Ask any random social worker on the street what the number one complaint in social work is and they’ll say it’s the money (or, rather, the lack thereof).
This is not a new complaint and not likely one to go away in the next several years. Social work has long been associated with volunteerism and poverty and it seems that the more good we try to do, the harder it is to make a living doing it.
And if it wasn’t hard enough for those of us who work in the field, it’s even worse for many of our clients. Ironically because of often limited resources those of us who are trained to do more just aren’t financially empowered to do so.
But why is that? Why aren’t more social workers making more money? Better yet, what are rich social workers doing that the rest of us are not?
Suzy, Steadman + Brené
A while back I wrote about three amazingly wealthy social workers and outlined how they had built their enormous wealth.
Besides all being linked to Oprah in some way (which never hurts), they all share the common variable in that they each created unique products or services that they then sell to those who want and can afford them. In turn they’re able to not only take better care of themselves, but they also create more time to do more of the things they love.
Not only is this a good strategy to create wealth, but it allows you to serve many more people than you could one-on-one.
That’s Not Social Work, Is It?
The universally accepted definition of social work is that:
Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. – International Federation of Social Work 2014
Basically, we help people grow and cooperate with their environment to reach their maximum potential.
Traditionally, the methods to do this have been through providing services such as community programs, case conferences, home visits, counseling sessions, advocacy meetings, policy developments, administrative delegations and personal burnout (just kidding about that last part…kind of). And rightly so. In order for social work to work there must be practitioners on the ground to help clients meet their goals. Without them social work would cease to exist as we know it.
Now in the business world, these services are actually called products and services and they’re no different from the products and services that rich social workers create, except that in the traditional social service work-world social workers don’t create the product, they are the product.
I call that getting swindled and pimped. ~ (Macklemore’s words, not mine.)
Now stay with me. We’re going to look more closely at Brené Brown: a tri-degreed social worker (I just made that word up and I like it), a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and a rich social worker. Brené offers a great opportunity to take a closer look at the idea of how a social worker might create wealth through offering his or her own products and services while still working within a social work system.
I got a chance to hear Mrs. Brown speak at the National Association of Social Worker’s Conference in 2014. She was every bit the engaging presenter that you’d expect her to be. As mentioned in the above-referenced article, Brené has managed to expand her social work efforts to the masses and in the process she’s become very, very rich.
So how did she do it? She created products.
Not only has Brené published several books for the commercial market (not just for academics) – two of which are New York Times’ #1 Best Sellers – but she has a blog, has authored several CD’s, she’s created online classes, and she speaks at various events. So even though she has a salaried position as a university research professor, she still finds time to create products and offer high-priced services.
In short, Brené is a product creation machine. And you know what she does with those products, don’t you? She sells them and creates for herself multiple pay days per year.
Motivation For Creation
So why would a social worker go “off the grid” and create multiple products and services, and what does this mean for you?
Well, one reason obviously is to have a way to make more money, but if your only motivation for creation is to make more money I guarantee you’re doing it wrong.
As social workers we often hear about the magical, mystical legend called “self-care.” Sadly, far too many of us continue to ignore its routine practice until we find ourselves so far down the rabbit hole of burnout that the only choice we have left is to cut our losses and run.
That’s sad and should not be (yes, I used the “s” word).
But the act of creation has it’s own kind of magic in it too. Studies show (here’s one) that when you take the time to focus your energy in a way that is creatively stimulating in order to bring a new thing into existence it can have tremendous benefits on your mental, emotional, and even physical health.
But I’m sure you knew that already.
The Missing Piece
What you probably didn’t know is that most social workers have no idea how to create a product or service that they might sell to someone and generally, unless we’re talking private practice, it’s a wildly foreign idea.
In the upcoming weeks I’ll share with you the process of what it takes to use your creativity and package it into a sellable product or service, but in the meantime why not schedule some time to reconnect with your inner creative? Write, paint, sing, read, connect, ski, cook, draw, climb, dance; pretty much do anything that pulls out the creative side of you and try to see if you can assess your level of prowess compared with someone else not as skilled. Those gaps may provide the very clues you need to identify where your opportunity for product development may lie.
But for now, answer this question: How would my life change if I were able to create and package my expertise and passion that others could then purchase to improve their lives?
The more clearly you can describe this, the better.
Finally, if you you know someone that could benefit from this, please pass it on!
Eva Forde, MSSW, is a social work leader, trainer, and entrepreneur. She currently serves as President of the Jamaica Association of Social Workers and is the author of How NOT to Practice Social Work: Saving Good People From Bad Practice One Step at a Time. Get a mash-up of insight, strategy and motivation at RichSocialWorker.com - the place for social workers who get inspiration to live richly.