It absolutely invigorates me that this is really and truly the age of the entrepreneur, the era when anyone can be nearly anything they want and that businesses can be started with a few hundred bucks, an idea, and a blog.
I think it’s disrupting business as we know it for the better, and I have personally benefited greatly from an era that doesn’t care whether or not I have a degree, and allows me to work in exciting positions and take my own crack at being an entrepreneur.
Much like other people in my position, I’ve worked really hard, made big sacrifices, and put a lot on the line to do this. But I’m frustrated that there’s another group of folks that are driven more by shortcutting, mooching, and shirking the hard work and aren’t afraid to ask for stuff that to me feels out of line. It has me thinking a bit more about helping others, and whether there can and should be limits.
Where Help Is Plentiful
I’m often happy to get together over coffee or on the phone and answer questions, or offer a take on a particularly sticky question or puzzle. I’m happy to share some of the lessons I’ve learned through my career, many of which I write about right here too.
I respond to a lot of emails, speak at a ton of events, give away my book, point people to resources I’m familiar with that can be helpful, all that jazz. In short, I’m not at all averse to being helpful and giving stuff away, which is why I’ve written here for four years, published free ebooks, done a bunch of webinars, all of which are chock full of real-world things I’ve experienced and want to share.
That doesn’t make me some kind of an altruist, In fact, I think helping each other is part of how we forge great relationships in our professional careers, and find the people that we like to work with and share our vision and aspirations. That’s a great feeling, and it benefits the greater good while it benefits me, too.
The short way to think about it: I’m always happy to share a lot of the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of my experience to people if it can be useful to them.
Sharing certain types of the ‘how’ is where it gets tricky.
When Help Isn’t Forthcoming
Forgive me for being a bit selfish sounding here and tell you when you’re going to ask me for something and get a big resounding “No.”
No I’m not going to give you a copy of one of my proposals as a “sample”.
No I’m not going to give you my rate sheet and pricing.
No I’m not going to share with you the details of how I run my social business audits.
No I’m not going to give you a strategic plan or executive workshop materials I’ve developed for a client, anonymous or otherwise.
No I’m not going to share with you the contracts and terms I’ve worked hard to develop (and likely paid good money to lawyers to review as well).
I’m all for collaboration and knowledge sharing in the right environments with the right colleagues, namely people I trust and have a wonderful, cooperative working relationship with. That’s relationship that is earned over time. I can count those people in my circles on one hand, and they might be exceptions to the above.
But I’m bothered by the entitlement that can sometimes come with a superficial connection, say a Twitter follow or having met once at a conference in passing, or the commonality of being in the same line of work.
The “how” of what I do what I do is my secret sauce, my championship BBQ rub, my individual recipe for problem solving. That’s what makes me valuable to my clients and that’s what I’ve developed the ability to get paid for. My “how” is comprised of years of experience, lots of trial and even more error, hard work, failures, feedback, more work, and lots and lots of road miles putting this stuff into practice for the better part of 15 years.
There’s a big difference between swapping a few tricks of the trade over coffee and giving away very valuable, expensive, labor intensive and competitively advantageous materials or processes that I’ve worked incredibly hard to develop for my work and my company. Which is also my livelihood.
Rather than hand those over to you and give you a short cut, I’m liable to tell you to go build your own. Learn like I did. Pay the money to get expert help (I’d be happy to help you develop your offerings, but I have fees. But I’m also likely to offer my feedback for nothing on materials you’ve developed yourself). All in all, it will serve you much better anyway because you’ll actually learn and come to understand the work and process that goes into things like this. Which prepares you better for later, and the business you’re trying to build.
Where’s the Love?
I know, I know. Stingy me. This is all supposed to be “social”, which means there aren’t supposed to be barriers to sharing and communal knowledge, right?
Sorry. I don’t buy that. Being social does not equal being an absolutely open book, especially when business success is sometimes about sharing…and sometimes about knowing when to protect what’s uniquely yours.
You’ve worked hard for what you’ve earned, too. I would never call up someone I hardly know and ask them to give me the secrets or critical tools to their business. If I’m calling a colleague for advice, I’m going to ask what their rates are first. I’d never ask you to give me your Gramma’s secret apple pie recipe. (Ok, that one I might try to wheedle out of you unless you were making millions selling them on the internet.)
Business is tough. It’s rewarding. It’s exhilarating and can be world changing. And it’s also work.
I’m surprised that these sorts of things need talking about, but two inquiries to share substantial stuff this week had me thinking that perhaps this isn’t so much common sense at all.
What do you think? Am I being a hard ass? Am I dead wrong? Should it always be share and share alike? Do you have boundaries for what you’ll give away from the backstage of your business, and what are they?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.