You should read this article if:
- You’re interested in hearing the exclusive thoughts of 36 of the world’s leading communications experts.
- You work in public relations, SEO, content marketing or social media marketing.
- You own a business and want to increase sales.
- You’re thinking of completely overhauling how you market your company. But need reassurance that it’ll pay off.
- You are finding it more and more difficult to get your company’s message heard.
- You are interested in the psychology of life and what motivates people to take actions.
- You have a belief in the essential goodness of human nature. But don’t think it’ll ever get you anywhere at work.
- You have ever wondered if there is such a thing as a selfless act.
- Your blog is just not working and you’re wondering why.
Let me open the door to a new world for you?
One Where Good Guys Win
One where the more truthful and honest you are, the more you enjoy your work, the more money you make.
One that few people know about.
Walk through the door and when you’ve stopped blinking, I’ll show you the light.
And if, when you get to the bottom of this post, you agree with me and the 36 experts’ experiences, share the secret with your friends.
In the meantime, while you get the Sun out of your eyes, indulge me for one minute as I share a wee story…
Why I Wrote This Post
I was chatting to my good friend Scott Guthrie the other day. Me in Glasgow, Scotland; him in Sydney. We both own PR companies, with a twist.
We were reflecting on the success of an inspiring project to which we’d both contributed time and effort. For free. It had led to the launch of a ground-breaking crowd-sourced ebook called My #PRstack.
We’d each penned a chapter. And we were questioning why.
Scott’s a nice guy. And while I haven’t asked him, I’d bet my house on him believing in karma.
Like me, he has a genuine desire to help. To share what he knows. To contribute and give back.
I would also wager that, like me, he hasn’t always been this way.
The predominant business culture of the past 20 years has been keep your head down, play your cards close to your chest and don’t, whatever you do, give away your trade secrets.
It’s difficult to break out of that paradigm unless there’s something in it for you.
So aside from the warm fuzzy feeling of making a contribution, Scott and I agreed that there was an element of enlightened self-interest in our enthusiastic participation in #PRstack. We both run businesses after all.
It’s something I’ve touched on in previous posts, and a subject that fascinates me.
What motivates me and others to “give it all away for free”? By this, I mean sharing our knowledge without fear or favour (don’t worry, we charge clients for our time…everyone’s got to make a living).
Is full disclosure the modern business world’s secret sauce? An alternative paradigm? A new way of working where nice guys/gals win.
I think so. And once you embrace it, there’s no turning back. Trust me.
Ask The Experts
So I jotted down a list of PR/digital/SEO/content marketing influencers. The best, worldwide.
And for want of a better term I’m bracketing them in the category of “new PR”. Or “new communications” to be more accurate, as these once disparate disciplines are increasingly converging. Labels are unimportant; content is.
I reached out to people I know, people I have discussed this topic with, and people whose work I admire. They’re at the forefront of this new business paradigm, trailblazers if you will. They all share freely and all see the benefit. And they all blog.
Enlightened Self-Interest: The Pitch Email
1. Why do you “give it all away for free”? Was there a specific lightbulb moment when your mindset shifted?
2. What are the benefits and disbenefits to you of enlightened self-interest? How long did it take before it started paying off for you?
3. Where, if anywhere, do you draw the full disclosure line?
Thirty-six gave me their time, and I am most grateful for their candour. I only asked for 50 words (they’re busy people) and to answer whichever question took their fancy.
But some couldn’t help themselves:O). Writers, eh. Give ‘em a platform….
So now your eyes have grown accustomed to the light. I’ll hand over to the stars of the show before wrapping up with what I get out of full (ish) transparency/being nice/sharing what I know.
Roll Of Honour
You should follow them on Twitter (I’m making it easy for you). I do:
And Here’s What They Said
In alphabetical order so feel free to skip. But I would urge you to read them all like I have. I’ve learnt a lot. Some answered all three questions; some, one question; some gave their general thoughts; and some condensed it all into 50 words.
#1: Richard Bailey (Harrogate, UK)
“Value is subjective: it’s impossible to measure the value of a public relations programme until it’s been running for a while (and even then it’s still hard). So perception is everything.
“How can you be perceived as offering value? Do those in your peer group think you have something to offer? That’s why we share – often for free. By publishing, we become authors (ie people perceived as having authority). An example of a hero of free authority: Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia.”
#2: Ryan Biddulph (Savusavu, Fiji, currently)
Author of 27 Blogging from Paradise books. Blogger. Coach. Internet lifestyle junkie.
“Giving it all away for free detaches me from outcomes. My lightbulb went off when I saw the more I gave freely the more creative I became and yes, the more money I make in the present and long run.
“The benefits are a sense of detachment and calm, peaceful confidence in all you do. I don’t strain and strive much now. I give freely and thrive. It paid off immediately because I felt better by giving freely and my business grew quickly after cutting the strings.”
#3: Philippe Borremans (Brussels, Belgium)
Philippe hosts the popular weekly European PR podcast www.wagthedog.fm.
“I am a sucker for karma…always have been. I truly believe that if you ‘share freely’ you will also ‘receive freely’. There has not been a defining moment but I am sure that reading certain blog posts, meeting people, and experiencing the benefits early on in my career all have something to do with it.
“Benefits come in very different ways…think business referrals, becoming part of a network, access to people. The last one was in the form of a nice contract to develop a social media e-learning course for in-company training: simply based on one single referral. Another example is the benefit of ‘free learning’ I receive while doing the thought leader interviews for my weekly PR podcast.
“Where, if anywhere, do I draw the full disclosure line? I don’t think I draw a line.”
#4: Deirdre Breakenridge (New Jersey, US)
Deirdre is CEO at Pure Performance Communications and the author of five Financial Times books.
“When I first started blogging in 2008, it was to document my own journey through a changing media landscape, knowing PR needed a new approach.
“At the time, I was working with FT Press on a book called PR 2.0: New Media New Tools New Audiences.
“I quickly realised that many professionals appreciated my content and rallied around it. They also wanted more of their questions answered.
“I would ‘listen’ carefully on Twitter through different hashtag conversations and then attacked the critical issues on my PR blog.
“The lightbulb went off when I realised the blog was a great way to educate, raise awareness about pressing industry topics, and to collaborate with people I couldn’t normally reach.
“The end result was a published manuscript, with the real life examples from communication pros willing to share their journey as well. It was a win-win for everyone involved.”
#5: Michael Brenner (Philadelphia, US)
Head of strategy at NewsCred. Contributor to The Economist, Forbes, The Guardian. Michael blogs at B2B Marketing Insider.
“There was no lightbulb moment for me in ‘giving away’ content. I assumed right from the very beginning that in order to gain the attention and trust of an audience, that you had to consistently provide value without asking for anything in return.
“In fact, I feel honoured that anyone trusts their valuable time and attention with content I create.
“The real lightbulb moment for me was seeing the audience I was starting to build on Twitter and LinkedIn start to share out the content I was creating on my blog and on various publications.
“It took about six months for me to see that connection pay off. That’s when I understood the real value of building an audience on social platforms but using your blog to bring them home.
“I think time is our most valuable asset. When someone asks me a question, I am happy to answer it.
“When someone asks me for a day, I think I’ve earned the right to charge them for that kind of time.”
#6: Stuart Bruce (London, UK)
Stuart is an international PR adviser, speaker, trainer, and blogger. He runs Stuart Bruce Associates.
“Professor Anne Gregory answered the question ‘why do you give it all away for free’ for me when she tweeted ‘… you do so much to upskill our profession’. That is a major motivation. I want to be proud of the PR profession I work in and one way of being proud of it is by making it better.
“The self-interested answer is that by giving away an insight into my thinking I win more business from people who want to use the way I think. Both of those were my motivations for giving it away, but a third has emerged over the years. By sharing what I know and think, I get excellent critical input from peers, competitors, friends, acquaintances etc. This improves what I know and think, and hopefully improves what they know and think thus creating a virtuous circle.
“Nearly all of my consultancy and training work comes either directly from giving stuff away or by referral from work that was originally from giving stuff away.
“I don’t really draw the (full disclosure) line as it is a bit like sport. Even the biggest fan who watches everything on TV, reads every article and goes to every live event, is never going to be a star player.
“Even if I tell people how to do stuff it doesn’t equate to my experience and expertise. They still need me to do it well, better and to reduce the risk of mistakes.
“What I will never disclose is anything that impinges on client confidentiality. That means my best crisis comms advice and experience can’t be fully disclosed as some of it has helped clients avoid a crisis and therefore talking too much about it risks actually bringing it out into greater prominence!”
#7: Mike Carhart-Harris (Dorchester, UK)
Mike works in public sector communications and blogs, thoughtfully, at Don’t believe the hyphen.
“As someone working in the public sector, it feels easy and natural to share good ideas and best practice. What works in one area can be easily transferred to another – and, in my mind, should be.
“We’re all working towards common goals, in the main, and within a climate of austerity and needing to show value. But I actually think that a growing generosity of inspiration is happening across sectors. I think there’s a mutual professional interest as well as enlightened self-interest; to improve the value and reputation of what we do.
“For me (sharing what I know) it’s a win-win. I get to learn from those more experienced than me. What little I can offer in terms of thoughts and experiences I might blog about is no real sacrifice. I’m not giving away any trade secrets. As a relative novice, I can only gain and hopefully get better at what I do.
“I can see there may need to be limits (to what you can disclose) for private sector practitioners in terms of anything commercially sensitive.
“But I think what we’re seeing is a lifting of the veil and a drive to transparency that dispels the old lie about the ‘dark arts’ of spin. For me, as a local government employee, there are clear political boundaries. More generally, I would never disclose something that undermined trust.”
#8: Adam Connell (Derby, UK)
Adam is a digital marketer. He blogs at his site Blogging Wizard.
“There was a gradual shift when I started an online record label in college.
“This label was part of the net audio scene which thrived on the freedom of music online – artists from all over the world, creating music just for the love of music.
“Initially, I built up this small record label to help promote my friends music (and mine too). Shortly after, other artists came to us with their music and wanted us to release it for free.
“We went on to put out 60 releases and to-date we’re getting close to cracking the three million downloads mark, despite shutting the label down a long time ago (all releases are still available via sites like Archive.org). This experience taught me the value of free information and I later started Blogging Wizard with the same thinking.
“The idea of breaking down boundaries and making information more accessible has been at the forefront of my mind.
“Yes, there will always be a place for paying more for additional information (e.g. full courses), but there’s a lot available already at no cost.
“The bottom line is that my aim is to help other bloggers with the content that I publish and that sometimes requires giving away the farm, or at least part of it.”
#9: Andy Crestodina (Chicago, US)
Andy is the strategic director and co-founder of Orbit Media, an award-winning, 38-person web design firm in Chicago. He is also the author of Content Chemistry, The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.
“Like any content marketer, I give by best advice away for free for one simple reason: avoid obscurity.
“I’m not afraid that something bad will happen. I’m afraid that nothing with happen. And I know that by giving away all of my best advice, I can pull people towards me and win their attention. It’s only then that I have a chance of inspiring them to act, either by becoming newsletter subscribers or leads.
“Creating content started paying off quickly, because I knew how to use that content when talking to prospects who were already in the sales funnel. Content can be a very effective sales support tool, and in that way, it’s effective almost as soon as you create it.
“But it was more than a year before our content became effective at driving traffic. So the marketing benefits took some time to kick in. But it’s like a flywheel. The more you turn it, the easier it is to make it go around. Now we generate a huge amount of traffic and leads with very little effort.
“I’ve never seen a (full disclosure) limit. Pat Flynn discovered this when he started publishing his income reports as an affiliate marketer. Marcus Sheridan discovered this when he publishing his pricing structure for fiberglass pools. Put simply, the more you give, the more you get.
“Usually, people are afraid they’ll give away too much for one of these reasons:
- I’m afraid my competitors will learn my secrets
- I’m afraid my audience won’t need me if I tell them how to help themselves
- I’m afraid my visitors won’t contact me if I give them all the information on my site
“But people who are afraid of publishing are taking a different kind of risk. They risk not answering one of their audience’s important questions. Every time you miss a question, you lose some of your audience. They’ll simply go look for the answer (and find it) elsewhere.
“You need to answer all of your audience’s questions. The key to success is content is to know what to blog about and how to connect that topic to your audience!”
#10: Gini Dietrich (Chicago)
Gini is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger at the PR and marketing blog, Spin Sucks.
“I don’t remember making a decision to do it (give it all away for free); it just happened organically.
“I do remember being uncomfortable with taking a stance and then getting fired up about something and having that blog post go out of control. That gave me the confidence to shift to this paradigm.
“It’s a catch-22 (enlightened self-interest), for sure. The more you give away, the more people expect. And, when you need people to pay for something, they balk at it. But the benefits outweigh the cons and karma is a good thing when you treat people well.
“The only thing I don’t disclose is when people leave the organisation and why. I’ve only had one situation where I was legally bound not to disclose the issue so I didn’t say a word about it. Otherwise, it’s all pretty much out there.”
I’ve only had one situation where I was legally bound not to disclose the issue so I didn’t say a word about it. Otherwise, it’s all pretty much out there.”
#11: Jeff Domansky (Vancouver, Canada)
An experienced PR agency CEO, Jeff is a publisher, editor, and blogger at The PR Coach.
“One of my core beliefs is that a thought leader shares valuable ideas, insight or sometimes something as simple as empathy. That’s how the Internet was originally created and we seem to have forgotten the true meaning of “social” media.
“I built my original PR Coach site with a library of more than 9,000 links to 30 topics that PR professionals would find useful. I’ve continued that on Scoop.it, curating on social media as well. The benefit was it matched perfectly with my PR ‘coach’ persona and positioning. Besides, I’m just a curious cat.
“If you have integrity, full disclosure is simply not optional.”
#12: Judy Gombita (Toronto, Canada)
Judy is a (social) public relations and communication management strategist, and co-content editor of PR Conversations.
“Why would you put a price on global PR knowledge and relationships?
“Approached by Toni Muzi Falconi (Italian PR maestro, Global Alliance co-founder, and inaugural chair) in late 2006 to join a global/local, collaborative blog focusing on ‘conversations’ about public relations as a strategic management function – academic and working practitioners’ perspectives – I was interested and intrigued at the possibilities.
“I could envision the benefits, as a Canadian and a female (the outsized-represented gender in the PR industry workforce, but under-represented and appreciated in terms of formal senior roles, both in-house and agency, as well as thought leadership) in joining this initiative at the front end.
“The rationale quickly bore fruit: an international platform to build and test my professional and personal reputation and value (add) to the evolving public relations-distinct profession, as well as to grow and build (international) relationships with like-minded individuals.
“Almost 10 years later, what are some measurable outcomes from participating in PR Conversations? Figuratively and literally, it opened up a world of significant relationships (in terms of authority and influence) and gained knowledge and appreciation about the practice of public relations in different countries and sectors.
“My digital reach (and inspiration) is international and relatively unconstrained by time zones.
“Rather than ‘giving it away for free’, I continue to see opportunities to learn and inform, recruit and help impact public relations as a discrete area of strategic management and influence – not simply relegated to a secondary and tactical role under marketing, primarily in regards to media relations and/or ‘content’ production.
“How? One way is enlisting writers – fresh or established, but under-appreciated, thinkers and voices – for posts on our collaborative blog. More recently, I focus time and energy in a curatorial role primarily for the blog’s Twitter account in addition to my own. I use a variety of mechanisms to discover companies and individuals’ work and thoughts worthy of highlighting (particularly beyond the usual suspects), including scheduling specific shares into related global timelines.
“A sense of accomplishment and satisfaction comes in a myriad of ways beyond transactional ‘business’ goals, such as:
- Increased profile (for self and others)
- Collaboration to benefit the greater good (such as students)
- PR (and related disciplines) value and knowledge curation
- Mindfulness regarding time and energy
- Disabusing many long-held ‘traditional’ PR stereotypes (particularly in regards to a purely marketing orientation)
- Moving the needle of thought, in regards to reputation and relationships, for an increasing number of organisational stakeholders.”
#13: Scott Guthrie (Sydney, Australia)
Scott is a management consultant specialising in progressive public relations.
“Why do I ‘give it all away for free’? I’m guided by a line from the US motivational speaker Tony Robbins: ‘What you know doesn’t mean shit. What you do means everything’. The purpose of communication is action: to influence; to form or change opinions; to alter behaviours. So I decided to put my expertise into action and share what I know.
“Knowledge is power, runs the cliché. But in the industrial age of command and control hierarchy this line meant: guard knowledge; hoard it. Be a knowledge miser. Having a head full of knowledge made you indispensable to your organisation. In today’s social age knowledge is still power. But now power comes from getting things done by sharing that knowledge within your network and beyond. Today we realise that knowledge is that rarest of assets. One that increases the more it’s used and shared.”
#14: Sarah Hall (Newcastle, UK)
Sarah Hall is managing director of PR and marketing agencySarah Hall Consulting.
“Finding a way to differentiate in a crowded marketplace is critical to success and one way of doing this is to demonstrate what you know.
“Shared expertise helps everyone; it progresses your own thinking and encourages others to do the same. It also helps non-marketing-savvy clients better understand what they can expect from their investment.
“One of the things the PR industry doesn’t do very well is communicate how it adds value to business. If more professional communicators wrote about this, the situation would be very different.
“I’d argue I don’t ‘give it all away for free’ but what I do share has commercial advantages. I also see it as part of the ‘give back’ we all should be involved in.”
#15: Ann Handley (Boston, US)
Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author (Everybody Writes), keynote speaker, and the world’s first chief content officer (MarketingProfs).
“I give it away for free as much to educate myself as to educate others.
“Writing makes me aware. And blogging gives me a chance to share that with others: to think more deeply and critically about an issue – because I’m always aware of the reader.
“So, publishing on my blog (at AnnHandley.com) is the mechanism that gives me clarity. Probably because: ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ – Albert Einstein.”
#16: Arik Hanson (Minneapolis, US)
Arik is an award-winning writer. His blog, Communications Conversations, has been recognised by PRWeb and PRWeek as “must reads”.
“Well, it never really occurred to me that I would ask people to pay. And really, it still doesn’t.
“I’ve told many people in our industry over the years – don’t start a blog because you want to make money. Start a blog because you love to write. Start a blog because you love to share. Start a blog because you have something to say.
“I don’t really see blogging as ‘giving stuff away for free’.
“I see it more as sharing your personal experiences and letting people see a bit more about who you are.”
#17: Derek Howie (Glasgow, UK)
Derek is a copywriter and content marketer.
“For me, it’s very much a case of practicing what I preach. I advise my clients to share content that’s genuinely helpful and informative, and quite simply, it would be hypocritical of me not to do the same.
“In order to be seen as an expert in the content marketing industry (and, indeed, in any industry), it’s also important to share your wisdom and create regular* content that your peers find useful.
“*Something I’m admittedly not doing at the moment, but in my defence, I am settling into a new job and planning my wedding!”
#18: Doug Kessler (London)
Displaced Yank Doug is co-founder and creative director ofVelocity Partners. A content marketing junkie, he’s a copywriter at heart but with a secret jones for analytics. And Lagavulin.
“At Velocity, the ‘open kimono’ model came naturally to us – but in the early days (’07) we had a few moments when we worried that we might be giving too much away.
“It soon became blatantly obvious that the benefits far outweighed any imaginary downsides. In fact, there is no downside: if a B2B marketing team can read our stuff and put it into practice themselves, that’s exactly what they should do. And if another agency wants to follow our lead, that’s fine too!
“We don’t need to win every client. In fact, it would SUCK to win every client.
“The benefits are all the goodies that come from successful marketing and thought leadership: being seen as an expert in our niche; attracting like-minded marketers; building traffic, likes, views and shares – all the vanity metrics I like so much; and, ultimately: revenue.
“The benefits started coming in very soon after we found our own voice in our content. We realised that people who love our content are 212.6% more likely to be our kind of marketers than the average putz who trips over us in a blind search.
“It has taken a few years to build an audience that likes what we do. But the early benefits encouraged us.
“There are things we’d much rather unveil in client engagements than publish for all to see. But often the real value comes from applying our published approach – the stuff we evangelise openly – to our clients’ specific circumstances.
“The things we wouldn’t publish tend to be things that wouldn’t be particularly helpful to our real target audience anyway. The way we charge is not relevant to anyone until we get close to proposing an engagement.
“Almost everything else gets captured in the content we share.
“In truth, it’s experience and talent that deliver the most value – and those are un-copyable.
“We’re lucky to be working at a time when the market for content marketing is booming. There’s plenty for all. That makes it easy to have cordial, open, generous relationships even with our most direct competitors. A cut-throat, winner-takes-all market would be a lot less fun. We’re all on this massive learning curve together.”
#19: Larry Kim (Boston)
Larry is the founder and CTO of Wordstream. He is a columnist at Inc. Magazine and Search Engine Land.
“The lightbulb moment was when I realised that just 4% of my content generates nearly half the traffic, and around 60% of the links to the site, 70% of the social shares, and 80% of the comments – and that the vast majority of that 4% of top content was of the ‘give it all away for free’ variety.
“My company, WordStream, wouldn’t exist today were it not for the ridiculously powerful nature of that content.”
#20: Glenn Leibowitz (Taiwan)
Glenn Leibowitz is the director of external relations with global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s Greater China practice. He hosts a weekly writing podcast too.
“As I’ve been using content marketing since 1999 to position our firm’s consultants as experts in their respective fields, I’ve never had a single lightbulb moment that told me whether and when to shift to the ‘new business paradigm’.
“It’s just the way I’ve worked for the past 16 years.
“My firm gives away millions of dollars worth of research that we conduct on our own dime, all with a view to building awareness and establishing relationships with potential clients.
“Since we don’t advertise as a policy, we can only rely on publishing our ideas and delivering presentations at conferences and workshops and private meetings that help us to build relationships with clients that we hope eventually convert to consulting engagements.
“Since we are playing the ‘long game’, the payoff sometimes takes months or even years to materialise. But it does materialise, and we do see the benefits both in terms of increased client work as well as higher margins, since we are able to generate repeat business from clients that we have worked with over a long period of time.
“My firm has been in business for nearly 90 years, and some clients we’ve worked with over a period of decades. That’s the kind of long-term view we have.
“It’s very clear when we draw the line: when a client seeks our assistance in taking their business to the next level, whether through a strategic review of their business, or an organisational or operational transformation, we sit down with them to understand what their issues are, how we can help, and then engage in a discussion around the fees that will be required to engage our services.”
#21: Rich Leigh (Gloucester, UK)
Rich started PRexamples.com in January 2012. He runs personal PR and creative campaign specialist agency Rich Leigh & Company.
“There never was a lightbulb moment for me in terms of sharing. I’m 27, meaning I’ve now been listening and contributing to the noise of the Internet for the majority of my life, ever since I first started a GeoCities site that shared video game cheats (and somewhat less legally, links to download emulators and ROMs). To talk about sharing knowledge as a ‘new business paradigm’, much like every ‘NEXT BIG THING’, assumes too much.
“People have been scrawling their names and genitalia-dominated musings on walls for thousands of years for free – little has changed beyond us having a more direct digital route to our voices being heard. There’s something very human about that need to leave something of yourself. I recently heard about a TV show phone-in where a caller rang in to simply shout ‘I exist’, before hanging up.
“I share to be part of a community. I share because I consume a lot of others’ thoughts, and don’t want it to be a one-sided relationship. I share because it gives me a voice in my chosen industry, through which I’ve been able to build a profile and something of a career – no doubt the reason many others share, too; though too many use this as the starting point and forget the first two.
“Some people feel the need to say something – *anything*, ‘I EXIST’ – while others contribute in a thought-provoking and conversational way, with a clear audience and goal in mind. I know which I’d prefer to read, watch or listen to, but that said, I’ll still laugh at the odd well-placed compass-scratched penis.”
#22: Julia McCoy (Texas, US)
Julia is the CEO of Express Writers, which has grown to include more than 60 talented copywriters and 60 content products today.
“First, I would define what I give away for free as my knowledge.
“Never, ever, my product – which is original, unique content (in the forms of web pages, blogs, etc, written by my team of 60+ copywriters/editors).
“I probably truly realised that I need to really shave off ‘fluff content’ and share only what is my own passion, knowledge, and insider expertise, in late 2014.
“Now, I have been learning in 2015 that content marketing is on a shift. It’s absolutely shifting towards this new avenue of success, the free knowledge market.
“Google, readers, and rankings happen when you truly share what is useful to you, and therefore, to your audience.
“The more I offer my knowledge of insider content creation, in how-to’s, guides, etc, the more people will see me as an expert, actually read and share my work, and then even come back and buy.
“When I read others’ content, I look for the same level. I grow and learn from the content of others that share their knowledge in this same way, for free. This translates to success for all of us.
“The moment I started realising that I need to ‘give it all away for free’ in my knowledge-sharing, my blog became WAY better.
“It was now what I wanted to read myself. I was proud to share it. More followers, more connections, more readers, and opportunities! The world was different!
“Here’s a real example of an opportunity that opened up. I’m now on guest blogs I could never pitch a year ago, including Search Engine Journal, where I was awarded for most read post (of the whole month) back in December 2014.
“Since I own a content company, there’s very little I DON’T disclose. I tell you how to create awesome content. I tell you how to build great citations and make your blogs ready to rank. I even tell you how we structure our team at Express Writers.
“I know that the biggest issue with our potential customers is their TIME. That’s not something I can give away free (don’t we all wish) so I know they’ll eventually come knocking!
“The little things where we draw the line just maintain basic company confidentiality, like internal salaries, or clients that we sign NDAs with.”
#23: Mike McGrail (Edinburgh, UK)
Mike is managing director at Velocity Digital. He is also a speaker, blogger, and media commentator.
“I never really had a lightbulb moment.
“I started giving away my knowledge etc almost accidentally, when I launched my first blog in 2007, giving my views and advice on the use of social media for marketing.
“I actually was using the blogging as a learning tool and the audience came along naturally, appreciated the content, and then I realised that giving a lot away can be a great approach.
“It helped me to build a reputation and I’ve never stopped since, and am always keen and willing to share my insights etc.
“You need the right balance though, we all need to earn a crust!”
#24: Rachel Miller (London)
Founder of All Things IC, Rachel consults, blogs, and speaks on all things internal comms.
“Blogging for free is a pleasure, and has enabled me to be paid to do work I love.
“I created my blog in 2009 because I wanted to connect, learn and communicate with like-minded comms pros. That remains its ethos.
“Clients say the 600 articles I’ve published save them time, money and effort. They then hire me to benefit from a tailored approach and deeper insight. The free articles are the start of working relationships and mean I’ve never had to pitch for work, so are worth my time.
“The more knowledge I publish about internal communication, the more readers I attract, and, therefore, the larger my business becomes. The hundred or so comms pros I’ve featured via guest posts tell me it’s benefited them too.
“Impartiality is important to me, so I’ve chosen not to have advertising. The only paid content is job ads to enable my network to find and advertise comms roles.
“I guide people through how to work in internal communication, but it’s my clients who I save the really good stuff for.
“I’ve not thought of it in those terms (the benefits of enlightened self-interest)! The personal rewards started immediately because I discovered a whole world of comms pros and built my network.
“I launched All Things IC consultancy in 2013 because readers kept asking if I could translate my free articles into work they could pay for. I waited until then so I could launch my business to coincide with motherhood.
“The blog is my shop window, as clients know how I think and what’s important to me. That’s invaluable to get our relationship off to a strong start.
“Due to its sensitive nature, I rarely write about my clients’ work. I respect their wishes, and if they’re happy for me to share, I do.
“I find the world of internal communication colourful, interesting and fascinating. But it also requires commercial astuteness, sensitivity and knowing when and if the time is right to communicate.
“Integrity is important to me, I honour clients’ non-disclosure agreements and am clear with my blog readers about the way I write. My How I blog page removes ambiguity.”
#25: Sarah Moreton (London)
Sarah is the founder and editor of PR Liberated.
“To my mind the benefits are significant. As the editor of PR Liberated, I’m increasing my contacts with influential people in the industry, and broadening my digital skills far beyond what I would in a traditional PR role.
“Most importantly I’m building a base of engaged readers, many of whom who are more likely to want to work with me and/or purchase from me in the future should I decide to launch products or services.
“All of these benefits are useful to me now and will be in the future – you could in fact argue they are priceless.”
#26: Neil Patel (California, US)
Neil is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 online marketers.
“The reason I give everything away for free is because I believe in goodwill and karma. If you help other people out selflessly, somehow things work out.
“Plus when I was starting out people helped me out for free and never asked for anything. I’m just trying to do my best by paying it forward.”
#27: Sarah Pinch (Bristol, UK)
Sarah is founder of Pinch Point Communications and president of UK public relations industry trade body the CIPR.
“I don’t give it all away for free. I always get something back, teamwork is the key. Give and take.
“All these sayings may be described as adages, because they are. They are also true. I love sharing ideas with people, I always learn something new in the process and it strengthens my network and therefore that of my clients and my team.”
#28: Ted Rubin (New York, US)
Ted is a leading social media strategist, keynote speaker, brand evangelist, and CMO for Brand Innovators.
“I have always been a giver first, something I was taught every day by my Dad.
“He was always doing things for our neighbours…cleaning up, fixing things, helping out in any way he could.
“He would do this without expecting anything back in return other than friendship, a smile, or even just the knowledge to himself that he was helping.
“He was the guy who would pull over, anywhere, and clean up a turned over garbage can and place it back where it belonged…and now I am too. Stand out by ‘Liking’ them before they ‘Like’ you.
“The benefits (of enlightened self-interest) are simple…if you do for others, they will do for you.
“And it’s not about getting something back directly in return, it’s about building a reputation as a giver, and therefore someone people want to do things for.
“Your brand/business is what you do; your reputation is what people remember and share.
“It pays off every day…and it started paying off immediately because it made me feel good…and that was payment in and of itself.
“On a personal level, I draw the line when it’s clear someone is just a taker, and is not giving back to me or simply to others.
“On a business/corporate level, I draw the line when it is clear a business has the resources to compensate me and is just clearly taking advantage.”
#29: David Meerman Scott (Boston)
David is the author of ten books including “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead” and “The New Rules of Marketing and PR”.
“Unlike every other rock band of the era, the Grateful Dead allowed fans to record their concerts and share copies with friends.
“This allowed them to build a tribe of people who loved the music and wanted to see the band live, making them the top grossing live act during much of their 30-year career.
“This contrarian approach works for all businesses on the web. But it must be totally free with no registration required.”
#30: Cyrus Shepard (Seattle, US)
Cyrus is director of audience development at SEO bible Moz.
“There are two secrets to ‘giving it all away for free’ that nobody every tells you. So I’m going to tell you now:
1. It’s impossible. Yes, you can try to give it ‘all’ away by writing 24 hours a day and divulging every secret you think you know. But you’ll never quite get there. You’ll never be able to fully express your experience, wisdom, biases, and outlook. Your soul of knowledge is a deep, deep well that is always replenished and never runs dry.
2. You learn more by giving it away than what you actually give. The process of teaching others also serves to teach ourselves. It helps crystallise our thoughts, forces us to communicate them clearly, and challenges us to defend ourselves (or admit mistakes) from the process of receiving feedback.
“I never mind for an instant sharing my knowledge. When I can, I preference a public forum simply to make things more efficient. If I’m sharing a large amount of valuable information through email with someone I don’t know very well…well, time is valuable and at this point I’d consider a fee structure.
“Fortunately, I work for a company that happens to pay me a good amount of money for being transparent and generous, so most days it’s a pretty easy fit.”
#31: Dan Slee (Dudley, UK)
Dan is an award-winning senior communications officer, blogger and speaker. He is one half of the team behind comms2point0, a free online resource for creative communicators.
“I’m from a public sector background. There’s always been a strong ethos and a strong community of people experimenting and sharing. Why? Because one council isn’t about to takeover another. It’s not Pepsi vs Coke. But the social web has put turbo’s on this.
“My lightbulb moment was discovering Twitter in 2008 when I started to connect and be inspired by bloggers, coders, engineers, web people who were high on the excitement and possibility that the social web offered. There were very few comms people at that time.
“And 2009 was the first localgovcamp which drew together the community and gave me the confidence to make my voice heard. I started to blog, to give away, and to contribute. To me, it’s working stuff out and setting up in business is a direct result of this.
“Here’s a fact, 30 per cent of local government people who were at localgovcamp eventually left to set-up their own business. Why? Because they saw how the future should look and wanted to shape it. That’s massively amazing.
“If you do it with an aim in mind it won’t ring true. If it emerges naturally, it’ll work. It was five years from starting to blog to setting up a business. Could it have been sooner? Probably. But that’s the time it took to emerge as an accident.
“On some subjects I’ll post everything. On others I’ll hang back a little if there’s a process or something I’ve worked out that’s been earned through blood, sweat and tears. It’s an inexact science shaped by gut reaction.”
#32: Andrew Bruce Smith (London)
Andrew is MD of Escherman, a specialist online PR, SEO and analytics consultancy. He trains, speaks, and blogs.
“I think we used to call this paying it forward.
“And, of course, I don’t give it all away for free. Only some of it.
“I don’t believe there was a single epiphanic moment. I realised over time that you get a better response when your material is original, relevant, interesting and providing practical value. Preferably all four.
“That tends to mean revealing insights or information that you could try and exploit for yourself alone – but perhaps there is a greater long term value in sharing it with others.
“In any case, the length of time you have the ability to exploit a proprietary technique or approach reduces by the year.
“I take the view that any novel insight or tactic is guaranteed to become a commodity – sooner rather than later. Far better to ‘commodify’ your own insight first and share it in order to maintain a reputation for innovation.
“In the meantime, you move on to work on the next wave of creative insight. It is a constant cycle of innovation and sharing.”
#33: Paul Sutton (Oxfordshire, UK)
Paul is an independent social and digital media consultant.
“For me, passing on knowledge and experience is not about giving anything away; it’s an investment.
“Consistent knowledge sharing provides evidence that you know what you’re talking about, it builds a reputation for honesty and generosity, and it generates trust. And over time, I firmly believe that this earned trust is hugely beneficial to any individual or company.
“I’ve been sharing thoughts and information through my blog and social media channels for over six years, and it’s opened up numerous opportunities in that time.
“Those range from conference speaker slots to podcast interviews to thought leadership events.
“In January, I set up as an independent consultant. I’ve been swamped with work, and 95% of that has come through people I’ve met as a result of knowledge sharing. If you need proof that enlightened self-interest works, I’m it!”
#34: Stephen Waddington (Northumberland, UK)
Stephen is the “energetic” partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum, and past president of the CIPR. He also led the #PRstack project.
“Public relations lacks confidence. The public relations business is lousy at sharing. It’s ironic. We protect our knowledge as if it’s precious intellectual property. It stems from a lack of confidence and fear of critical thinking. Other professions are very different.
“I share as a means of learning. Whenever I post something other people will challenge me, and help develop my thinking. I always land in a better place. The crowd is far smarter than any single individual alone.
“I share to develop business. In a market where this behaviour is usual it is an excellent way of cutting through and winning work.
“I share to build communities and pay it forward. It’s how I’ve developed my network.”
#35: Angharad Welsh (Gloucester)
Angharad is a PR, writer, columnist, and #PRstack contributor.
“As a former journalist, I often gave away my time, and words, for free, for over a decade, and so it seemed natural to do the same with my career in PR.
“Aside from that, I needed help when I was starting out and still look to my peers and mentors for advice, so it’s nice to be able to return the favour and offer some of my own insights when I can.
“Also, I’m a great believer that you get back what you put in and the hope is good things will happen when you put yourself out there in a positive way.
“Personally, I think it’s (the benefits of enlightened self-interest) reputation and the chance to earn the respect of your peers.
“Occasionally, giving just enough away for free can help win business but I think it has to be about more than that or you’ll start to resent it. Professionally it’s nice to contribute something that could strengthen our industry as a whole, like the #PRstack community, and I’m proud to play a small role in things like that.
“Well, my Mum always said no one will buy the cow if you’re giving the milk away for free – I’m pretty sure she wasn’t talking in business terms but the premise still stands! I’m warier now than I was of sharing things people can easily replicate and I don’t disclose financial information either, but I think people respect and understand that.”
#36: Alex Yong (New York)
Named alongside Lee Odden and Guy Kawasaki in Cision North America’s 2015 list of top 50 “must follow” Twitter people utilising visuals and multimedia. Alex is a journalist writing for Smallbiztrends.com
“The lightbulb moment was when I heard someone say why he gives away everything.
“His philosophy is that if you give it all away, people will see how much there is and how daunting it all is and subsequently they would rather just pay you to save time and trouble.
“I also blend this philosophy with the advice given by Copyblogger, which is to be generous with ‘why’ and ‘what’ but to try to withhold the ‘how’, because that’s execution. I feel execution is my forte, so it makes little sense to give away execution secrets.”
And What of Me?
Returning to Scott and I’s #PRstack debrief, the conversation that prompted this post.
I got involved with the ebook project because I wanted to contribute. I wrote about 10 or so tools I use to do a better job for clients. I held nothing back. And the audience was fellow PRs, who could take my knowledge and use it, for free.
I did this because I am a firm believer in the karma-based new business mindset.
But, like all of my PR blogging, there is a degree of enlightened self-interest. A secret sauce. Here’s how I benefitted:
- I positioned myself as an authority. One of 19 contributors to a groundbreaking ebook.
- I made new contacts both among fellow contributors and wider PR/digital influencers.
- I boosted my credibility among existing and potential clients.
- I have more “social proof” (my Klout score increased by three:o).
- I have two blog posts for my website. Good content for people to read.
- This and an unrelated industry honour awarded this month led to two online news articles about me. Great profile, and two important local SEO backlinks.
- I learnt about new online third party PR tools through doing and participating.
- I felt good contributing time and effort for free to help others.
So, there are material benefits to “giving it all away for free.”
But most of all, I want to encourage more people to share what they know truthfully, for public consumption. Whether this be through blogs, speaker opps, white papers, or even ebooks. Passing on their experience for mutual benefit.
And explaining what’s in it for you, dear reader, seems like a good place to begin!
So if you’re stuck in that old business paradigm, I’m here to tell you there is another way.
Yes, on occasions you will feel like you’re urinating in the proverbial Force 10.
Yes, sometimes it’s a bumpy road.
And yes, the light may not shine on you overnight.
But if you can embrace this new way of thinking, really truly believe in this new paradigm, give it a year and you’ll start to see the benefits.
And you may just become a better person for it.
I have. And so, I am sure, have they.
I, David Sawyer, am a Glasgow-based PR man who is evangelical about how PR, content marketing, SEO and social media marketing should work together to help organisations communicate.
I founded a Glasgow PR company last year to help clients do just that.
I am always learning and read around two hours of content every day. I share the four best bits in my weekly (Thursday evening) newsletter. If you want to join my Dad, Cousin Paul, and JP from Sixth Form on my list, sign up here. Never salesy, just valuable, helpful content.
If you like the cut of my jib and are thinking: “This is someone I could trust. Let’s get him in to sort our comms,” then I’m honoured. Here are the services I provide, here’s my chops, and here’s how to reach me.
P.S. I wrote my bit of this post before receiving the experts’ contributions. I intend to write a follow-up post drawing learnings from their insightful comments. In the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think. What did you get out of this post? Which contributor do you agree with most? What’s your experience?
Only one challenge here: I don’t have a comments system on my blog (it’s on the to do list). So I’ve replicated this post on Medium. If you’ve clicked on that link you’ll know that there’s a neat new functionality to the uber-clean writers’ blogging platform where you can highlight text and comment. So you can take just one passage of text from a particular contributor whose view you agree/disagree with, and stick in your two cents’ worth. Neat, eh?
This system could have been made for blog posts like this. So click here and comment away to your heart’s content. We learn more individually from sharing what we know:O).