Current, Relevant, Informed: The Balance of Free Content
I was talking to a client the other day and they asked me the profound question, "If as a service business my IP (intellectual property) is my product and you are telling me to give away ideas for free, just how much should I give away before I start to lose money because I have given away too much?"
I thought long and hard about this because it's a dilemma that all service companies who wish to become Social Businesses will face at some point after they begin to share what they do.
The dilemma is that you need to share enough of what you do to enable the prospect or client to understand what it is you offer but not too much so that they can go away and do it all by themselves. They should get enough information to make an educated decision about whether or not to engage you on their project, or at least meet for a coffee and an initial chat, but not so much that you either confuse them (because they needed you there to explain things face to face) or so that they can do it all by themselves.
So where's that all important tipping point? Well, it will vary depending on three things:
1. Your competitive position in your sector
2. The confidence you have that even if you told them how to do it they'd need you to implement it
3. Their resources to actually do what they need to do
Let me explain....
If you are well known and respected then you are likely to be able to charge more for your services and give away significantly more than a new-comer because customers will be buying you rather than just the service. This position will take time and careful planning to achieve but if you are there, then the tipping point can be quite high and you can give away lots of information for free.
Perhaps you have a unique process or system for getting the customer from A-B to achieve their goals. If you can back this up with strong case studies and testimonials then customers will likely have a stronger desire to engage you because they won't want to miss out on what their peers enjoyed and clearly if that's what it takes then they'll emotionally engage to ensure they have it for themselves.
Even if they are able to glean what they need to do themselves from the collective mass of content and ideas you share for free, it may be they don't have the internal resources of time and people to make it a reality. If this is the case then share and share away. Make them feel how great it would be to have you as part of their virtual team.
So where is your tipping point? Well think of it like a volume scale and work out the point where you would be perceived as current, relevant and informed. These three key words are just that point. From zero at the bottom of the scale where you fiercely protect your IP and don't share with anyone (how on earth do you think anyone will think you are current, relevant and informed if you do that!?) to 100% at the top of the scale where you literally give away every single thing that you do and you can watch your service business quickly go bankrupt. Somewhere on that 0-100% scale is the point at which you share the right amount of what you do, for free, through blogs, social networks and in conversation.
For me it feels at about 70%. I'm more than happy to share loads of interesting ideas and examples of others who have gone before the clients and prospects I'm speaking to. More than that and I might lose the element of surprise and the big reveal we enjoy when we take clients through our communication planning processes. Less than that and we are just another marketing business plying our services to the big wide world.
To be a Social Business perhaps we all need to move that pointer a little closer towards the top of the scale?