The passion economy is not the same as the 'creator' economy

Let's start by clarifying that the much-hyped 'creator' economy is a subset of the passion economy and not the same thing.

In 2019, Li Jin, now widely considered to be the godmother of the passion economy, wrote an essay titled “The Passion Economy and the Future of Work.” She described an emerging trend she called the “passion economy” where people “build audiences at scale and turn their passions into livelihoods.” She recently described her thesis as:

"People being able to monetize individuality and non-commoditized skills at scale, supported by digital platforms."

Furthermore she recently clarified how the passion economy is really a superset of the creator economy:

"People tend to conflate the passion economy with the creator economy, but the passion economy isn’t an industry vertical — it’s an entirely new economic movement that empowers individuals over institutions. We’re seeing that decentralization of power playing out across industries, whether it’s education, media, or money."

Typically, 'creators' tend to:

  • Create content - newsletters, videos, courses etc
  • Be consumer-focused or semi-pro - the creator economy skews B2C rather than B2B
  • Be 'influencers' - a lot of creators are erstwhile 'YouTube stars' or social media 'influencers' with large audiences on the big platforms that they are now seeking to monetize
  • Have 'fans' or 'followers'

Can you be a 'creator' if you're in professional services?

Professional services is a very large and lucrative industry, worth over $5trn globally. The value is in expertise, advice, ideas, consultancy, knowledge, insights, opinions across many sectors including:

  • Marketing & Communications
  • HR & Recruitment
  • Legal Services
  • Management Consultancy
  • Tech & IT
  • Accountancy
  • Academia & Teaching
  • Financial Advice
  • Science & Engineering
  • Property & Construction
  • Architecture & Design
  • Medicine  

Unlike the 'creators' above, if you're in professional services you tend to:

  • Offer advice - answers to questions, consultations, expert opinions, guidance etc
  • Be professional-focused - professional services is much more B2B than B2C
  • Have small but high value audiences - experts are rarely 'influencers' in the sense that 'creators' are, nor do they have large fan bases or any broader 'celebrity', but they can be authoritative and recognised within their specialism
  • Have 'clients' or 'customers'  

If you are an HR consultant... are you a 'creator'?

If you are a brain surgeon... are you a 'creator'?

If you are a tax lawyer... are you a 'creator'?

If you are a change management consultant... are you a 'creator'?

If you are an epidemiologist researching the spread of viruses... are you a 'creator'?

Surely not? But can professional services be part of the passion economy? Absolutely...


The expertise economy: where the passion economy meets the knowledge economy

Professional services may not be part of the creator economy but it is certainly part of the knowledge economy. And the future of professional services will certainly be impacted by the promise of the passion economy:

...a new way for individuals to monetize their skills and expertise, giving individuals the freedom to work when they want, from where they want and earn passive income.

We describe this marriage of the passion economy and the knowledge economy as the 'expertise economy' where the value being exchanged is not so much 'content' but expertise, advice, answers, opinions, insights, knowledge etc.

The expertise economy can benefit from the passion economy in exactly the same ways that Li outlined in the right-hand column of this table, taken from “The Passion Economy and the Future of Work:


The opportunity if you work in professional services

The expertise economy offers the same benefits as the passion economy:

...a new way for individuals to monetize their skills and expertise, giving individuals the freedom to work when they want, from where they want and earn passive income.

Our new era of remote working, where you can be anywhere and still tap into expertise, is accelerating this trend.  

Typically, you might start with a 'side hustle' i.e. experiment in your free time to see how it goes. As Li recommends "I encourage folks to first start with side hustles before graduating to a full hustle".

“…there’s no doubt that expert networks are an attractive “side hustle” for professionals in a growing variety of fields” (Forbes, Feb 2020)

The expertise economy appeals to many situations in professional services:

  • Owner/self-employed consultants who can continue the 'day job' as usual but also earn additional (often passive) income
  • Those who have a portfolio/fractional career
  • Those who are (semi)retired but would still like to make the most of what/who they know
  • Those in a full/part time job but who want to earn a bit of extra money, learn new things, meet new people, keep their options open, try out doing their own thing in a low risk way before ‘jumping ship’ to do it full time etc.

If you charged for access to your expertise, what might you offer?

Your value proposition might include a combination of the following:

  • Expertise on demand – you commit to providing help, expertise, introductions, advice, answers etc to your customers when they need it. You can commit to a response time (e.g. reply within 4hrs), an allocation of time/quarter based on the fee you charge. You could provide your advice to all group members (if you have a group), or 1-to-1 e.g. via direct message or video call.
  • Communities of expertise – give your members access to each other for sharing peer expertise, a sense of belonging with like-minded professionals, raise their profile within the profession, the ability to tap into the collective knowledge and connections of the group.
  • Scheduled consultations - you can schedule phone/video meetings, offer group meetings/roundtables (virtual or in person) to give advice, discuss challenges, answer questions etc.
  • Content & curation – you might already have a blog, newsletter, podcast etc that can also form part of your proposition. Even without your own unique content you can still curate relevant content by sharing valuable resources (interesting links, industry news, trends, research, market data etc). You can create a shared collaborative document, or worksheet, which your members add to over time to crowdsource a high value information and knowledge resource.

How much can you charge for this access to your expertise?

Obviously, the answer depends partly on the usual market value for your particular service or advice as well as the level of time and deliverables you offer as part of your proposition (see above).

However, the main opportunity is to shift away from the current model for monetising professional services - which is giving away high value content in order to convert a small percentage of those consuming it into lucrative, but often one-off, advisory engagements.

Instead you want a higher number of customers subscribing to your expertise in a way that is repeatable and scalable (often globally). For example:

  • You earn $100k/yr from consulting projects - but this can vary a lot year to year so it can be hard to plan with confidence
  • You get 150 paying members for your community of expertise - they pay $30/mth to belong so you earn 150 X $30 X 12 = $54k/yr recurring revenue
  • As it turns out you actually win more consulting projects from your paying members because they know and trust your expertise already...
  • So you end up with a much more dependable $100k/yr from consulting projects, with no need for marketing or business development, PLUS a recurring revenue stream of $54k.
  • Less worry, more confidence, more freedom/flexibility if you want it, and a 50%+ increase in earnings 🙂

What platforms exist for the expertise economy?

The well-known membership platforms, like Patreon or Substack, focus on 'creators' rather than the 'advisers' of the expertise economy. They focus more on content and less on community, Q&A, direct messaging, professional profiles, connections and networking that are particularly valuable in professional services.

Apart, of course, from Guild, these professional groups, networks and communities are currently being created and run on a range platforms for building professional communities.

But these current platforms have big limitations for serving the expertise economy:

  • They're really designed for businesses to buy and use, not for individual professionals.
  • They have no discovery mechanisms, no underlying professional network, to help grow your membership.
  • They're actually business tools for workflow collaboration rather than connection and community.
  • They don't offer the payment infrastructure to allow hosts to charge members.
We believe the expertise economy needs its own platforms, like the creator economy, and Guild will help lead the way.

What examples are there of the expertise economy?

If we go back to Li's original definition of the passion economy, we need only change one word to apply it to the expertise economy:

"people experts being able to monetize individuality and non-commoditized skills at scale, supported by digital platforms."

We'd love to champion such experts and showcase what they are doing. Contact us if you'd like to be featured.

You can see many such groups appearing already on Guild.  Some are still free, for marketing purposes, but many are paid for, whether as part of a broader membership proposition, or for access to the group alone.

If you want to explore the topic of paid communities of expertise further... then we have a group for that! Find out more and request to join here.  


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