How Much Expertise Should We Share Without Charging For It?

Convincing potential customers that you can help them nearly always requires sharing your expertise at no charge before they buy. This kind of expertise-sharing usually takes the form of a free seminar, a tip sheet or similar guide, a downloadable e-book, or a free assessment or consultation. Now, you’re probably thinking –  “But how will we get paid if we give it all away?” and “What if other businesses copy our stuff?”.

My take: if what you’re doing is so simple that people can learn how to do every bit of it themselves in around an hour (the typical free seminar length), then you don’t have a sustainable business anyway.

There’s no point in worrying about strangers who may copy your stuff. As a practical matter, there’s not much you can do about it. And real business threats come from smart, creative go-getters, not also-rans who just copy everyone else.

Here’s how much free expertise you should share to build your own customer base:

1. Enough to show people what they don’t know

Remember that the devil’s in the details. People who think that gardening is just a matter of throwing some seeds at some dirt don’t appreciate the value of expert help from seminars, books, websites, and so on.

They think “How hard can it be?”

Your job is to answer that question by saying, “Actually, pretty darn challenging – unless you know what you’re doing.” (It goes without saying that YOU know what you’re doing.)

So go ahead and share your top ten really good secrets for urban gardening. The more the merrier!

People who have been introduced to quadrant cabbage harvesting will be absolutely convinced that you’re an authority – and they’ll be far likelier to pay for your know-how and mention you to the neighbors in the future. They won’t walk away saying “Oh, now I know how to do it all.” Instead, they’ll walk away saying “Wow, this is a lot more complicated than I realized – better get some help.”

And sharing lots of valuable information with a sincere interest in your customer’s wellbeing can only burnish your professional reputation.

2. Enough to set yourself apart from pseudo-authorities

Choose highly-focused topics and deluge your audience with well-organized and useful information. Remember, if your topic is ripped from the CNN Health headlines, you’re not sharing anything your potential clients can’t get off the web.

A word of warning – keep it easy to understand. This isn’t the time to quote extensively from research studies or include full scientific citations for every point you make.

3. Enough to show that you’re about results – not just talk

Now, a textbook-style publication full of facts and rules isn’t enough to interest potential customers. Prove that you can put your ideas into action by blending health and wellness facts and principles with real-life stories about your customers and clients. (These “proof statements” further establish your ability to help customers get it done.)

For example, if your practice specializes in non-drug treatments for migraine, do a public seminar on food choices that separates fact from fiction. Include the latest science plus stories about client experiences with food avoidance regimens, gluten-free diets, and so forth.

4. Enough to demonstrate the full breadth of your know-how

Develop free content in several areas so that you fully demonstrate the breadth of your business focus. If you share information about the same topic over and over, potential customers will naturally think that’s all you do.

Let’s say your holistic practice specializes in non-surgical, non-drug interventions using a mix of physical therapy, acupuncture, and several other conventional and alternative techniques. This time, talk about non-surgical solutions for low back pain. Next time, talk about non-drug solutions for migraines. And so on.

Or, if your practice focuses on migraines, do a series of free tip booklets on different strategies for controlling migraines – diet, exercise, self-hypnosis, supplements, prescription medication, etc.

5. Enough to be convincing, without solving the problem

Don’t fall into the trap of providing a full solution at no charge for a potential customer – just to prove you’re the real deal. Sharing lots of detailed information – and pairing it with real-life stories about customers and clients you’ve worked with successfully – will be enough to convince potential customers that you’re worth rolling the dice.

Fully describe the approach you’d take in working with them and the process you’d use to help them. Show them samples of all the forms, logs, workbooks, sample class materials, and any other support materials you’d normally use in working with customers. Just don’t do the actual work that you’d do for a paying client.

Now, despite all of these demonstrations of expertise, some prospects will still ask the very reasonable question, “What if it doesn’t work for me?”. The answer is not to do it for them for free, and then see if they want to continue on a paying basis. Instead, have them pay upfront but offer risk-reduction strategies like money-back guarantees or month-to-month commitments.