The Magic of Free Information

The dirt pile next door is now a 3,000 square foot house.

Of course, it didn’t happen by magic. Or overnight.

We live in a new development: 60 homes that have been under construction for about four years.

When we moved here 18 months ago, there was an empty lot on one side of us and a 30-story (I may be exaggerating) mound of dirt on the other.

Slowly, over the months, the mound got smaller and smaller, until one day it was gone and they began building.

Today, the house next door is all done. Next week, our new neighbors move in.

In the time we’ve lived here, I’ve seen a lot of houses go up. Fifteen, maybe twenty.

I’ve watched them pour foundations and I’ve watched them do the framing. I’ve seen decks built and roofs shingled.

I’ve walked around inside (trespassing at houses under construction is a popular neighborhood pastime) and seen how they install the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, drywall, appliances and more. 

Pretty much every step along the way from dirt pile to smiling new neighbors.

Which means, you’ll be happy to learn, that I am now qualified to build a house for you.

Except, of course, that it doesn’t.

Despite having seen multiple houses built, and while I have picked up a few insights here and there, I really don’t know much more about doing the job than I did when we first moved here.

The truth is, about the only thing of significance that’s changed is that I now realize how complicated the task of building a house is and how little I know.

Which is why sharing information – lots of information – about what you know is not a threat to your business. If anything, it’s a competitive advantage.


You can’t give away too much 

My clients are all small professional service firms and individuals: consultants, business coaches, financial advisors, training companies, etc.

People who sell “information services.”

They get paid (as do I) for sharing what they know.

And so, when I suggest that an email newsletter filled with free, no-strings-attached, useful information is the single most effective way to grow their business, I often hear variations on the following:

“We charge for this; we can’t give it away.”

“If I give them the answer, they don’t need me.”

“You seem kind of dumb, why should we listen to you?”

My answer, in all three cases, is the following:


  1. Watching isn’t the same as knowing. 

    Your newsletter is going to help me live my life or do my job better. If it doesn’t satisfy that basic requirement, nobody is going to read it. 

    But 12 or even 24 issues a year of an 800-word newsletter isn’t going to make me a master house builder. It’s only going to remind me of how much I don’t know. If you could give away your business that easily, you wouldn’t have a business. 

    As for lowering demand for your expertise, remember that people who publish books – books which purport to explain in detail everything they know – don’t lose business as a result of “giving it all away.” They get more by demonstrating their knowledge.

  2. The freebies cost you nothing. 

    Are there people who will read your newsletter, month after month, and never hire you? Definitely. The vast majority of readers, in fact, will never pay you a cent. 

    But that’s how all advertising works; most people don’t buy. Ever. 

    Fortunately, all that matters is that enough of them do. Those are the people to focus on. And if you want them to pick up the phone and call (note to millennials: “calling” is when you use your phone to speak out loud to another person), you need to show them how much you know by sharing real insight.

  3. You’re not Coca Cola – you don’t have any proprietary information. 

    I mean no disrespect, but that “5 Point Blah Blah System” you love to talk about? Or that slide with the multi-color overlapping circles you trot out to explain your “unique” approach? 

    It’s all fine, but it’s just your way of describing the work you do which, if we’re being honest, is 90% identical to what your equally capable, equally experienced, equally credentialed competitors offer. 

    You’re good – but so are they. When you guard your insights out of a concern for “the competition,” you’re keeping it out of the hands of prospects too.

Here’s the bottom line. 

Am I saying you should give away custom advice and insight for free? No, that’s what you charge for.

But producing and sharing generic, one-size-fits-all information that you publish in the form of a regular newsletter? That’s just people watching you think.

And believe me, the more they watch, the more amazed they will be at your ability to turn a pile of dirt into a shiny new house.

About the author

Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping (tiny) professional service firms talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here


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