The power of sharing

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!

8 replies
  1. Hamlet Batista
    Hamlet Batista says:

    @Jez: Thanks again for your valuable comments. Free WordPress templates and the Apache developers are excellent examples of earning by giving.

    @pixelPruner: Thanks for your comment. I am sharing with your my scripts and my best kept secrets! :-)

    Reply
  2. Jez
    Jez says:

    How important do you think it is to understand this stuff, or rather how much of an advantage does it give you in terms of optimising a site?

    Its interesting stuff, but I am not sure how much one would benefit from this knowledge… how much did you gain from researching this?

    Reply
  3. Alastair McDermott
    Alastair McDermott says:

    Hi Hamlet,

    Interesting post, and very relevant to me. I am now an entrepreneur and consultant after years of being an software engineer and developer.

    I often catch myself in a sales meeting with a client where I run the risk of giving away too much information. I have dealt with this in two ways.

    The first approach is when I think that I can get away with overwhelming the client in a positive way. In this case I give them as many different ideas as possible, quickly describing the benefits, and moving on to the next idea. This strongly establishes my credibility. The downside is these sales meetings frequently overrun the scheduled time period, and if the client is smart and has a good memory then I risk losing out on the sale.

    The other way I've dealt with is to give only as much information as is necessary to make the sale. I've found this to be a much more difficult approach, possibly due to my engineering background. But this is the way my business mentors recommend that I proceed.

    I'm still searching for the right balance, and appreciate any advice you might have, without giving away the Crown Jewels of course ;)

    Cheers,
    Alastair.

    Reply
    • Hamlet Batista
      Hamlet Batista says:

      Alastair,

      Thanks for your comment. I am really glad to have people with similar background and interests visiting my blog.

      Sharing expert information has long term benefits

      Customers do not usually try to take advantage. They just want to be sure you can do the job.

      The more people you prove you are an expert, the more you are branded as an authority.

      You might lose a few deals now, but you will win big when people start knocking on your door that you did not anticipate.

      Why I think this works?

      It is easy to solve a problem once you know the solution. Everybody knows that experts are the ones that come up with solutions.

      When customers face similar problems who do you think they will go to? If somebody ask for recommendations, who do you think they will recommend?

      If you lost a deal because you shared too much information, think of it as the cost of positively branding yourself and your company.

      There are rare occasions where you need to be reserved. You can identify them by listening carefully at the questions being asked. If you perceive the customer is trying to get valuable information, you must assume they are planning to do it themselves or with somebody else. Very detailed implementation questions are a clear signal of this. You won't benefit in any way if the customer has this attitude.

      Reply
  4. Ramon Gallardo C.
    Ramon Gallardo C. says:

    I couldn’t agree more, my experience is that those who are fortunate enough to have knowledge and share it are much better off than those who have it and keep it to themselves.

    I can think of one time I helped someone out by sharing and before I knew it, that someone had spotted holes in my theory and actually helped me improve what I had showed him. It’s quite obvious that two brains think better than one!!!
    Another great post and thank you for sharing 

    Reply
  5. Jez
    Jez says:

    I think this is a good approach, the point you make about colleges is a good one.

    An area I think really needs some OS development are government / school systems etc.

    There is a lot of scope for earning money giving things away, WordPress templates are a good example… they get the designer great exposure / sponsorship.

    I believe many of the original Apache developers became very rich working for Netscape as a result of the expertise they collectively developed…

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply