Why Should Expertise Be Free Just Because It’s Online?

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

I’m continually making resolutions to improve the way I do things, so what’s so different about January 1st?

But two articles recently caught my interest and, since it is January, they’ve provoked the closest thing I’ve come to a New Year’s resolution.

It’s about being paid for my expertise.

This article on Men With Pens and this article on CopyBlogger both question the ‘tradition’ and wisdom of free information online.

And, although I heartily agree with the sentiments of both articles, we who work online only have ourselves to blame.

We’ve created a rod for our own backs and it’s not going to be lifted any time soon.

The problem is that blogging started as a personal diary (free to set up and free to read) and steadily moved towards commercialism.

When people started monetising their blogs it produced quite a backlash. From what I’ve read, that is, because I wasn’t blogging at the time.

Then came social media – which was an even easier way for people to create online diaries and, in addition, to hook up with friends. And that was free too.

Bloggers and Internet Marketers soon cottoned on to the potential of promoting their products or services through the social media – but that produced an even more violent backlash (I was around for that one).

People were banned from Digg, not allowed to advertise on Stumbleupon and had their pages suspended from HubPages.

All those (and more) happened to me.

By the time Twitter came along marketers had cottoned on to the need to be super low key with any promotional activities they tried.

My own approach has been to monitor questions people are asking about WordPress. To write blog articles when I find a common question and direct people towards the articles when the question is repeated.

My blog articles are not promotional. They are all aimed at providing useful information to people.

But I’ve been slagged off a number of times on Twitter for doing exactly that (providing useful information) because they saw it as me promoting my article.

Somebody asked a while ago whether anyone knew any sources of educational WordPress themes.

Although I didn’t know specifically of educational themes, I do have an article on here with links to nearly 2,000 themes on different theme sites.

So I sent in a reply that said exactly that: No educational themes that I can point to directly, but there are links on here to nearly 2,000 themes and you may find something you like among them.

I received a barrage of abuse in reply. Telling me that I knew there were no educational themes in that article (err – yes, that’s what I said at the outset), that what I did was out of order and that I was just trying to get links to my page.

I wasn’t – but so what if I was?

What’s wrong with trying to let people know about my work? If they don’t like it they can leave at the click of a mouse.

This blog takes a lot of work, all of which I do myself. I enjoy it, so I’m not complaining about the work.

But the result of my work is to provide information that will help other people to improve their lives.

Just as I’m trying to improve mine.

The fact is, though, we’ve created this monster: the culture that everything online is free and anyone who dares to promote their work or charge for it is a charlatan.

So what can we do?

There are several things that I’ve resolved to do as part of this almost-resolution:

  1. I’m going to continue to provide as much value as I can (for free) wherever I am online, be that the social networks or on this blog
  2. I’m going to stop under-valuing the knowledge and expertise I’ve built up. Yes, I’ll provide as much value as I can, but after a certain point it will become chargeable
  3. I will ignore the howls of protest when I point people to articles that contain useful information
  4. I will set up a more regular routine of promoting good sources of information on my various sites. Yes – I will attempt to get more links to my pages

You see, we can’t beat this monster. We have to work round it.

That means that we have to continue to provide good quality, valuable information for free.

But we have to learn where to draw the line between free and chargeable.

What do you think?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Karin H Jan 7, 2010 @ 22:31

    Hi Martin

    Happy New Year!

    Do you mind I do not totally agree with you? We did not create this monster – we being those content makers and sharers who use a blog platform and/or social media platform – where we “failed” is to see a blog and/or social media platform as nothing else/more than a content distribution channel for our knowledge and expertise.
    Once we realised it can/should be more than this, it should be one of our pillars of marketing/income the notion of “Free for All” had established itself among those free-wheelers – and there have always been plenty of them around.

    There’s an important adage you should always remember, no matter what marketing/income pillar you are using: you can never ever please everyone, but you can convert those who see and respect your knowledge as what it is into clients.

    We are retailers, we use a blog to make more people looking for advice on wooden flooring aware of our existence. We use more than just a blog, we give away free advice in the articles we write, in the comment box of the blog and in free leaflets the blog reader can request. They then know very well what our aim is – converting them into clients.

    Yes, of course we get those prospects who, after receiving valuable information or even personal advice on how to tackle a certain problem they encountered, start complaining about the links we place in our own leaflets and online articles.
    But for every complainer we have a multitude of prospects who are more than happy to stay on our lists and purchase those materials we recommend to them.

    It is/was the same with any type of “advertising” – some “buy into it”, some ignore it and some complain it promotes your knowledge in a selfish way.

    Never undervalue your own expertise because of these “free-wheelers” might take offence, they will complain no matter what.

    Decide that a blog platform and/or any social media platform is another pillar of marketing/income and use it (ethically of course) to be best of your knowledge and principles.

    Oops, turned into a longer comment than I planned, sorry.

    Go on, make sure you value your own expertise and show it to the world. If you don’t believe your expertise is valuable enough to charge for it how can we believe it then? 😉

    Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

    • Martin Jan 8, 2010 @ 6:53

      Hi Karin,

      Long time no see, and Happy New Year!

      I’m delighted you disagreed with me – although it was only over who created the rods! And, actually, I don’t think we disagree on that anyway – you just worded it better than me.

      You’re 100% right, though, about never being able to please everyone and that point came out quite strongly in the comments on the CopyBlogger article.

      I do agree with getting your readers to understand what your point is. I can’t remember where I picked it up, but in some email marketing article I learnt to make sure you have a promotional email early in your email autoresponder sequence, (like in the first 2 or 3 messages) because it conditions your subscribers to the fact that you’re in this for a business.

      Then they’re less likely to unsubscribe when other promotional emails come later.



  • Nathan Hangen Jan 7, 2010 @ 22:32

    Go for it man!
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..Recycling Sucks =-.

    • Martin Jan 8, 2010 @ 6:39

      Thanks Nathan – will do!

      And thanks for your article on CopyBlogger – it was a cracker!



  • Bumby Scott Jan 8, 2010 @ 5:38

    I for one, enjoy your posts and I thank you for all of your hard work.

    Always Bumby Scott
    .-= Bumby Scott´s last blog ..Bumbys Preppy Wishes For The New Year =-.

    • Martin Jan 8, 2010 @ 6:38

      You’re welcome, Bumby, and thanks for your support – although I wasn’t looking for appreciation, I was revelling in the messages in those posts on CopyBlogger and Men With Pens 🙂



  • Paul Jan 11, 2010 @ 4:08

    Happy New Year Martin,

    This is an interesting post, and raises a lot of questions about what’s the best business model to implement on the internet. There’s no doubt that the internet has changed people’s expectations of what they believe to be value.

    Over the last ten years many local retailers have been forced out of business as their old customer base discovered the global market through the internet.

    Not too long ago if you wanted a book you had a number of choices available to you, most involving going into a town centre and browsing bookshops looking for the best buy. Now you just type a search on Google and get an instant list of the cheapest places to buy a product, order it, and receive it within days.

    I’ve been running my own online art store for a number of years. To begin with I sold on price, selling cheap. I decided I didn’t like the work involved in that stratergy and increased all my prices substantially.

    My logic was, fewer sales at a higher price would cover the inevitable loss of custom. This proved to be the case. i’m not interested in dealing with people who always want something for nothing.

    As far as internet marketing goes people have become spoilt with all the free content on the net, but if you build a list of people who trust you, you can still make money selling information and affiliate products.

    It’s all about trust. Blogging, like you say is hard work, I have four blogs and I know the work involved. Like you I enjoy it but I also aim to make money from my efforts. If people are not happy with that then they can move on.

    On social media though, I agree that people should not try to sell directly on these sites. The way I look at it is if I’m in a social gathering with a group of friends, in a pub for example, and one of them keeps pulling things from his pocket and asking everyone if they want to buy it, I wouldn’t be happy.

    I think internet marketers will have to rethink their business models, we will have to become more subtle, more clever. The music industry had to change it’s business model when it couldn’t stop people from downloading music for free.

    There’s a gap in the market for a new model. If I can come up with one I’ll run a course and make millions.

    • Martin Jan 11, 2010 @ 6:56

      Hi Paul,

      Yes – I agree with your analogy of the group of friends at the pub, but the difference with social media is that you do have a choice not to read the tweet (or equivalent) and the option to block the individual if they’re persistent.

      Don’t get me wrong: I’m not for one moment suggesting it’s OK to push (spam) your ads in the social media. Not for one moment.

      But the incident I referred to above (where I was slagged off) was not spam. I was answering a question with a link to good, relevant information. The recipient just got a bee in his bonnet and went crazy. And that’s not the only time I’ve had that kind of reaction 🙂

      The problem is that people who have nothing better to do set themselves up as the spam police and decide (based on their own criteria) what is and isn’t spam. On one occasion (exactly the same as the incident I referred to above) the person even hash tagged my reply as spam.

      Luckily the Twitter people disagreed with him because it didn’t have any impact on my account – but it could have.



  • Jim Hardin Jan 11, 2010 @ 9:38

    You know martin its funny you talk about this. This is a very interesting article. I have a post on my blog where I mention 2 different webhosting companies to use. Some one came by and made a comment that basically that is just wrong. Why is it wrong? I am recommending 2 companies. 2 companies that I have used and both I really do like. I feel I am giving my readers a choice hey here are 2 companies that I think that are good. You can go with them or go with someone else. I am only recommending them. Not to mention its my blog I will say what I want.

    But really I think they were getting at is that how can you put those 2 companies side by side. Direct competition. Well my thought is lets say you go in the store looking for what ever say Toilet Paper. The store carries many brands right? They are on the shelf side by side right? So whats the difference. Well maybe I am wrong but I am leaving it.

    I want, like you, to provide my readers with information. I will only promote things I believe in.

    I have to come by here more often. You have some good stuff here.

    Thanks for making me think!
    .-= Jim Hardin´s last blog ..Nutritional Value of Passionate Wordpress Blog Bread =-.

    • Martin Jan 11, 2010 @ 19:16

      Hi Jim,

      Yep – some people just want to pick holes in everything!

      I’m with you on this one: nothing wrong with comparing two sites offering the same service. Nothing wrong at all.

      Providing a comparative review of each is definitely very useful information. Actually, more useful than an article reviewing a single product.

      Plus you get two possibilities of a sale 🙂