I first thought about sharing what I know back in 2012 and even went so far as to bring it up in an interview with my soon to be employer. “So how do you feel about me sharing all of your best kept secrets” might not make the top 10 list of questions to ask your interviewer but surprisingly with a little tweaking it didn’t seem to do me any harm. For the next 2 years though, I was too terrified to actually share much.
As Tim Brown points out in his most recent article, and I paraphrase, its hard to share knowledge without completely screwing your competitive advantage.
Everything I share is hard earned knowledge. I spend many hours each week outside of the day job reading, practicing and honing my craft. That iFrame script that I shared has two and a half years of work and lessons learned behind it. Two and a half years of different versions and variations until I came upon something truly maintainable and valuable. And then I just gave it away.
And of course, I have no control over who I give it away to. My content is as likely to help an overworked admin at a potential client as it is to help the other guy submitting a bid.
It took me 2 years to get to the point where I started sharing content and I tell you what:
I never want to write commodity content and to me if I’m not straining myself a little to give value, I’m not giving enough.
So Tim, this one is for you, here’s why I don’t worry about the competition:
The best clients don’t want to do it themselves
Let’s face it, your first competition comes from your clients themselves. If they are equipped to handle your service themselves, then why do they need you. But just because they can do it themselves doesn’t mean that they should and the best clients know this.
The best clients focus on their expertise and count on you to focus on yours. They provide you with vision, goals, and a clear path to make their dreams reality. They want to call you when they know they need you. And that is the best relationship to have!
Clients who want to do everything themselves call you so that they never have to need you. They aren’t really interested in a relationship. And honestly, if a few blog articles gives them what they need then I call that a win-win.
It’s a big market and it could be bigger
Ask yourself a question, is the market I am in flooded to the point of saturation. I switched from production/maintenance to IT in large part because the IT isn’t as saturated. I had to move a few states over just to find a production job but in IT I pick up the phone to call my parents and a recruiter introduces himself. The point is if you aren’t in a big market, you could be.
And if you are already in a big market, competition is much less of a worry. Sure, there are some key pieces of intellectual property that you want to keep close but in the time you are crying about the one that got away you could have landed another 3 contracts. And then there’s always looking for ways to expand the market that you are in.
It’s not as secret as you think
I once heard that design is the process of discovering requirements until only one reasonable solution remains. It makes sense then that great ideas, the ones that provide wide reaching solutions, are pretty common and discovered frequently.
And going along with the last section, the larger your market is the more people in it there are generating ideas. Maybe its just because I don’t actually have great ideas but I routinely find my own discoveries in someone else’s blog or somewhere in a forum.
The gains are short term
Yes, there are definitely gains to keeping some of that intellectual property a secret. It’s good to be first to market, the early bird gets the worm and all. But those gains are often short lived. Others reverse engineer and capitalize on your success. Samsung copies iPhone, iPhone copies Samsung, Microsoft copies the color blue into lots of pixels… I don’t know.
You can’t stop people from getting access to what you know but you can change how they get access to it.
The key here is that once you put your IP out there, everyone has access to it. It’s just a question of whether they want it or not. You can’t stop people from getting access to what you know but you can change how they get access to it.
My real competition is me
One of the things I have discovered since sharing more is that the more I teach, the more I learn. Too trite? Sometimes I learn from the expertise of others. Sometimes I learn by trying to simplify the content that I am teaching. Sometimes I learn by others pointing out mistakes in my work. But regardless, teaching helps me to learn.
By sharing content, I am exposed to a wider array of problems to solve, new perspectives, and new approaches to solving problems because I get to work with each of you. I’m not competing with you except perhaps in the friendly Fitbit wearing “I’m going to get more steps than you” sort of way. We both win.
So sure, I give away the best ideas and the best work I have to offer but hey, its not like I’m giving it away for nothing.