sales cycles are very short (hours to days).
When these kinds of pains pop up at large companies, they’ll usually have a full time team of experts to deal with these challenges, or they’ll call hardware/software vendors for support, or they’ll have a relationship with a large consulting company with a full time team of experts. To make money doing this with large companies, you’ll need to get a job in one of those categories.
When these pains pop up at small companies, on the other hand, it’s different: small companies can’t afford to keep a team of full time experts on hand to manage these issues because they rarely show up. (The pains, not the experts.) To get pain relieving these pains, you need an online presence and reputation so that when the small business has the pain, they can find you quickly.
This explains who pays you, and for what.
This simple grid helps you understand how you’re going to get paid, and by who:
If you’re focusing on mild business pains, you’re not going to make a lot of money directly for the pain relief. You’re going to have to sell ads on free content, or sell training material that people can use to gradually up their skills over time.
If you’re focusing on severe business pains, you want to understand the sales cycle. The more urgent the pain, the shorter the sales cycle – and the more likely you can make it as an independent. The less urgent the pain, the longer the sales cycle, and the more work you’re going to have to invest in doing sales. (Or, take a full time job – but know that you’re going to be working at a larger company, or a consulting company.)