3 Reasons Why Expertise Costs Money

Piggy bankOn the web, the battle rages on every time a example of paid content or expertise comes on the scene.

I’m not talking about sponsored posts or tweets – that’s a different argument that we’ll have to have another day.

I’m talking about projects like Third Tribe, or other membership-based learning communities. Or ebooks that aren’t free. Events, either live or on the web. Or time to consult, advise, speak, whatever.

There is a ton of information out on the web that’s free, and it’s given us a bit of an expectation that things we find on the internet shouldn’t cost us anything. But I just don’t understand the griping and whining that happens when someone decides to charge for their stuff.

There are three big reasons I pay for things, have charged money for my expertise and services, and think you have a right to try and do the same:

1. Experience Requires Investment

What you know didn’t get there by accident. Whether it was formal education or learning in the trenches, you paid for your education. You paid in time, in effort, perhaps in money. The stuff that’s in your head and the practical, tangible experience you’ve accumulated over the years. It all cost you something.

Employers pay for that expertise in the form of a salary. Audiences pay for books written by people who have detailed their experiences or knowledge. University tuition costs money. And you can argue all day long about how to determine the value of learning and how to filter out the good from the bad. But the fact remains that experience and knowledge can be worth money, and those that have it have reasons to put a pricetag on it.

2. Concreteness and Context are Valuable

Events cost money to produce. Curating ideas into organized information and content takes time and a certain amount of talent. Making a tangible product or executable services requires time, materials, and management. And doing the research to combine and present information or expertise through the lens of my business can be beneficial.

I’m also willing to pay for some filters to be applied, like knowing that my fellow community members have also invested money to be here, so we’ll all try and squeeze the most value from the experience and contribute in kind.

3. Mistakes Cost Money

Many times, I pay for someone’s expertise or knowledge because I’m paying for the mistakes they’ve already made. I’m buying shortcuts, to a degree. Perhaps they’ve already learned how to apply theoretical knowledge in my industry to a practical solution. Perhaps they’ve failed three times before the fourth time was a charm, and I’m getting the benefit of seeing those potential obstacles before I hit them myself.

Precedent isn’t always proof, but the value in a case study or experienced perspective is that it can help me better navigate the situation that *I* might be faced with, and benefit from someone else’s hands getting dirty first. I know that there are plenty of things I don’t know that I’ve gladly paid for so I can shorten my learning curve and add other people’s context and experience to my ideas.

Value is undoubtedly in the eye of the beholder. Only you can choose for yourself whether spending the money to learn something new is a good risk, and whether you’re likely to walk away better equipped than you were before. Sniffing out the snake oil is partially your job and the due diligence of a business weighing their potential investments. That’s been the truth since the days of hair tonic being hawked on the street in tents.

Don’t think you’re going to get your money’s worth? Don’t pay.

But just because a single endeavor might not be worth the money doesn’t mean that the idea of charging money for something is out of line.  And that means that MLM and “make money online” scams will abound – the opportunists have always existed. Bad apples don’t spoil the entire barrel.

Let’s remember that we live in a world of free enterprise, thank goodness.  And the good side: there will always be a great deal of valuable, helpful, and truly useful information, events, and people across the web that cost a few bucks to access.

We have to put filters on and do some homework. But having the opportunity to earn a living based on the knowledge you’ve built over your career and how you assemble, share, and apply it?

That’s more than okay with me.

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The Social Media Ego Threat

Information hoarders are an endangered species. It’s not enough to know something anymore, because the internet knows it, too. If you don’t share it, someone, somewhere, will. Your value to a company is no longer your tribal knowledge, because knowledge is currency now, and it’s traded on a massive free market.

To many professionals in arenas like communications, customer service, even sales or management, social media represents a threat to their domain. Being obsolete is a scary thing. Decades of career knowledge feel feeble when parked up against the newest, fastest moving thing riding on the back of technology. Relearning what we’ve worked so hard to know already seems a daunting, even angering task.

After all, would you like to be told that the way you’ve been doing your job for decades is inherently flawed in a modern business environment?

But the truth is we don’t need filters, spin doctors, and gatekeepers as much, because we feel more capable than ever before of vetting our own information. We want it fact-based, so we can decide for ourselves.  And if it’s access we want and can’t get, we can build our networks outside your walls instead.

I can build my own distribution channels now faster, and without frills. So I don’t need your roads. I can build my own.

Punditry alone cannot survive without substance any longer, because we’re all pundits of our own design (with or without pedigree). Credentials are only as valuable as the work they enable. They may help you skip the line a bit, but you’re still earning credibility now in an ad hoc court of peers.

Perhaps the root of many endless and circular conversations about ROI, shiny objects, and fads is really code for “I’m not sure I understand my place in all of this” or “I don’t know how to translate what I know now into a relevant, meaningful role.”

Which is understandably human. We rail against what we don’t understand, or the things that threaten the comfort (complacency?) of what we know now.

Evolution and change is inevitable. But the very humanity we’re seeking to draw out of businesses is precisely what may very well lie at the center of the adoption impasse.We don’t talk about it much, because talking about our professional insecurities in a business meeting just doesn’t seem like it fits well.

So instead we bluster, we pontificate, we trivialize. But we never really quite get to the heart of the matter.

Which has me asking myself (and you, of course): How do we reframe our conversations and lectures about all this social stuff and make them as rooted in the human element as we’re imploring the business world to be?

image by Everfalling

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