Making money by giving stuff away has been an online business model since, well, since there have been online businesses. You may remember that a few years ago Chris Anderson wrote a Wired cover story called “Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business.”
But what happens when we apply this at a personal level? Where do we draw the line – no matter how permeable – between “just picking your brain” and “just stealing your expertise?” And what does that mean to those of us who blog, tweet, speak, share, and meet our peers for lunch?
You may know that I publish a daily Digital Agency News roll-up of what 180 or so agencies are tweeting about. I noticed lately that agencies were picking up on points of view from people I like to keep an eye on, and I thought you might too.
1. F-You, Pay Me!
One of those people is Mike Montiero, the co-founder of @MuleDesign Studio, who explains why you shouldn’t let others tell you when to give it away. The title of his excellent talk, which you can see here on video is: Fuck You, Pay Me. He gets his audience to practice saying these four magic words, which could change their businesses.
If his explanation of why paying for legal help is smart doesn’t get people to “contract-up,” then nothing will. Seriously, this is the best case for legal services since Sokolove Law started buying ads.
2. Ever Been Asked to Work for Free? Here’s How It Goes
I often feature insights from @AgencyPJA. PJA Advertising’s CEO Phil Johnson notes that sometimes you’re asked to work for free artfully, sometimes not. And occasionally a lopsided deal can work for you. Phil has made a list of all the ways people ask agencies to work for free.
You can also see a bunch of Phil’s points acted out in this very funny video about the vendor-client relationship.
3. No, You Can’t Pick My Brain; It Costs Too Much
But what about when the goal is not something as concrete as a job? Adrienne Graham (@talentdiva) at Forbes has a great piece on something that’s happened to pretty much every journalist at one point or another:
I can’t tell you how flattering it is to be approached by representatives from major companies seeking my wisdom and advice. It shows they are listening and like what I have to say. But often I find the road ends when they are just on a fact-finding mission. That mission is to pick my brain to gather as much free intel and knowledge they need to make their jobs easier. (Read her column Work in Progress.)
4. Still, Don’t Forget to Be Kind.
It is, of course, possible to take this too far. If you say the meter is running as soon as you pick up the phone, then you aren’t going to get a lot of calls.
Jessica Smith reminds us that a lot of good comes from being helpful and accessible.
When I was freelancing, I always let people pick my brain for free AND I made a great income. Why? Because I treated every “pick your brain” conversation as a new business pitch. Because I was running a business. I saw this as a way to demonstrate how I approach strategy, my level of expertise, and my ability to communicate a solution to a problem by asking the right questions and listening to what the potentially client was telling me. This isn’t a unique proposition. There’s a term for it. Consultative selling. (Read her post: Why You’ll Make More Money if You Let People Pick Your Brain For Free.)
5. My View: SWSWSW-N
Think of it as business karma. I can’t tell you how many referrals I’ve gotten from people I’ve let pick my brain for free. Something has always come of it – including, and not at all limited to, making a friend.
Yes, ultimately we all need to bill, but sometimes this takes a while to play out. And we learn about new people and businesses, some of which become clients or friends.
I like that quantum ambiguity — Some Will, Some Won’t, So What? – Next!
Your friends matter; their network and referrals matter; they do. Standing up for giving away expertise takes guts, but it’s often smart, and anyone good does it.
So whether you’re a current or prospective friend or client, feel free to drop me a line. It’s always a privilege to help.
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