Info is Free. So, Now What?

“What happens when clients don’t want to pay for information anymore?” This was a question postured by a friend and fellow consultant recently over a Thai dinner as we were discussing all things career, marketing, brand and future-is-now. The notion hit me like a lead balloon and I’d like to think it was the hot chili peppers that made my eye tear a little…. But there it was. The fact that “information is free” was provoking a healthy dose of fear and panic. In my mind, I immediately had visions of the old abandoned factories where my grandparents once worked.  Did they see thatcoming? And, now that the information age is here, what happens to us if the heart of what we provide is available everywhere, for free? I wiped the tear from my eye, listened to my friend and now conclude: information ain’t where it’s at!

“Free.”  It’s the great-marketing-and-sales concept of the moment. The idea: give away your products/service and the prospective customer will be so happy with the value that they’ll come back for more. Entrepreneur and info product guru Eben Pagan calls this “Moving the Free Line,” challenging businesses to give their very best ideas and concepts, to move the line to unsurpassed value and customer loyalty. This goes, I believe, against the protection-minded grain of the “save the best for last, don’t give it all away” thinking engrained in most of our business minds.  Add the internet into the mix, and today there’s an abundance of “free.” Info is everywhere, for the taking. I think that’s just fine. Why? I’m going to step out on a limb here and say I think my value to clients is about something bigger than just information. So the more they know, the better we can work together to impact their success. And, yep, sometimes the old-fangled notions creep into my thinking and make me fearful about protecting my intellectual capital.  Ever had anyone tweet your ideas without crediting you? See anyone incorporate your ideas into a blog, with no reference? Been there. Guess what? I’m still breathing and so is my business.

“Imagination is the new source of value in the new economy.”-Tom Peters*

As consultant or service provider, I believe it’s not enough to just put forth information. You must have a point of view. A big idea. And creativity. This also requires, to some degree, a shift toward a role as teacher, trainer, and trader.Today’s world requires a mindset for sharing and collaborating to investigate: what can we create with our knowledge? How can we reinvent and transform your brand, your business? Tom Peters reported, back in 1994, that knowledge grows obsolete every half dozen years or less. Given this predicament, the climate of our ever-changing and uncertain world, a high level of competition thanks to the flattening of organizations and, of course, easy access to information, I’d say: the world changes so fast why not share your ideas abundantly? I see it as a criterion for survival, in fact.

So, as a work-in-process, I will challenge myself to increasingly incorporate the following, in creative and big ways, into my work:

Give with heart. Seriously, this isn’t a new concept – it should, I think, be a guiding principal for life. Yet, it’s sometimes tough to remember when we are in the dog-eat-dog world of making money to pay the mortgage. I really do believe that we’ll reap the rewards of giving unselfishly. I’m not saying you should work for free, but just that you might want to consider helping others with sincerity, just because it’s the right thing to do. Maybe you won’t get a new customer, but if you do this right, you can create value in everything you do. I personally think there’s enough business for everyone, so I’m not concerned about competition (and realize some people would have a field day with that comment!). Or the notion of “fairness.” I’m not fearful of people taking advantage of me, either.  I know what I can offer for free, and I’m willing to share…. That doesn’t make me a patsy, by the way! It’s a choice, my decision to make. And yours, too.

Fearlessly put ideas out there. In Babson College President Len Schlesinger and Charles Keifer’s forthcoming book, Action Trumps Everything, they suggest a need to move from thinking to doing. They say the mode for entrepreneurs operating in unpredictable times is to Act. Learn. Repeat.   Putting your ideas out there will help you learn, adjust and even expand your thinking. If we wait until everything is “just perfect” or all tied up in a bow, chances are, the market will move on.  And, if we protect new ideas and concepts – keeping them safely in a box to sell, we risk that no one will ever really know what our unique approach can mean to their business. I say, throw away the notion that putting your ideas out there for free can eliminate business. I think it’s the opposite: sharing will help you learn and attract potential customers. It’s not just information, but the sum of your whole package that people will want to engage.

*Note: I’m not sure exactly to whom this quote should be attributed. I believe Tom Peters was the original source and have notated it as such, although I heard it via JulieAnn Turner and, since, have found it highlighted in a few other places, too. The irony of this issue, as part of this post, is not lost on me!

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