Content will set you free

The other night I had dinner with some dear friends who have a successful consulting business. They earnestly tried to understand what I do for a living but it seems like the idea of giving away content is a completely foreign concept in the “traditional” business world.

Indeed, I am often confronted with this very relevant question — “If I give away my ideas, what is there left to sell?”

So let’s dig into this and see how the new information economy works.

The content conundrum

A few months ago, I was approached by an entrepreneur who wanted to create a premium content site for small business advice.

“This will be a place where you can reveal your very best ideas,” he said.

“But I already do that on my blog,” I explained. “I give away all my best ideas for free.”

“No, I mean the best stuff you hold back for clients,” he said.

“You’re not understanding,” I said, “I don’t hold anything back. I give everything to my readers.”

“Then how do you make any money?”

Give it away, give it away, give it away now

On the right hand side of my blog there is an item called “Categories” where you can peruse hundreds of blog posts by topic. So, for example, under the category of “blogging best practices,” you can view 130 posts. I also have a free blogging eBook available and have done numerous podcasts and webinars on blogging … all completely free.

In a couple of hours, you can probably learn every idea and concept I have ever had about blogging.  And yet, somebody calls me every single week willing to pay for blog coaching. I do social media workshops on content creation with huge companies like AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and IBM.  I give speeches on the topic all the time. And lots of folks are still buying my book Born to Blog.

This doesn’t even make sense, does it? How can I still make money dispensing blogging advice when I am giving away every blogging tip and secret I have ever had?

Building trust and authority

Business relationships are built on trust. They always have been. But for centuries we were limited by time and geography. We could only create trust with those who actually knew us, and probably within a pretty small area.

The social web is an incredible gift to businesses everywhere. For the first time in history, we can create relationships and build trust with people far and wide … through our voice, our views, our expertise. But the only way to do that is by unlocking and unleashing our content.

Even though I give away everything I know about business and marketing, people are still eager to hire me because they value my perspective and they trust me through the content I provide.

When I started my consulting business, I took all the business I could on a regional level. Slowly my business evolved and grew, completely on the back of my blog content. And now I have made connections all over the world through social media. In fact, I have never spent one dime on any form of advertising for my business so far.

In other words, my business has grown ONLY because I give everything away!

Specific action plans

Now let’s turn back to my friend. His business is rich with content!  He has penned articles, written a couple of books (which don’t sell very well) and contributes to academic journals. Here was my counsel:

1) Give away as many books as you can at public appearances. Encourage people to blog and write about them. He’s  probably making less than $1 per book so who really cares about that kind of money? Build your brand,

2) Actively, aggressively build a social media audience by:

  • Participating in relevant Twitter chats
  • Becoming active in similar, relevant blogs
  • Finding new connections on LinkedIn
  • Helping people in professional sites and forums.

3) Create a video series so people can put a face and voice with a name. People don’t buy from a website, they buy from people. Let them see who you are.

4) Develop a source of “rich content.” This would most likely be a podcast, video series or blog. Since the company is made up of talented writers and they already have a lot of written resources, a blog probably makes the most sense.

5) Dissect existing content and create new posts. Create new content on a consistent basis … at least once a week since the company is already content-rich.

And then, give it away, give it away, give it away.

If they follow this formula consistently I know it will work. I’m a pretty conservative person when it comes to prognostications, but I would almost guarantee success because their ideas are so compelling.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive but being selfless and generous with your ideas is the key to eCommerce today. Not only do you create an inbound audience, you have an unprecedented opportunity to establish authority and trust, probably far beyond your normal sales “territory.”

Unlock your content. Unleash it. And watch your business grow!

What do you think?  Is it hard to adopt and adapt to this new idea?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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