‘Bout Free Milk and a Cow

Your Brain CapitalRalph listened patiently as the guy asked his question.

When he was finished, Ralph gave him an excellent answer (“wow, I never thought of that…”.)

When the guy asked Ralph a follow-up, Ralph politely handed the gentleman his card. Then Ralph asked the guy to give him a call on Monday — after the weekend trade show we were attending — about scheduling a meeting. They could discuss contract details then.

The guy took the card and left. Ralph never heard from him.

People Pay Good Money for That

That’s when she told me a story ’bout free milk and a cow,

And she said no huggin’ no kissin’ until I get a wedding vow…

~ Dan Baird, The Georgia Satellites

As a highly paid consultant, Ralph knew the value of his expertise. But more importantly he knew that his clients paid him well for the knowledge that the guy at the trade show wanted Ralph to give him for free.

Knowledge experts make their living by charging for access to them and their expertise. Giving away samples is a great marketing strategy. Constantly giving away free advice is shortchanging your paying clients.

If someone is not willing to pay for your expertise, chances are they aren’t a good fit. The pay-for-access approach of the knowledge expert becomes a pre-qualification tool. If someone doesn’t think what you provide is valuable enough to pay for, then they’re definitely not someone you want to be working with.

Even if you love what you do, it’s still your “work.” It may be fun, and not seem like work, but it’s your livelihood. Giving too much of yourself, especially for free, can quickly lead to burnout.

Free stuff should go to:

  • Charities and nonprofits you care about
  • Side pet projects that you enjoy, but may not bring revenue
  • Existing clients as small freebees — a short call at no charge, for example
  • Family or close friends — just be careful not to be taken advantage of
  • Bartering — trading expertise for expertise
  • Marketing “samples” — in small doses

Freeloaders are not where you want to be wasting your time. It’s not fair to you, and it’s not fair to your clients.

Your knowledge and expertise are valuable.

You know that. Your clients know that.

Make sure the freeloaders know it too.


  1. I’ve been running my own business for about six months. There is a distinction between those wanting free information, and those who pay for expertise.

    I try to use my blog to give away as much free information as possible in areas peripheral to my business. In other words, I don’t give away stuff for free related to my primary product, but I give away plenty of facts about e-mail marketing, catalog marketing, online marketing, stuff indirectly related to what I do.

    This balance seems to keep the folks who want something for nothing happy, and helps build interest in the work I charge clients for.

  2. great entry!

    i’ve been building my professional organizing business up, and i want to give information out on my website that lures people in (and teaches them something about what i do), but i will not give all of my resources away. i keep the very basic up online, but the bulk of my info has to be paid for.

    as for a blog, i have to do what feels right. there are some topics that i feel are so easy to obtain through other PO blogs, that i might as well put my own spin on them….but i’m not going to give a step-by-step tutorial on how to create a filing system, and what-not.

    thanks for writing this, it’s going in the saved pile for sure 🙂

  3. I learned a similar lesson about charging deeply reduced rates to “build a reputation”. The customers who pay the cut rates never become customers at full price. I may not be able to get top dollar in the beginning, but each step up in my fees brings me closer to the clients I ultimately want to have. I just have to make sure I don’t make that final goal too many steps away by starting my rates too low.

  4. Kevin – That’s a great example of a nice balance.

    Erin – Thanks. I’ll be sure to check it out.

    Amber – Sometimes it’s difficult to find the balance. The key is to be careful not to give too much away.

    Terry – I know many who have experienced the same thing. That’s why it’s so important to know your value.

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