The business benefit of setting your knowledge free

setting your knowledge free

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

This is the story of how I became a “web missionary” and learned how setting your knowledge free is the key for building online businesses.

When I was starting out as a digital illustrator padawan, I was desperate for online advice. As a German living in Berlin, I wanted to know how to snatch up international clients and how to create a more commercially viable drawing style. Since I was internet-savvy, I thought I’d simply contact my role models and ask them for advice.

Easy, right?

Wrong. I’ve made a great effort to contact international illustrators, both living in Berlin and around the world, but no matter whom I asked, everyone was protective of their “trade secrets.” It felt as if they were afraid to share their experiences in case I turned out to be their competitor.

Fear and setting your knowledge free

Fast forward three years. In the middle of establishing my online illustration career, I wanted to venture into self-publishing. Despite the plethora of blog articles about that exciting new career path, I wanted to get first-hand advice from established indie writers. Remembering my inability to connect with pro illustrators in the past, I anticipated quite a few “closed doors.”

Wrong. I’d say eight out of ten established indie writers answered my questions. They revealed their tricks of selling indie books online, from creating genre-specific book covers that targeted your audience, to hitting the right keywords within the Amazon marketplace. Boom. Some successful sci-fi writers were even willing to coach me via Skype for hours without asking for anything in return.

Needless to say, my mind was blown by their generosity.

My new mantra

From that day on, I wondered why the indie authors, all hailing from different countries and backgrounds, were so much more approachable than their illustrator counterparts. A possible answer came a year later when I met a fellow writer in my hometown:

“If I help you, I help the industry. Every good indie book out in the market attracts new readers, who will go on reading books penned by other indie writers. And the more people read indie, the better the indie market place becomes for every self-publisher.”

He and many others in the indie scene shared a “growth” mindset.

This made me ponder the larger online business world. If more regular online users knew about the business possibilities of the web, wouldn’t that increase the marketplace and the number of opportunities for me as well? I personally answered that question with a big, fat, “yes” and became a proud internet missionary from that day on, spreading the gospel about blogging, online portfolios and social media networking. Below, I reveal my top three experiences and tips on how, and why, you should sway more people to the “web side”…

Promote the web at non-tech events

I was at a birthday party this weekend where I met a lot of people struggling to make a living from their music and writing. Knowing the difficulties of being a creative myself, I asked them what their online strategies were. Their answer was a collective “frown face.”

None (!) of these smart men and women in their twenties and thirties were using the internet to sell their creative wares, which almost made me spill my German black beer. Needless to say, I unleashed the full web gospel and gave ’em my cards for further questions.

Lesson: you have no idea how many people outside of tech are clueless about the possibilities of online business building. Whenever you visit a non-web event, and people ask you what you do, craft answers that entice them join the online world. The power of positive word of mouth is wayyy bigger than any web-positive article they might stumble across.

Making new web believers can increase your business

I remember visiting an entrepreneur meet-up in Berlin about three years ago. I was talking to an ambitious young man who failed to woo traditional German publishers with his book offer. I told him about my online career, and how I worked with indie publishers from around the planet using Amazon and other online market places to sell their work. This being the first he had heard of indie publishing, he was immediately intrigued. His eyes sparkled like Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.

Half a year later, I received an email from the same guy who now wanted to commission my cover art for his new books; he was finally going to self-publish! The entrepreneur, now a successful indie publisher himself, has remained a client of mine.

Lesson: obviously not every person you sway to the web side will become a client of yours, but there’s a realistic chance she or he will remember you and maybe even come back for further help or recommend your services to someone else. This happened numerous times throughout my five year old online career.

Increase your network by connecting cultures

At the birthday party, I met a Syrian refugee who was granted asylum in Germany. The man, being fluent in Arabic and Turkish, was studying German philology and wanted to become a translator. Since he had escaped a war-torn country, he obviously didn’t have the time to ponder the possibilities of online business building. I told him all about my online experiences and the business possibilities of the web. I also encouraged him to set up an online website and to target businesses and institutions in Germany dealing with the Middle-East. I gave him my business card and stayed in contact.

Now, he may never order my services, but since I’m probably the only online web business savvy person he knows, he’s likely to talk about my “online lessons” with like-minded Syrians trying to get a work foothold in Germany.

Lesson: this isn’t just wishful thinking– I’m still getting consulting work from South Africans I met at a housewarming party years ago. They wanted to expand their German web presence and since I was the only web-savvy German they knew at the time, they thought of me. I remain their go-to person to this day.


The almighty internet has allowed me to build this international creative career which I’m grateful for. I truly believe the more people create online careers, the bigger the marketplace for everyone becomes. With my tips above, you can not only help increase the web-economy but also increase your chance of building an international network and client base. So next time you visit a non-techy event, tell people about your online business experiences and advocate joining the “web side.”

mars dorian
Mars Dorian draws funky illustrations and pens sci-fi thrillers for the Internet Generation. His latest novel is available on Amazon for just $2.99! Consider his artwork for your next project:
Original illustration by the author.

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  • I always look forward to your articles, Mars! I too have encountered many people reluctant to share ‘secrets’, but it is also refreshing to see the trend out there of startups like Kilometer, Baremetrics and Buffer who are totally transparent and dedicate a lot of time to sharing their experiences, results and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

  • Hey Larissa,

    Buffer is awesome, they’re basically the translucent glass version of company transparency. They produce insanely useful content and educate their clients (and soon-to-be’s), which reminds me of Seth Godin’s statement (I’m paraphrasing)–a great company teaches his customer to have better taste/to have a higher standard.

  • Evaldas Miliauskas

    A pleasant read, shows that simple boots on the ground networking can do wonders even if just simply showing up somewhere. Sometime ago I more believed that keeping things what you know to yourself sort of helps to leverage the scarcity principle, but the more I see right now things are changing to giving first mentality. I like the phrase where I read in one of Peter Voogd books – “give everything you know and it will return in multiples”. Cheers

  • That’s a cool quote, Evaldas. I always pondered the ‘teach your (potential) customer’ philosophy, it grew on me over the time. It’s bewildering how many young men and women in Germany, which is supposed to be advanced and economically powerful, are relatively clueless about the opportunities of the web. I reckon at some point, the majority of the world wide economy will be linked to the web, so it’s better to get as many onboard before it’s too late.

  • Evaldas Miliauskas

    Thanks, I try to incorporate into my own behavior, but still work in progress.
    Yeah, some things we take for granted that look obvious when your into it all the time, but when you try to explain to other people you realize that its not that clear after all and teaching other people really helps to drive the point home.
    Currently I’m in Malta, maybe not so advanced as Germany, but I’m still amazed how simple things as “usable” website is alien to a lot of business here. I think the big growth will actually come not from developed countries like Germany, but more likely Asia and to lesser extent Africa. China is almost quarter worlds population and its very internal market if it would start spilling out globally what ripple effects that would bring? (or maybe tsunamis heh)

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  • Bernice Mirrilees

    Ivan Misner, founder of BNI – the world’s largest business networking organization – coined the phrase “Givers Gain.” A bit like “Pay it Forward” but within a business context, the idea communicates that in time, those who advance others’ business goals will find their generosity returned back to them. Mars, you are to be commended for freely sharing what you’ve learned with all who will listen.

  • Hey Bernice, that’s actually a lesson I’ve learned only a few years ago. But seeing the people you actually bring to the web, it’s encouraging and enriching, no matter how cheesy that sounds. I wrote this post to remind myself of the importance of “spreading the web gospel”, so to speak;)

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