Why should I give my knowledge away for free?

Sonja Jefferson

The Valuable Content Marketing approach means producing content that provides independent value to those who receive it, whether or not they choose to buy from you. This means giving away some of your hard earned knowledge for free.

This simple principle throws up a lot of questions.

“Really, give my hard earned knowledge away for nothing? Won’t my competitors steal it and use it as their own?”

So what is the right balance between sharing information openly and divulging a company’s secret sauce? Here are our answers:

Q: Why should I give knowledge away for free?

A: Keeping your information locked up is not a great way to win business. Deciding to buy takes a leap of faith. If you give away some value in advance people will start to trust that you know what you are talking about, that you are credible, reliable and helpful; that you are the kind of firm they’d like to work with and buy from.

“Think about it as ‘commercial karma’ – give your ideas, tips and advice freely and without expectation, it will come back to you in terms of referrals and reputation that will more than pay for itself.”

…says Bryony Thomas, author of Watertight Marketing www.bryonythomas.com

You are not divulging secrets about your operations; you are giving away information that is of value to customers. The customers will see that you are the provider, and they will see you as the authority. This is what you want. Competitors will always be playing catch-up, but you will be setting the pace. Don’t hide your expert knowledge for fear of losing it to business rivals – you’ll miss an even bigger opportunity to connect with potential clients.

Q: Won’t I lose my competitive advantage?

A: No, you’ll gain more! Back in the 1990s comedian Bob Monkhouse’s joke book was stolen. Twenty five years’ worth of material lost. It didn’t mean that whoever stole the book could win his work though. The missing material only had value when it was delivered by Bob Monkhouse. His timing, his delivery, his facial expressions turned the words on the page into comedy gold. And it’s the same with your content. Giving away what you know won’t mean other people can steal your business.

It’s more than the information that makes people buy; it’s the experience and the results we are after. That experience is unique to your business. No article or e-book is going to give away the sum total of the value you deliver to a client or customer. They won’t be able to do it themselves. A few may try, but then they’re probably not the type of client or customer you want anyway.

Q: How much should I give away?

A: You can afford to be generous. In our view you can’t give away too much. Put your best stuff online and share it. Think of it as ‘commercial karma’ – the more you give the more you’ll get.

“Give content freely, with generosity. If you’re concerned about giving away too much or you’re otherwise holding back in any way, worry less and give more.”

…says Andrea P. Howe, President, BossaNova Consulting Group, co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook

Valuable test: does it hurt a bit to give away this content? Good – that’s the kind of content that will get you the best results.

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  1. Avatar

    Google often recommends open source. Everyone should hand out content for free. Post to Youtube, Blogger, etc.

    So why is Google’s algorithm (and practically everything at Google, even the number of employees) a secret? None of the major social sites offer any sort of open source information. Facebook’s EdgeRank is secret.

    I’ve often heard people say everyone should distribute their content for free to get trust and sales. But Stephen King, JK Rowling, and so on do not distribute for free.

    Do you have examples where this has been successful?

  2. Avatar

    Hi Andreas. Thanks for the comment. I think you are talking about two different things here but both the open source movement and valuable content marketing share the same open, collaborative principles.

    Even J.K. Rowling has a little valuable content on her site in the form of interesting videos and webcasts. You are right – she doesn’t seem to give away any of her product, but she does give a bit of an insight into her, the author – which is no doubt valuable to her fans. Confusing website though.

    Yes – plenty of examples of where this has been successful. Have a look at this article as a starter – https://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/how-successful-companies-are-marketing-themselves-today/, and check out stories from our Valuable Content Award winners too – https://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/valuable-content-award/.

    Hope that helps.



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