Yesterday's FaceBook Fan Page Question of the Day yielded some interesting discussions on the topic of balancing giving free small business advice with the need to guard time and trade secrets. I noticed a few helpful themes in the discussion), so I thought I would share some of them with you. Of course all small business owners who achieve a particular level of success receive requests from people who want to learn from them.
The first thing that struck me is people's overall willingness to help. Independent business owners know how challenging it is to get a new business off the ground, so sharing some of their tips and tricks of the trade gives them great personal satisfaction. Of course the trick is being helpful while carefully balancing just how much time is appropriate to invest in helping other people one-on-one for free. Here are some of the experiences and ideas people shared. The links go to their FaceBook Fan Pages so be sure to visit and learn more about the wonderful natural and organic soaps and beauty products they make!
Angela Bowman Wales of Lillian Skincare (Tennessee) said:
I'm constantly asked for advice, ingredient sources, knowledge sources and even recipes…or to help someone else tweak their recipe for competing products. 🙂 I don't mind helping someone out – as a matter of fact, I somewhat enjoy it – but if someone comes to me with a sense of entitlement, I tend to be more hesitant to help.
That said, I'm constantly bouncing ideas off of and sharing tips with colleagues that I consider “friends”…and people that I know are also contributing to others and giving back to the knowledge base.
I think it's important for advice seekers to realize that this is how we make our money too and that a little bit of research and development on their part can go a loooong way.
Colleen Miller of Greenridge Organics (Florida) said:
I remember when I was first starting out and I used to get questions all the time on how to make lotion, soap, soy candles, etc. When someone asked a specific question like how do I set my prices, or how am I able to get my lotion so thick and creamy, I would say, “I charge $50/hour for consultations let me know if you are interested.” Nonetheless, I usually never heard back! Now I don't get those same questions very often I think it's because you can find almost anything online.
Maggie Hanus of A Wild Soap Bar (Texas) articulated a sort of “generous, but not to a fault” approach.
I've shared a huge amount of information over the years, just as others have generously done with me. But there's a time for sharing, and a time when it makes good business sense to keep your mouth shut.
I've run into some really uncomfortable situations, and have been astounded at some of the things people have expected me to share! But I value my time and hard earned experience enough to be able to say no sometimes.
Re-Purposing Free Advice
I have one thing to add to these great summaries of real life in the Indie Business trenches. It's a suggestion for another way to handle requests for free advice which re-purposes the helpful information you share and creates more value for eveyrone. Consider adding a category to your blog called, “Free Advice,” or something to that effect. Once or twice a week, share the answer to a question you receive from someone looking for free advice.
Instead of answering the person one-on-one via phone or email, answer them in your blog. Not only does this answer the person's question, it also helps lots of other people because the information you share is made public. The other fantastic benefit to doing this is that you develop some great content for your blog without even trying.
When you receive a request for information via email, chances are that the person asking is using the same keywords they would use if they were typing their question into a search engine. Plus you'll increase the visits to your blog because you'll be using keywords that are used by people to ask questions. I bet you have an email in your inbox or outbox right now that can be quickly re-purposed into a blog post that will help lots of people for years to come.
If you do this enough, you can eventually separate the information into categories, making specific information easier for people to find. Down the road, all of it could be compiled into a book. It may even one day form a platform for speaking engagements.
Question: How do you handle requests for free advice?