While most developers and technical people are used to sharing useful information, most entrepreneurs and consultants do not, or share very little. The logic is: “why share information if you can charge for it?”
Let me give you my thoughts on this, as I’ve been on both sides of the camp and therefore, I can offer an unique perspective.
Right after college, back in 1996, I landed a job as a Windows c++ software developer. I remember that I used to spend 20-30% of my time reading news groups, looking for other developers facing the same compiler errors that I was facing. This was far easier and less time consuming than trying to figure out the problem myself. Occasionally, I did have to solve some difficult problems on my own, however, the newsgroups proved to be a very valuable resource.
I met Linux while at college and I immediately felt in love with all things open source. I remember downloading “Slackware” over a 28kb/s line and copying it to 700 floppy disks! worried that they might remove it and I wouldn’t be able to download it later. I did not think this free OS would last long. I’m glad I was wrong.
I’ve came across colleagues that protected their knowledge with iron claws. They felt that having their knowledge out in the open would make them replaceable. They did this to protect their job.
Benefits of Sharing
On my next job, I worked as a Solaris/Linux system administrator and I was surprised to learn that the senior administrator was not sharing information with others. His reasoning was that if he shared, others would take his place. Paradoxically, I became the senior admin by doing exactly the opposite. As I was willing to share, others listened to my opinions, I gained more responsibility, and obtained better and higher paying positions.
Before I started my first company, I was very comfortable with sharing. Being a Linux/Open source fan, there was no point in keeping things to myself. Later, when I started to learn marketing I realized that while developers and technical people are more prone to share, marketers were not so altruistic. The affiliate marketer, that inspired me to move my young company in the right direction, would not share a single bit of information for competitive reasons. I’m glad that the few words he did say were enough for me to find the right path (you can find them in my about page).
Why would I tell a potential customer how to solve their problem? The customer can pretty much do it on his or her own after learning how to do it.
My basic principle is that there are other things to earn besides money. Branding is one of them.
I firmly believe that the easiest way to receive is to give. Try to share as much as you can, but first try to have a sustainable business model.
I think that now it is easier and cheaper than ever to create a start-up with no external funding. Even if you have the money to spend, it is wiser to go low budget. What you are trying to build with a lot of money has probably been built by somebody else. Probably using open source software and free content that provides the same value.
Now, coming up with a viable business model is increasingly difficult. Some experts offer advice for free and make your buy their e-books, others offer e-books for free and sell the tools, others offer tools and e-books for free and sell advice or ads. How can you come up with a winning formula in such a market? Over-delivering and offering unique value is one way to achieve this.
Every rule has it’s exception, so sharing your information is NOT always a good idea.
One of my developers faced this predicament while doing some after-hours freelance work for one of the companies I used to work for. They tried multiple times to squeeze that information out of him, in order to avoid having to pay him for his services. I recommended him to not tell them how to solve their problem. Sharing this information with them would not be “economically sustainable”.
Find out what you can share and what you can’t, but please, start sharing!