How to build a better, more robust online career

online career

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

You may have read Mark Schaefer’s inspirational and impressive post about his 18 sources of online revenue.

I wow’d all the way. Not only is it an incredible example of diversifying your income, it’s also the smart way to conduct your online business in 2018.

This inspired me to think of what I need to do to diversify and strengthen my digital career in the upcoming years. Here are four major ideas I’m working on and I hope they help you, too …

1) Become a generalist with a specialization

I do weekly Skype chats with online entrepreneur peers from around the world: Professional and successful content creators, copywriters, (non)fiction authors, marketers, and niche site builders.

And you know what? They’re all successful, making anything between 5K to 30K a month, but they’re also generalists who know wayyy more than “just” their expertise.

The genre author knows about content creation, making successful webinars and client coaching.

My copywriter friend improves her teaching ability at workshops.

A tech entrepreneur buddy learns effective public speaking.

The list goes on. In today’s age, you have to know a variety of skills to thrive.

First of all, everyone who wants to make money online has to become a marketer. Yes, even the authors publishing genre fiction with elves and sexually aroused werewolves have to understand keyword research, sales rankings on Amazon, copywriting for their book descriptions, and e-mail list building.

If you want to be a professional speaker, you’ll have to learn content creation and publishing. Most of the successful speakers I know attracted traditional book deals or self-published successful non-fiction books, which they then used as social proof and reputation builders to get speaking gigs.

In general, regardless of your chosen field of expertise, you’ll have to learn a variety of other skills. Which brings us to the second point…

2) Define and refine your core skills

Thanks to countless e-learning websites, YouTube, and informative blogs (like this one!), you can spend every waking minute learning for free. But because our lifetime is severely limited (Elon, hurry up and come up with something!) and you have to make money, sooner or later, you have to laser-focus on acquiring core abilities.

I make money from writing articles, drawing illustrations, selling books and coaching. All these activities stem from two major skill sets: drawing and writing.

If I cascade these two core skills into sub-categories which I need to master, I get the following:

Writing skills:
– sales copy (landing pages, newsletter, book descriptions, ads)
– storytelling (three-act structure, character arcs, dialogue)
– English language (grammar, business terms etc.)

Drawing skills:
– drawing (anatomy, color theory, composition)
– digital painting (using software to imitate brushes, oil paintings, pencils etc.)
– photo manipulation (mixing artworks with images, using gradients and filters)

See how complex just two major skills can become? For that reason, I neglect skills such as coding and programming. They’re important but given my strengths and limited time, I need to be consequent. Define your core skills, cascade the categories and then constantly improve them!

3) Focus on diversifying your network

In the beginning of my online career, I focused on following (wannabe) pro bloggers/marketers. The result? My Twitter stream consisted of bloggers pitching each other with ‘How to make money online’ ebooks and courses. I dubbed it the Spamfeed.

Now I’m more selective. My network consists of writers, artists, publishers, podcasters, tech entrepreneurs, and journalists.

The cross-pollination of knowledge is beautiful.

I found Grow’s writing gig from a podcaster friend, who retweeted a link where Mark looked for blog post contributors.

Thanks to shout-outs, I snatched design jobs from entrepreneurs and podcasters needing cover images for their productions.

I got coaching clients from copywriters whose friends wanted to enter self-publishing.

You get the idea.

A diverse social media network can lead to many opportunities which you couldn’t even dream of. That’s why you should focus on following go-getters in various disciplines.

4) Learn to niche

Here’s the paradox—as a generalist with a specialization, you should fully embrace niches.

My broad core skills are writing and drawing, which can be used in countless ways. But I’m super-nichey in how I implement these skills.

When it comes to online content creation, I don’t write about anything. It’s not a diary. I don’t do reviews, guest posts, or write fiction stories. My topics are limited to self-publishing, creative business, and marketing, which are all related to each other (making money as a creative).

In terms of my publishing, I don’t write romance, crime thrillers, historical, upmarket or literary fiction, which is the majority of the book market. My niche is sci-fi, and to niche even down, it’s space opera, tech thriller, sci-fantasy. It’s what I love to read, and it’s what readers now expect from me.

For coaching, I attract mostly illustrators or designers who want to live location independently and make a full-time income from their art, either by selling via web merchants or snapping illustration clients. The other coaching clients are fiction or non-fiction authors who want to make money from publishing their books and/or leveraging their books into courses, speaking gigs etc.

My commissions from illustrations consist of mostly covers and in-book illustrations.

You can see how each offer attracts a slightly different client with unique needs.


In the new age, becoming a generalist with a specialization is a necessity. Regardless of our chosen fields of expertise, we have to become marketers first and define/improve our core skills so we can monetize our knowledge in various ways.

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian.

Original illustration by the author.

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