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Leveraging Your Skill To Create A Dream Business or Career


I only drink lattes. I both like the taste AND like the hipster feeling that accompanies coffee-drinking.

When I'm broke, it's my instant coffee mix (if you're wondering which one, it's the Nescafe Oh So Creamy White Coffee with milk), but when I'm feeling a little luxurious, I go to the café in my office building.

Anyway, since payday is only a few days away from today, I thought I'd swing by the café and grab a hot macadamia latte to accompany today's writing session.

As I was waiting for my order, I noticed how quick the barista was in making it. And it was good, just as it always has been.

It's not easy to make good lattes. It's not just a "pour water, pour milk" kind of thing. I've tried making my own from scratch and it's hard to CONSISTENTLY get right.

I've lost count of how many times I went to a café / restaurant / the local Starbucks and thought, "The coffee was good last week, but today it sucks. I'm disappointed."

It takes SKILL and EXPERIENCE to be able to do things perfectly -- consistently. Good equipment does help, but NOT all the way.

Back to the barista.

As I was gratefully sipping my latte, I thought about how awesome it is if the barista could use her coffee-making skill to build her own career or business.


    What if the barista could freelance and provide coffee-making services at events? (I've seen this at weddings)


    What if the barista could train the employees of new cafes and coffeehouses on making good coffee?

    What if the barista could train those employees on the tips and tricks to efficiently make good coffee when there's a loooong line of customers? (Without messing up all the different orders!)

    What if the barista could create an online educational course on making good coffee for caffeine-heads at home? (Basically, people who don't have the fancy equipment)

    What if the barista could teach a specific coffee-related skill, like how to make beautiful foam art?


    What if the barista could provide consultation to café owners on what kind of equipment works best and how to structure the processes (from taking the order to preparing the coffee to the presentation)?

It's so exciting to think about the paths that the barista could choose if she decides to leverage her skill.

Leveraging your skill means you get to maximize your money-making potential by utilizing your skill. In short, make money from something you’re good at AND you like doing.

With any new venture, it takes time to really bear fruit. Even if that barista is ready to quit her job tomorrow and start teaching employees of new cafes and coffeehouses, the clients won’t be lining up to hire her right away. That’s a given, right?

But if she leverages her skill AND brands herself AND starts to market herself as THE PROFESSIONAL BARISTA — who’s to say that her dream career or business is out of reach?

Here's a little challenge for you: Think about the people you meet in your life. People who work retail jobs, your relatives, your colleagues, that person you follow on Instagram.

Brainstorm 3 different ways that person can use that ONE skill that he/she has to build his/her own career or business.

I know it sounds like you're just daydreaming on behalf of that person. But it's a great exercise for you in adopting the mindset of CAN DO, WILL DO.

Even if you're doing this for someone else, it’s great to step outside the beaten path.



How to Be Unique & Different If The Industry Is Overcrowded.


What happens when your favourite industry gets overcrowded and everybody starts doing the same thing?

People start getting desperate to stand out and be different. Blog posts get more controversial and videos start trying a leeettle too hard to be funny.

Now, I like to watch make up videos like any of us do. And one of the examples that I always see, especially on Instagram, is people applying make up using household / everyday objects.

Forks? Spoons? Bra inserts? What's next?

It's not that I'm such a stinking party pooper that I don't appreciate a little humour or innovation. But it kinda seemed like they were trying to compete on who gets to be the most outrageous. Who gets to be the most viral.

True fulfillment comes when we add VALUE into people's lives. What we do actually matters to people who are passionate about the same things or people who need help.

"True fulfillment comes when we add VALUE into people's lives."

True fulfillment DOESN'T come from making people chuckle for 5 seconds and then being forgotten right after. Because ultimately, the goal is to have an awesome brand and to make a living from that brand!

What makes me facepalm is the fact that these people -- who are trying so hard to be outrageous and "funny" -- can add their own unique value into people's lives.

It's just that they haven't properly looked into themselves to see what their value is. They looked at other people instead.

Here are 2 ways you can rethink how you want to start your own unique brand that's based on YOUR STRENGTHS, without trying too hard to be funny and outrageous.

1) Choose a different role in the same industry.

Let's say that you're passionate about fashion. Instead of aiming to be a fashion designer right from the very start, can you choose a different role that's still related to fashion?


It seems like every other woman has/planning to have her own tudung/blouse/palazzo/jubah/dress line. So if you want to dive into that, you'll be dealing with so many competitors. And when there are many competitors, you'll end up having to differentiate yourself from ALL of them.

Solution: Choose a different role in the same industry with less competitors.


Instead of starting* as a fashion designer, you can choose to be a:

+ Stylist. If you have a knack of putting together smashing looks, you can become known as the person who makes others look good.

+ Modelling coach. If you have experience modelling for your friends' or acquaintances' shawl brand, you can share tips on how to be a good hijabi model.

* I'm not saying you can't ever be a fashion designer. I'm saying, "Is there a more strategic role that you can START your brand with?".

2) Be a specialist in a very specific area in the same industry.

Let's say that you're someone who's interested in interior design. Instead of being just a general sort of interior designer (which can mean many sort of interiors), can you choose to specialize in a very specific interior?


The more specialized you are, the more interesting you sound to people. Don't think of it as limiting yourself. It's more that you're making yourself an EXPERT in something. And experts get paid more.


Maybe you can be an interior designer who specializes in...

+ Cafes. We all know that for a cafe to truly make it big, it needs to be Instagram-worthy. You can be the person who gets called in to help cafe owners make their cafes a great place to chill in.

+ Daycare centres. If you're a kid at heart, maybe you'll enjoy making daycare centres an enjoyable and comforting part of kids' lives.

The whole point of these two ways is to find something related to your passion that you enjoy and takes advantage of your own strengths.

Maybe all you need is to just shift yourself a little bit so that you'll see the answer that you haven't thought of before.

P.S. My Starter Branding Blogger Kit for Bloggers guides you through the process of figuring out how you're special and how to use that "specialness" to market yourself through blogging. Get your copy for the intro price of RM22 before 31 January 2017!




How to Use A Skill to Kickstart Your Brand: How to Package Your Skill to Make Money. (Part 3)


In the last newsletter I promised that we'd look at how to package your skill so that people want to pay you to perform that skill FOR THEM. You do it as a service to them, and usually what you do is tailored to their needs and circumstances.

Although it's pretty obvious (and don't be annoyed at me for pointing it out), I still have to say it anyway:

"Not all skills can make you money."

One *special* thing I can do is recognizing the faces of Hollywood actors and actresses. Whenever I watch a movie, I'll go, "Didn't this person act in such and such movie?" And I'm almost always right. *blows nails*

But no one's gonna pay me to do this for them. And that's OK. Because you know what? I have other things I'm good at. And I'm sure you do too.

If you did the little exercise in last week's newsletter where you catalogue all the compliments you've received over the past years and try to look for common patterns, I'm sure that you can come up with SEVERAL things that you're good at, AKA skills.

Now it's time to assess those skills and see if any of them has the potential to make you money when you do it as a service to other people.

The assessment is pretty simple. You don't have to go all out with market research. Just run through these questions:


1. Is the skill something people usually ask your help with?

If people consistently ask for your help with a particular thing, that means there's a legitimate demand for your skill. And when there's a demand, that means that it's very likely that people will pay for it.

When do people usually need your help or expertise?

One thing you can do is figure out is the circumstances that those people were in. Did they ask for your help during or for an event? Are they busy parents? What kind of results do they ask for?

Look for common patterns. Those patterns will tell you what kind of clients you can target.


2. What problem can you solve with that skill?

This is my favourite exercise because it forces you to see from the eyes of the clients. What does the client need that you can provide?

Example: the skill of decluttering.

Let's say that you're good at decluttering. You're the reigning champion of Spring-Cleaning. Even your Mom follows your lead.

So if you were to consider decluttering as a service that you can offer to people, what problem will you actually be solving?

+ People accumulate stuff through buying. Stuff they don't need or they don't have space for. And because people can have a million things to do, they might not have control over their own home until it's too late. The clutter OVERWHELMS.

+ When their home is cluttered, they don't feel at peace. They know they have to get the clutter under control, but it's hard to throw stuff away. And so the decluttering never gets finished and they'll always have that nagging feeling.

+ If you help them declutter, you are helping them regain control over their own home and simultaneously, their life. Now their home is something that they can enjoy. And they have time to indulge in their passions and hobbies, instead of trying to deal with the overwhelming clutter.

They just need to pay you for this simple and painless solution.

Is it that simple to just do something and get paid for it?

If you DON'T look at it from the perspective of the problem, you'll think, Why would ANYONE pay me for this? People can just declutter by themselves. They can watch Youtube for tips, or whatever.

But what you can do as a person who's skilled in decluttering is provide REAL AND PAINLESS RESULTS. Just by paying you, people can come home to a clean and uncluttered space without having to stress themselves.

It can be the same with baking. People can get a beautiful and delicious cake from you, without having to search for the perfect recipe, clean up the mess from baking and decorate the cake when they don't know sh*t about piping.

So don't worry too much about the fact that the customers themselves can perform the skill or task. That's not the point.

The point is YOU can do the same, but BETTER, FASTER and with REAL RESULTS.


3. Do you actually enjoy performing the skill for other people?

It's possible to still be good at something but still hate the process.

I'm pretty good in graphic design. But I hated the process of designing.

It stressed me out, I couldn't stop complaining and all the money in the world will not make it worth the trouble. So I decided NOT to make my brand based on graphic design.

To this very day, I still have people wanting to pay me to design their logo / poster / wedding invitation for them. But I say No every time. I'd do it as a favour to friends and family, but I refuse to create a business out of it.

Why should I? I HATE the process. It's horrible to create a brand out of something you hate. Your brand should be based on something you enjoy.

Because ultimately, creating a brand is a CHOICE. It's not like a job, where you know you can't be picky and you need the money. A brand is something you willingly build. So it has to be something you, at the very least, like.


There you have it, the 3-question assessment to help you find out which skill you can make money with and which skill will help you create your own brand.

To recap:

In Part 1 of the newsletter, I talked about the differences between a product and a skill and why it can be easier to start your own brand by offering a skill as a service. You don't need to release products to start your own brand. Because products usually require a huge upfront investment that may not be so feasible at this age.

In Part 2, I talked about the fact that you're good at SOMETHING, that you have a SKILL, even if it's something not standard. And I talked about how being self-centered can help you find the skill / something you're good at that you can offer as service to other people.

Building your own brand isn't easy. You'll probably have to 'test out' a few skills before you find one that you love and make money with. But that's OK and that's normal. What matters is you take that first step. :)

Want more newsletters on building your brand using a skill?

Every Friday, I'll send you an email with tips on turning the skill(s) you have now into a brand you love.

I won't send you spam. Pinky promise. Unsubscribe at any time.



How to Use A Skill to Kickstart Your Brand: Finding Your Skill by Being Self-Centered. (Part 2)


If you asked me who's the most interesting person I know, I'd say my own name.

I am the most interesting person to myself. I'm interested in myself. There's actually no one else I'd rather get to know more than me.

Self-centered? Completely. Ashamed of being self-centered? Never.

Last week, I talked about finding a skill that you can offer as a service in exchange of money. You don't have to have a product to start your own brand.

Offering a skill as a service means you have to know what you're skilled at. This is where a lot of people aren't self-centered enough.


Standard skills vs. Non-standard skills

Here's the thing.

There are TWO categories of skills (FYI, this is my own categorisation).

A. Standard skills

B. Non-standard skills

Standard skills are skills like writing, cooking, baking, acting, singing, et cetera. Pretty much things that people usually list as hobbies.

On the other hand, non-standard skills are things that can't be summed up with just one word.

  • The skill of sweet-talking people into not being mad at you.
  • The skill of being an efficient and get-it-together Mom.
  • The skill of training yourself to be moderately fluent in Japanese just by watching anime.

Are you good at something...unusual?

The reason why I call these "non-standard" skills is because these aren't things that people consider as actual, LEGIT skills. They don't really fit into the normal definition of a "skill".

For the record, I'm not saying that the standard skills (like cooking, writing, etc) are boring or anything like that.

If you're good at something standard, then that's wonderful. Use that to build your own brand.

BUT. There are so many people walking around, thinking that they're not special, that they can't build a brand that focuses on themselves.

Just because they're not good at things that are commonly accepted by society.

I NEED you to accept that non-standard skills are still skills. They can help you build your own brand and make money. Even if other people won't consider them legit skills, I need YOU to acknowledge what you're good at as a skill.

Even if it's too specific. Even if it's too unconventional. Even if it sounds lame.

And if you're not even sure what you're good at yet, just accept the fact that you're good at SOMETHING.

That's the most important first step that you have to take. If not, the doubts will always be overwhelming.


How self-centeredness can help you find your skill

Let me tell you something that I probably should be embarrassed about, but I'm really kinda not.

When I rebranded myself at the beginning of this year, I wrote down the compliments that I've gotten from friends and acquaintances.

Just normal compliments like, "Oh, I liked reading your ....." and, "Aina, you're good at ....!"

NOT stuff like "Aina, you rock the world like Godzilla on a rampage." Just normal compliments.

I literally listed down what they said about me, as many as I could remember.

And even now, I always make a mental (or actual) note whenever somebody pays me a compliment. Why?

What are the compliments that you always get?

I wanted to know what other people are seeing on me that I haven't noticed. Because the thing is, when you're good at something, it becomes effortless to you. When it's effortless, you don't notice it!

Whenever people pay you a compliment, take note and use the compliment to point you in the right direction. (My number 1 tip!)

  • Do you always get these types of compliments?
  • Are people always saying the same things?
  • Is it something that YOU consider easy but other people find difficult?

Always reflect on these questions. Even if you've already identified a skill, do this anyway. Maybe there's something that you haven't seen. Maybe it's something that will make your brand more YOU.

Don't compare yourself to other people and don't compete. This is all about you. Don't bring other people into your very own unique brand.

Of course, finding your special skill isn't the happy ending. You have to know how to PACKAGE your skill into a service that people will actually pay for. This is what we're gonna look at next week.

So, same day, same place?


Want more newsletters on building your brand using a skill?

Every Friday, I'll send you an email with tips on turning the skill(s) you have now into a brand you love.

I won't send you spam. Pinky promise. Unsubscribe at any time.



How to Use A Skill to Kickstart Your Brand: Products vs. Skills. (Part 1)


I want to talk about the time when I thought I was a genius for wanting to sell hand-illustrated notebooks.

Specifically, Game of Thrones illustrations.

A little background info: At the time, I just finished the first couple of books and the first season of the TV series was about to come out.

My geekiness convinced me that it would be great to buy blank notebooks (I bought 50 pieces BTW), draw sigils of the Houses on the covers and sell them.

Just imagine a normal brown notebook with a three-headed dragon on the cover. I also had a lion one for Lannister and a wolf one for Stark. (Like I said, geek)

So I had 3 notebooks ready, and objectively, I knew my illustrations were pretty decent. But guess what? Nobody bought my notebooks.

(In the end, a friend took pity and bought all 3)

To be honest, the lack of sales made me pasta-spiral into self-doubt for a few months. I thought that it was such a brilliant idea. And to have that idea -- my first business idea -- fail was a pretty disturbing thing.

But a few months after, I had an epiphany. Why not sell personalized notebooks? I could draw people's names on the covers using hand-lettering.

So I went with that. And the remaining 47 notebooks were all sold. I also restocked and sold about 100 more notebooks. :)


Your product isn't supposed to be about you!

If there's one thing I learned about my time selling notebooks, it's this:

If your product is about you, instead of the people you're selling to, you're going to have a hard time selling. You're going to have a hard time making money. A brand that's not making money is pretty useless.

Don't let your own preferences and desires completely influence the product you want to sell. In the end, you have to convince other people to buy, not convince yourself.

So creating a profitable product isn't easy. Can a person just "stumble" upon a money-maker? No. There's no stumbling, only lots of research and upfront investment.


Using a skill to kickstart your own brand

If you're like me and you can't spend RM5,000 - RM10,000 to research and develop your own product, there's a simpler path to build your own brand.

That simpler path is the Path of SKILL.

This basically means that you focus on developing a skill, offering that skill as a service and ultimately become known as an expert in that skill.

A little recap here:

  • The Game of Thrones illustrated notebooks = PRODUCT
  • Personalizing notebook covers using hand-lettering = SKILL

You don't have to start your brand by releasing products that are expensive to produce and frankly, could be totally wrong for the market.

"You don't need to have a product to start YOUR own brand. Use your skills instead!"

Remember when my GoT notebooks were all about me and obviously, were never gonna make me much money?

Offering a skill as a service is the OPPOSITE. A service is personalized to the customer's requirements. It's all about the customer.

And you will find that customers love the personalization factor, just like I realized it when I started offering my hand-lettering services.

It's also a great way to start making connections with customers AND money without you having to drop thousands of Ringgit on your suppliers.


For example, it's easier and cheaper to be known for being able to bake really good cakes than to manufacture your own line of cake mixes. Right?

It's easier to build a reputation of being an awesome MUA by taking on jobs than to research and manufacture your own make up products. Right?


You can have your own product, eventually!

Once you have experience in what the customers want and good reputation from being consistently awesome, it will be so much easier to create and sell your own products.

So the Path of SKILL and the Path of PRODUCT will merge someday. It's just that the Path of SKILL is safer and more beginner-friendly.

So find / identify a skill, practice it, and offer to do it for someone in exchange of money. You don't have to have a product to start building your brand.

Next week, we're going to look at how you can find a skill you can make money from AND build a brand that you want at the same time. :)


Want more newsletters on building your brand using a skill?

Every Friday, I'll send you an email with tips on turning the skill(s) you have now into a brand you love.

I won't send you spam. Pinky promise. Unsubscribe at any time.