1. Tricky issue my little winged one. One one hand we preach ‘be promiscuous and put your IP out there’ and on the other we feel used and abused in the circumstances you describe.

    My survival strategy is to treat every ‘freebie’ as business development. I usually end the ‘probono’ discussion with, if you want to pick my brains some more, buy me a (very) nice bottle of red (for a brief chat) or a meal if you want to talk longer.

    Of those who actually take me up on that offer about one third convert to paid work.

    This way I feel less ‘boned’ when my pro-bono efforts go unrewarded.

  2. I totally relate to this Laurel.

    One of the problems of the “web 2.0” industry is that it is a lot faster to go from idea / concept to execution. Hence brains can be exploited for ideas, then taken to other places to execute.

    It’s a fine line between giving away just enough to entice a paying customer, and giving away too much.

    There will always be those that want to pick brains in an effort to learn and build their internal credibility and somehow the market forces need to figure out a way to reward those brains that are picked.


  3. Of course folks like me just add fuel to the fire. I will sprout off on Web 2.0 etc for free as I am tied to the big corporate machine & don’t need to make money from my ideas, yet. πŸ˜‰

    But I guess if all you have is your ideas then it is an issue :p.

  4. Great post, Laurel … but Fang has a great point. Many of us write blogs and are interested in social media — but we don’t necessarily have the sales skills to build a true consulting practice. Sure enough, the same folks that you talk to are likely to turn to a highly paid consulting company to develop the business case and social media strategy after you have provided the blueprint for free. It has been the same for years.

    Here are some questions that you can use to help “qualify” the tyre kickers:
    Do you currently have someone responsible for social media strategy
    What sort of visibility does this have in your organisation?
    Is there an agency retained to build this out for you?
    How would you see me working with them/you?
    What is the budget you are working to?
    When will you be making a decision to proceed?

    After getting answers to these questions, you can decide whether that free lunch looks like good value or not.

  5. hmm I think I was not clear between “will give free advice for coffee/chocolate” to nice ppl and companies that summon as many consultants as they can lay their hands on, to get their ideas.

    fang, I differentiate between what I give away on my own time, and what people want on their time.

    mspecht, that’s the problem. Right now, educating puts food on the table and is what funds my projects and patent. Beats sitting in a room twittering while the boss isn’t looking πŸ˜›

    I never want us NOT to be generous. And I love meeting up with people who have just caught the “Web 2.0 bug”. But I do feel like taking a few of you aside and whispering ‘Be Careful of XYZ’ occasionally. The companies that say “can you come in and give a two hour presentation for free? No? But the other 20 people did!” *laughs* Not sure how it would be received though…

    Thanks for the tips and advice and love – don’t forget to send me a bill. Heh.

  6. Gavin you are right on this is not a new issue.

    Laurel I forgot to address your last paragraph on blogs. A few years a go I really upset a resume software vendor who spammed me wanting free press. I outed him on my blog for all to see, & got a prompt apology, which of course I posted. But this drives me crazy.

    Oh & yes it is easy to twitter when your boss is not in the same country πŸ™‚

  7. I think we’re both being too kind in not naming Mr I’m So Smart I Got 200 of You to Work for Free.

    I agree with you and there’s obviously an amount that we’ll give away for free. Much of it to me boils down to the intention of the person who calls us in for the chat.

    As I said in my blog post in response to yours, it’s not on to be trying to “shoplift” someone else’s knowledge and expertise.

  8. Great post, but I think at the same time consultants have to protect themselves. When a company approaches me, via email or in-person, I am happy to discuss what I think their social-media strategy should be to achieve their business objectives. But if it gets to the point where the company wants to pick my brain for specific tactics they should use to execute that strategy, sorry, but that’s the point where they go ‘on the clock’. I’m happy to tell them what I think they SHOULD do to achieve their goals, but if they want me to tell them HOW to do that, that part isn’t free.

    I think many bloggers that now call themselves ‘social media consultants’ are good, honest non-assuming folks that are excited about the possibilities of these tools, especially to help companies better reach and understand their customers, and vice versa. So it’s in our nature to want to give and help. But I think we need to realize, as you said, that many companies want a free ride. So we need to understand that and value our expertise. We shouldn’t give it away, and any company that’s worth it’s salt wouldn’t expect us to.

  9. Hey Laurel, sounds like there is some frustration there – speaking from the view point that I have spoken with you and asked you opinion on stuff without paying, I wanted to add that – in my case I did not do it intentionally – having just caught the social media/web2.0 bug. But I wonder if some companies (200 man excluded) are still struggling with what this new things call online collaboration/social networking is actually worth to their company – …”its something that occurs online and is mainly about young people right?”… why should we pay for something that is free online? not understanding the complexities of developing a successful community internal or external.

    That said I would offer two points to the discussion – ask for a fee upfront, and put aside the web2.0 goodness (everything is free online) ideas for the corp types who want to suck your brain. and lastly get your friends and colleagues to tell everyone that you are expensive but worth every penny – people will know what to expect when they call you/talk to you. Getting more capitalist is an ugly thing I know, but sounds like you are looking for some more love then lip service and smiles πŸ™‚

  10. Ah, I want to be clear. Anyone who read my post and wondered if I was talking about THEM and were upset that they asked me stuff, DON’T WORRY!

    It’s been a long long time since I did stuff for free that I didn’t want to. I also don’t need to woo “name” companies to add to my “portfolio”. In fact the reason why I blogged about this situation was because I’m somewhat protected – I won’t lose clients for opening my big mouth and taking a risk to criticise major players.

    This blog post mostly came about after watching corporate predators moving through the social network conference picking on my friends, hearing of another friend that was hassled by an electronics company to blog and a third friend that is seeking a higher profile consultancy, and nearly got abused.

    Seriously guys, when I say I work for coffee or chocolate, I know exactly what I’m giving out and what I can’t. So don’t stop asking to meet up with me. I’ll tell you “no” or “I can’t go there” if we move over a line. Nice people leave it, nasty corporates keep pushing, but I can push back. πŸ™‚

    Rule of thumb: if you are compassionate enough to worry if you have been greedy, you weren’t. So don’t worry!

    That includes you Ben *hugs* And the two nice sweeties from Inspire that I met today. And the couple of other emails I got *laughs* love you all. Heh. πŸ™‚

  11. Hey Laurel,
    Most people who find out about me have;

    1/ spoken to someone I’ve consulted to in the past (generally a greater than 50% paid engagement rate)

    2/ Heard me speak or met me through conferences (or better still barcamps or some other type of unconference) – about a 30% paid engagement rate.

    3/ Googled me via my blog or my commercial website http://www.Cognation.net/profile
    (about a 15%) paid engagement rate.

    Basically my answer for everyone is the same. The first 20 mins is free….after that http://www.cognation.net/rates apply.

    If you cant wow someone in 20 mins then you aren’t the right person to help them (lol-and I know that you in the social media space can wow companies in far less than that).

    So my suggestion is…..know when to shut up and request that the “rest of the discussion goes on the clock”.

    You’ll know whether you are dealing with someone who has the decision making power to engage an external consultant within 30 seconds after that request.

    Dean Collins

  12. My challenge is, not so much knowing what to do, but doing it. Anyone ever seen me willingly shut up when I didn’t have to? No? Thought not! πŸ˜›

    Actually the post was not really about experienced consultants giving advice to newbies but around us using social media channels to name and shame unethical behaviour.

    After you give the “no pay, no play” after 20 mins, what do you do then? Shrug and walk away, leaving them to pull in another 100 consultants? Do you do nothing? Especially when you hear friendly competitors, or competitive friends πŸ˜› are lining up to speak to the company?

    Ben, you are absolutely right. I’m not asking about companies who “aren’t sure” if social media is of value to them, they are a dime a dozen. And of course they don’t have a budget, no-one puts a budget on something that they aren’t sure of the value! A chat, coffee and a bit of an education generally sorts out if they are ready yet. And sometimes they plainly aren’t. No problem, they will get there, eventually. I don’t mind that.

    I’d really like to know what we, collectively, should do about companies that deliberately collate and form their strategies based on educating themselves for free on as many social media consultants as they can get their hands on. For me, this goes to intent – “do the consultant/company have value to each other?” vs “let me see what I can get out of the consultant for free!”.

    No answers here, sorry – same as Megalicious. πŸ™‚ But I AM thinking about it. And don’t stop asking me to coffee/cake and lunch – how else am I going to eat??? :p

  13. Dear Favorite Pixie – I think the exploiters should be named and shamed so they can be avoided, but besides that, here’s a few thoughts…

    Our little (and potentially very big) industry is very young and therefore full of fresh and enthusiastic meat for the exploiters out there. Lots of us don’t have a lot of business or consulting background and are therefore, ripe for the plucking. The more experienced among us need to tell a few tales from the trenches and do some mentoring, perhaps.

    Like you, I’m more than prepared to have a few notionally free (or over lunch/a drink) conversations with someone, but ideally it should lead to some sort of paid work. If not, I’ll certainly limit what and at what length I’m prepared to chat. That said, the paid work need not necessarily be that well paid – if I can see it might lead to intangible or other benefits.

    As for conversations with people new to the social media idea; I’m probably as guilty as anyone else of rabbiting on to them until they can escape and run for the hills.

  14. “The companies that say “can you come in and give a two hour presentation for free? No? But the other 20 people did!””

    I learnt ages ago (in a previous, failed online venture) to never do freebie meetings, except for charities. Not even for not-for-profits. They want my time, they pay. So even if no work comes of it (usually the case), at least I have made $$ out of it and can justify the time it has taken to put the presentation together.

  15. My (flexible) rules are, if it’s a new contact and i don’t need to prep prior or be structured in my feedback, i do it for a coffee or a lunch (and when I order a coffee i order a cake too :D). If it’s an existing contact, or if it’s a new contact and the discussion needs prior work, then i quote them upfront for my time.

    These days, 80% of my meetings are with peers, all seeking the inside dope. Those, i do for the company of like minds and similar frustrations!

    …speaking of which, we haven’t met…

  16. @alan I’ve hit the big time. I get lunch now.

    No we haven’t met. I don’t know many Alans at all. πŸ™‚

  17. Hey Laurel I’m sloooowly trying to get a handle on this social networking and the whole environment since it’s hidden away from the highstreet at the moment -so chances are I’m talking about sucking eggs but, to the point of knowledge and the corporate types (I was one) is that you (collective social network types) have a real and valid role in the Senior Management & Marketing Communications (and probably every other area too) of organisations. That is worth money. So structure the open presentations to the corporate marketplace pricing – 1 Day Seminar $995 per person – Weekend retreat $2,500 per person. That’ll pay for a few coffees.

    OK Ok sorry about the commercial chat.

  18. I work in communications for a big company and have asked social media consultants to present, to participate in events, and for advice, without payment (although I would usually give a nice bottle of wine to someone who presented at my request).

    I’d be very upset to discover that any of the people involved felt I was “raping” them in the process. In my view these interactions have been to some mutual benefit (at least I hope that’s the case!)

    Business is business – and one of the rules of business is that when you expect to get paid, you say so upfront. You “ask for the sale”.

    Anyone who presses hard for a freebie after the question of payment comes up, runs the risk of being seen as downright rude. And “naming and shaming” may be completely appropriate, but it’s best done verbally, in private, for all sorts of reasons.

    (I work for IBM, but am not speaking on IBM’s behalf)

    1. If you have no intention to hire those consultants, why would they come in? Are you up front in saying: we are just searching around and we’ll never use you, we’ll go with a big international agency instead?

      Transparency works both ways.
      And yeah yeah, I’m a bit late with my response πŸ˜›

  19. Hi Again

    I share the similar feelings to yours about this problem. I am getting hit on like some sort of poker machine on a regular basis also.

    I am I like most of you, I am bound to slavery by the mighty dollar, I do have to pay the bills somehow and though I may not be rich financially, I feel I am rich in the biblical meaning of love and freindship.

    Australian’s doing the right thing

  20. Name and shame – help the rest of us avoid the time wasters.

    You can usually pick them about 5 mins into the meeting, but that is after you’ve bothered to put together a presentation, organize a meeting, and put on some grown up clothes.

  21. Hi Laurel – I think there is an element not being considered, which is that it probably takes 200 meetings for some of the corporate Joe’s out there to even begin to undestand the 2.0 dynamic! Paying for all that time would out them to their finance dept or CEO’s as the slow starters they are.

    There is a lot of cynicism with ‘them’ thinking that this 2.0 thing must be really easy to do, and as you see in some of their ham-fisted attempts to tweet/blog/interact, they do eventually fail. I think the dollars will come down the track when the corporate brains understand that this is a professional service you offer, and it’s not all teenagers-in-bedrooms stuff that anyone can do.

    The same is true with hardware/software: There are a lot of coffee mornings and lunches to help the execs understand the technology & implications (I’m guilty of this), then there is a silent period (knowledge digestion time as the execs try to pass all this off as their own ideas within their companies for career progression purposes!), and then the contracts start to appear.

    So hold on tight – your time to reap the benefits will come – Karma works!
    .-= Mdart´s last blog ..Twitter’s moral limit? =-.

    1. Aye everything you say is true – but what happens when you KNOW that that company has a contract with an agency or supplier that will oust you – do you still bother with the meeting? Or at least ask “what’s in it for me”?
      I think there is helpful, generous, advice and then there is just being used… 200 consultants being asked for free advice so the guy could write a report just plain sucks. Especially a global company that could easily pay each one a few hundred bucks out of loose change.

  22. Laurel, you were so right to re-post this even after a couple of years; it’s *still* so true.

    Back when I ran my UK company (all about artistic mobile content, started about a decade ago) we were asked to go and explain what we did all the time. To a point, we had to – no one understood wtf we were trying to do unless we could explain to them what this mobile thing was going to be and why we thought it was important. Most of the time the conversations were mutually enriching; while we may not have always made deals, we often made lasting friendships (and that legacy sticks).

    Eventually (in the slow-lurching body-corporate way that commercial slobs progress) they all started to crawl out of the woodwork. Once or twice they caught me out but after that I saw them as clearly as wearing night vision goggles. So I came up with a rule I maintain (and declare, loudly) to this day:

    RULE 1: Don’t work with wankers.

    All networks are viral, right (especially in social media!)? Well imagine, you work with one and all of a sudden you’re getting referred to their wanker mates and then you’re right in **it. So, observe rule 1 and stay away from them in the first place.

    Doesn’t stop them existing but it does slow down their ability to replicate. And just *think* of all that time you’ll have to work with the gorgeous people!

    Thanks for being one of the latter πŸ™‚

  23. The fact that this post has been up since 2007 and not one single person in the social media community commented to condemn you for using the words “rape” and “date-rape” in your post disgusts me. By trivialising the word rape in the context of social media content, you trivialise the experiences of all women and men who have been raped. You dehumanise the victims of rape and sexual assault.

    Your insensitivity doesn’t surprise me however, you have always shown yourself to be incapable of any kind of critical thinking or self reflection around the immaturity of your actions.

      1. The rise of rape talk is an important read http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/10/the-rise-of-rape-talk though because you’re only ever interested in what YOU have to say Laurel, I doubt you’ll read it or use this as an opportunity for reflection on how offensive your blog post above is.

        You obviously continue to dismiss the very real trauma of victims of rape and sexual assault who are further triggered by your casual, obnoxious use of the word rape in this context.

        1. I read it. And she’s wrong – rape has always meant to despoil & plunder. Not necessarily sexually.
          Meanings 5&6
          The word rape wasnt hijacked to dismiss sexual rape; it was never exclusively about the sex act.

          Taking offence to provoke discord is a poor way to politicise your agenda – and does a disservice to those you claim to protect.

          1. The word rape may be appropriate in context like, “logging companies raping the Amazon” but your use of it in this context (including using comparisons of sexual assault and date-rape) is trivialising, inappropriate and offensive. You wouldn’t have used “groped” and “date-rape” in your post if you weren’t aware of the sexual meaning. The use is unnecessary here, and obnoxious. You even alluded to a victim fighting back, with the use of pinch, bite, hair pull. Once again, you have dehumanised victims of rape and sexual assault. I am not surprised that you are so incapable of empathy, because obviously hits and a link bait are more important to you than sensitivity towards those who have been victims.

Comments are closed.