Newsletter July 2010
When the sky isn't the limit

Want to earn more money?

Yes, we thought so. Here, then, are two ideas worth thinking about: scalability and uniqueness.

For many of us, working for an employer, we know exactly how much money we're going to earn in any given month. If there's no bonus or promotion in the offing, we can know to within a penny what our salary is going to be.

That rather depressing fact has led many to set up their own businesses. But even here is an obstacle, known as the non-scalability problem. It's true that you can often earn more working for yourself than by working for someone else. But there are only so many hours in the day. If you're an accountant, a dentist or a designer who's working all of those hours, you've reached another ceiling in your earnings. The only option would be to increase your hourly rate, which is not always practicable.

The problem is that these jobs, and many like them, are non-scalable. But scalable work has no earnings ceiling. A novelist spends a certain amount of time writing a novel. But if it's a best-seller, the royalty payments can go through the roof.

Dan Brown's first three books made relatively little impact, selling fewer than 10,000 copies in each of their first printings. His fourth book was The Da Vinci Code, which sold over 80 million copies and earned him over $250 million according to an estimate by The Times newspaper.

Did it take Brown longer to write The Da Vinci Code than the others? Probably not. (He's said to spend around two years writing and researching each book.) But even if it did take him longer, the return he got was immense even impacting on the sales of his previous works.

That's a good example of a scalable activity: one capable of being dramatically scaled up in terms of reward. Similarly, while appearing in a play each night is non-scalable, making a movie is scalable because it can be shown millions of times once it's made.

Of course, not all of us have it in us to write a bestseller or to make a blockbuster movie. But even if not, there may be ways to make whatever we do more scalable and it's worth thinking very carefully about them.

Another idea worth pursuing is uniqueness. This characteristic in sport, in art and in many other fields is obviously well worth having, as personalities such as Alex Higgins, George Best and Picasso have proved.

Again, there are only so many people talented to such an extraordinary level. But if you can add to your or your business's special qualities, you will make yourself or your company more successful.

If you're running a business, for example, take a look at your competitors. Could you do something they couldn't? Could you do the same thing more effectively? Are they missing a trick? Is there a gap in the market that you could fill?

Over time, such differences can have huge consequences. Incorporated as recently as 1998, Google now processes over a billion search requests every day. In 2009, its revenues were in excess of $23.6 billion and its operating profits were $6.5 billion.

That rapid growth is impressive, but it comes from a simple premise: doing things better than their rivals. There were other search engines before Google, just as there are today. But nowadays many people wouldn't even consider using any of the other ones.

And that's an inspiring story for anyone running a business.


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