Does Giving Away So Much Free Stuff Devalue Our Knowledge and Expertise?

Americans have always been do-it-yourselfers, but it seems to me that the Internet has taken our do-it-yourself culture to a whole new level. For example, because of all the free forms, information and advice now available online, everyday people, for better or worse, can handle their own lawsuits, file their own bankruptcies, manage their own retirement portfolios, market their own businesses, and so on.

At the same time, as business owners we are told that we ought to be blogging regularly and that our posts should provide content that will be useful to our readers. We are also encouraged to give things away, like mini-books, worksheets, and tips, and to offer free webinars -- things that we probably spend considerable time developing. The assumption underlying all of this free stuff is that a percentage of those who benefit from it will become our clients at some point.

Now, I am all for empowering people with information and I understand the theory that underlies offering so much for free. But, I wonder how many of those who benefit from what we offer for no charge actually do become our clients? And more importantly, by giving so much away so much for free are we effectively devaluing our expertise and knowledge in the eyes of those who might hire us?

Based on my own experience, I would answer Yes to the last question. Less than a decade ago, business owners and authors who were in need of my services were more than willing to pay my fees because they needed (and valued) my knowledge and expertise. Increasingly however, I find that many of them balk when I tell them what I will charge to do X, Y and Z, even though my prices are not significantly higher than they were ten years ago, and more than once, these business owners and authors have told me that they have decided to handle their own marketing for the immediate future (emboldened by all of that free how-to-do-it-information on the Web, no doubt) and that once they’ve gotten some financial momentum going, they will be back in touch to avail themselves of my services. Of course, I never hear from 99.9% of them again because more than likely, their do-it-yourself efforts failed and they ran out of money.

So I wonder: Are we business owners shooting ourselves in the foot by offering so much free stuff? And if we are, how do we “turn back the clock?”

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