Thursday, December 1, 2011

Out of One, Many

When I began speaking at software conferences, I wondered whether I had to develop a new presentation each time I spoke. Some people I knew thought this was necessary. But I quickly learned that it was not. In fact, I have delivered certain presentations more than two dozen times in various forums: conferences, professional society meetings, webinars, and corporations.

Generalizing this insight, you should try to leverage the intellectual property you create as an independent consultant as many ways as you can. Let me give you a great example. Some years ago, a magazine invited me to write a short article, just 1,500 words, with "twenty or thirty quick project management tips" to plug a hole in their editorial calendar. So in an about an hour I banged out a short article titled "Secrets of Successful Project Management." Over the years I have built on this small starting point in numerous ways:
  • By adding some additional content, I created a one-hour presentation called "21 Project Management Success Tips," which I've delivered ten times at conferences and professional society meetings. This longer version of the paper was published in the proceedings of these conferences.
  • I created an eLearning webinar version of "21 Project Management Success Tips," which you can view for a modest fee.
  • "21 Project Management Success Tips" was incorporated in a compilation of software project management papers published by the IEEE Computer Society.
  • By covering another nine or ten topics, drilling down into some of them, and adding several practice activities, I expanded the short talk into a full-day seminar called "Project Management Best Practices," which I've presented twenty times at companies, government agencies, and conferences.
  • I created an eLearning version of "Project Management Best Practices," which is available for purchase as both single-user and site licenses.
  • I selected about three dozen slides from the "Project Management Best Practices" eLearning course and packaged them as the “5-Minute Manager eLearning Series”, quick-hitting micro-tutorials on focused topics for busy people who don’t need to take a whole course.
  • I wrote a series of articles amplifying certain of the project management tips, which were published in various magazines.
  • I collected several of these papers into my Project Initiation Handbook, which you can purchase for a very reasonable price.
  • I combined the contents of the "Project Initiation Handbook" with several other articles on project management and some new material, and published the result as a book titled Practical Project Initiation: A Handbook with Tools (Microsoft Press, 2007).
  • Going the other direction, I serialized certain chapters from Practical Project Initiation and republished them as articles on a project management-oriented website.
The moral of the story: as you create your own intellectual property in various formats, look for opportunities to leverage it into other forms, both increase your visibility and to generate revenue. If you publish an original article in a magazine or on a web site, make sure you retain the right to reuse the material in a future book or to resell it to other magazines for reprinting. My contracts for the articles I’ve written explicitly give me this right. If you publish a book with a traditional publisher, be sure the contract gives you the right to reprint content adapted from the book in other forms, such as magazine articles and blog posts. You might be able to combine your blog posts into eBooks and perhaps ultimately into a full book. (Be aware, though: a good book is rarely just a bunch of short pieces of writing stapled together. See upcoming posts for more about writing books.)

You do have to be careful about how you use materials that you write or create exclusively for a client. You do not own the rights to a work for hire: the client does. Therefore, you may not normally reuse or resell that material. On a few occasions, I have negotiated with a client to retain the right to reuse material I created for them, sometimes by cutting my fee, so that we have joint ownership. Such negotiations are perfectly fine, if it's agreeable to the client. I recommend that you get any statement of such agreement in writing to protect yourself in the future. The same holds true if you create presentations or write articles while you are working for another corporation. Make sure you clarify who owns the material. I had to do this when I was writing for publication while I worked at Kodak.

By the way, making your intellectual property available to customers in various forms is a tip I picked up from Alan Weiss's very useful books Money Talks and Million Dollar Consulting. Those books were worth every penny.

(If you found this article helpful, please consider making a donation to the Norm Kerth Benefit Fund to help a consultant who has been disabled since 1999 with a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. You can read Norm's story or donate here. Thanks!)

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