A Local Knowledge Business: Creating Work from, Through, for, about Your Corner of the World

7 income streams and 6 cornerstones of success to yield the ease, variety, and good income of a regional-based enterprise

Do you like people, your corner of the world, ongoing learning, variety, flexibility, and being creative? Would having such things in your work be meaningful and fulfilling, fun and easy? Building a business or income streams around local knowledge — general, specialized, or a bit of both — may be for you. I’ve seen dozens of people create and evolve customized businesses in this area that work for them and their desired lifestyle, that provide good, reliable income…and endure. Some are part-time, some are full-time; some remain solo endeavors, some grow to have 2–20 employees.

What’s beautiful is that it’s okay to start with where you’re at and what you have — that’s all you can do anyway — and build from there. While this work can, in part, be done from home and at a keyboard, much of it is out there in the world. In both cases, you will be continuously learning and expanding options, often with minimal effort, because you’ll always be interacting with others, learning from them, and being inspired by them and their interests, questions, curiosities.

Observing others in this space for almost three decades, I’ve distilled seven possible income streams and six critical pillars to success you can explore and develop as you go.

Income Streams

1. Writing Write to grow an audience. Write to share knowledge. Write to connect with others who live in your area and love it. Write to promote your offerings.

Write for local and niche newspapers, magazines, and online publications. Write about your area for national and international publications. Write for your own blog and email newsletter. Write books.

Pro tips:

  • Approach local publications and offer an ongoing column on your topic or topics.

  • Sell stories on your region to travel magazines. Pitch pieces on history, people, trends, demographics, or anything on this master list to local, regional, national, and international publications.

  • Research and write as a way to get paid, or at least to cultivate readership and for learning and expanding knowledge in ways that can be used for other income streams.

  • Use print-on-demand (2–20 at a time), short-run printing (100–500 at a time), or traditional offset printing (1,000–3,000 at a time) to have physical copies of your book for sale. You will want physical books to sell at your speaking events, to your classes/for classes, on your tours, to local libraries (including school libraries), and to dozens of local stores who do well selling local content (bookstores, gift shops, neighborhood vendors, and tourist locales of all stripes).

2. Speaking This refers to public or private programs where you’re in front of a room full of people presenting on a particular topic. Who needs and pays for speakers? Libraries, historical societies, clubs (private and hobby-based), professional societies, fraternal organizations, retirement communities, schools, and many more. (Also see my article on Speaking Gigs 101 for more details.)

Pro tips:

  • Start with one excellent stock program that can be customized for different audiences and build from there.

  • Make sure your first public program is solid, interesting, polished, professional. People in this line of work love to share knowledge. If you are mediocre, unprepared, flail, they will spread the word. If you arrive polished and deliver something fascinating and wonderful, they will also spread that news.

  • Consider ways you can enhance your program: playing music that relates to your topic as the crowd is settling in, props, artifacts to pass around, slideshow or video, cross-promotional giveaways from local businesses, and your own swag (postcards, bookmarks, etc.).

  • Ask the audience for things at the end: to sign up for your mailing list, to permit a crowd photo for your social media purposes, to invite them to snap a photo for their social media, to ask for referrals for other speaking engagements.

  • Consider travel time when pricing a program that may last only 45 to 90 minutes.

  • Consider reducing your fee if you have a book that you want to sell and sign after the program, especially if a big crowd is expected.

  • Consider speaking for free if you’re just getting started and need testimonials, or if you have something else to gain from a particular crowd: referrals, potential clients, book sales, etc.

3. Workshops/Classes As you grow this business, develop classes and workshops for different audiences on different topics and in different formats to teach what you know. Who wants to learn such things? Why? How? (Also see my article on Author Events 101 for more details on customizing events for your purposes.)

Pro tips:

  • Match your topic to the format. A genealogy workshop might take 8 hours. A local fauna class may happen on a 60-minute hike.

  • Match your format for the audience. Classes for business travelers or tourists who don’t live locally may require audio or video options that can be purchased online.

  • Your customers are not always those who take a class. Consider that grade and high schools purchase programming for their students. Retirement communities and senior centers likewise arrange classes for their residents and guests.

  • Along the same lines as above, partner with institutions that are in the business of offering a range of classes: adult education/enrichment centers, libraries and historical societies, university extension programs, nature centers, music schools, and similar.

4. Tours Think of tours as informal classes in motion — by foot, bike, Segue, private car, bus, trolley. You may offer your tours independently or through other organizations, such as historical societies, tourism agencies, tour companies, or corporate event planners.

Pro tips:

  • Get a feel for planning and leading tours by partnering with other organizations first. Consider these paid internships! Not only will you learn more about the process and logistical details, you will get an idea if this is something you can do on your own or if you’re better off doing tours for others.

  • As with speaking programs, start with one high-quality basic tour that can be customized for different audiences and build from there.

  • As you build up a repertoire of available tours, think both broad (highlights of a city) and narrow (neighborhood, food, sports, music, history tours).

  • Build stops into your tours based on relevant connections. What all would add a little something, something to your tour? Guest appearances by a local chef, musician, archivist, architecture expert? Behind-the-scenes sneak peeks at ballparks, City Hall, museum loading docks?

  • Keep adding in the extra: Yes to food samples, costumes, and music, but also to the ongoing refinement of your material. Better jokes, anecdotes, historical nuggets, ways to rally the crowd.

  • Tours, like classes and speaking programs, are captive audiences, but often captive audiences more inclined to spend. Find ways to tie in all the other things: How can you also sell products? Promote your content? Work with sponsors? Mention related consulting services?

5. Products As you build your business, begin adding in related products that you can sell from your website, at speaking events/tours/classes, and through local stores.

Pro tips:

  • Product ideas include books, audio products (music/spoken word, books, tours, classes), video products (tours, classes), souvenirs, T-shirts, postcards.

  • Only produce products that are a good fit with your brand and that you are proud of. No junk for the sake of having stuff to sell.

  • Work the numbers in advance for physical products so that you are only buying inventory in reasonable quantities that you can realistically move and sell at a price customers will pay that ensures you a profit.

  • Take as many forms of payment as possible to make it easy for people to buy from you in informal settings such as after presentations or tours. Cash, checks, credit cards (through Square or similar), PayPal, Venmo. (Note: Having taken hundreds of personal checks from strangers in my career, I think I have only received two bad checks, and one of those the customer eventually made good on.)

  • Have your products available at as many places as possible (that actually sell and not just store or display your offerings) and share this information widely (your email newsletter, from the podium at events, etc.).

6. Consulting As you work in your local knowledge business and build up areas of expertise, stay attuned to specialized ways you can employ your growing stashes of information. Do you know a neighborhood like the back of your hand and its changing demographics? Who in the real estate and business relocation worlds would pay for your insights? Who needs your in-depth history knowledge and research skills? Businesses who want to incorporate historic elements into their headquarters design? Movie location scouts?

Pro tips:

  • Consider offering one-hour conversations in which you can share your expertise for money.

  • Practice making offers to possibly interested others suggesting the ways you can help without expecting positive responses. Get used to introducing the idea, proposing things, starting conversations. Make it second nature. Expect that some ideas will fly, some clients will bite; others will not.

  • Here’s a good formula for the above: “If x is something that is useful for you, I can do a, b, and c or something a little broader/narrower like d, e, and f.” If they express interest, tell them you’ll send some more details and options in an email (include 2–3 options at different price points), then follow up to firm up.

  • Over time, you’ll discover two useful and somewhat antithetical things: how to listen and tailor offerings to the specific customer and their needs and what sort of “packages” appeal to the most people that you can flesh out as your primary offerings.

7. Sponsorships, Commissions, Cross-Promotions In local knowledge businesses, you will always be meeting new people, expanding your networks, and happening upon felicitous synchronicities. When synergies spark with other solo professionals, businesses, organizations, and tourism agencies, consider how you can work together to help each other out. Can a neon sign business help sponsor your book of local neon photography? Can your ghostly legends tour make a stop at a haunted pub that provides you a commission based on sales? Can you and fellow guides pass out brochures for each other’s tours?

Pro tips:

  • Just like starting out with consulting, realize that it takes practice to think up ideas in this category and practice proposing them. Acclimate yourself to the process and it will become casual and second nature in no time.

  • Consider in advance proposal options as well as the language you’ll use. You want to be clear in what you’re suggesting and also give the other person a chance to gracefully decline or propose their alternative. Focus on maintaining the relationship.


Pillars of Success

1. Develop multiple income streams and develop them simultaneously. Begin with your best option for making money sooner than later but actively work a plan for developing multiple streams simultaneously. Employ strategy and creativity, trial and error, to discover what generates income, what you enjoy, what meets your preferred schedule and goals, and the various ways you can serve others with a compounding stock of local knowledge.

2. Participate in the ecosystem of connections around you. Others might call this networking and thinking in terms of mutual aid and win/win, but I phrase it this way to emphasize that when it comes to a local knowledge business, connections and opportunities pop up everywhere.

Who is part of this ecosystem? Convention and event planners, historians/historical societies, journalists, radio and TV personalities, bloggers and Reddit contributors, hotel concierges, tour professionals, tourism departments, librarians, program coordinators, professors. Oh — and everyone else around you, because everyone knows something about their place and local topics are safe and interesting for almost everyone to talk about, to relate to.

Once you start tuning in to it, you’ll see that anyone and everyone has opinions, information, ideas, leads, and connections related to your locale that will be useful. Share ideas, information, connections and support in return. Swap, refer, connect. Magnify and amplify the web.

3. Always be learning and expanding. Go broader, go narrower, go lateral (see an article I wrote about maxing out themes). Learn formally through reading, lectures, classes, research, and informally, through curiosity in your day-to-day conversations. Always be adding new details and refinements to your approaches to the income streams.

4. Cultivate, maintain, grow, and work your lists — email and media. Be meticulous in cultivating, maintaining, growing, and working two core lists: your email list and your media list. Discover the right ways and the right number of times to reach out to each group and any important sub-groups (e.g., a sub-group might be out-of-towners on the email list or bloggers on the media list). Consistently serve the lists in high-quality, useful, creative, and new ways. This article discusses how you can systematically find the right number of times to do any particular thing that is productive for your business.

5. Maximize exposure through traditional media and social media. A subset of #4, become a pro at understanding media and helping to meet its nonstop need for content. As you become familiar with more people who work in these spaces, your number one tool is asking. Just ask. What do you need? What are you working on? How can I help? Is this interesting to you? What angle appeals to your audience? Do you need a guest? A backup guest? An article on that topic?

6. Slowly increase pricing as you and your time become more in demand. As you and your time become more in demand, raise your prices accordingly!


Finally, to support and inspire your work above, check out what others are doing in this space. Here are just a few I know who do it right: