Free Advice in the Information Age



As nurturers and helpers, we give.  A lot.  And a lot of time we give freely.

This sharing often goes beyond giving of ourselves to our families: it includes giving away our professional expertise.

I think this stems in part from our natural tendencies towards unconditional and seemingly unlimited giving at home: even on days when I feel less than congenial, I attempt to step up with my kids and give ‘more’; to give a sense of abundance (at least in terms of ideally-abundant or priceless things like hugs, and our energy, our efforts (cutting crusts of bread, and re-pouring juice into the red cup), our patience (retelling Curious George for the tenth time in one sitting), and our attention.  This giving, when done with an open heart, is not doled out begrudgingly, and usually feels pretty good.  Of course, we all benefit from a few key boundaries here, for our own sake, but it feels like we honour our children well when we don’t consider our time or knowledge to be a limited or costly commodity.

But how does this extend to our private practice?  To what extent do our talents, our wisdom, and our expertise valued, and how do they change ‘value’ when we give for free?  What are the benefits, and what are the disadvantages, of giving away free knowledge?  Would perspectives on giving away our expertise change if our culture valued wealth less?  Would our expertise be more respected (and be able to buy more groceries) if we didn’t give away so much for free?  And if so, how do we find the balance between giving freely and exchanging expertise for the money our expertise is worth?

In this Age of Information, information itself is cheap, but wisdom is lacking; clients can be overwhelmed with data, yet still be ill-informed.  Couple this with the intensity of social media as a platform for sharing information, and we have a huge dilemma.  How do we feel like we are giving valuable expertise with an open heart, and not have to close out our bank accounts?

I don’t have the answers.  In fact, I struggle as a private practitioner with placing a value on my work, in part because of how long I have worked in jobs that were paid for through government funding (and therefore had no direct cost to clients).  The benefits of having worked this way are obvious to me.  But I also see the challenges with this: perhaps our ‘free’ work is less valued than work that has a price, and deemed less respectable than if clients or patients paid; there is no ‘social contract’ between me and a client who doesn’t pay ‘out of pocket’; and there is less of a sense of commitment to attend appointments, perhaps even less of a commitment to follow through on recommendations (after all, if this were good advice, wouldn’t it cost money?).

I also struggle with how to find that balance of continuing to feel that I am giving in a way that matches my heart, while simultaneously charging fees that match the market, my skill level, and my family’s living expenses.

And I don’t think I am alone.

If you’re figuring out how to give, without giving it all away, consider joining us on Friday night for our June Jam session.  Let’s talk about how to reconcile this, and how placing limits on giving away our information may be beneficial for both sides of our professional relationships.

In the meantime, this list of articles on the topic may be of interest:

Kim Kraus Berg (Sept 7, 2016). The Sacred Act of Giving Away Expertise.

Pia Silva (2017). The Badass Secret to Charging More, Chapter 2 of Badass Your Brand.

Selena Rezvani (March 14, 2012).  People Don’t Respect Free Work: So Charge Them for It.  Forbes.

Chrissy Skivicque (July 25, 2013).  5 Ways to Share Your Professional Expertise, and 4 Reasons You Should. Forbes.

Rocket Media (Feb 22, 2013). Why You Should Be Giving Away Your Expertise….For Free.

Justine Clay (May 11, 2015). How Much of Your Expertise Should You Give Away?

Kimanzi Constable (Dec 22, 2014).  3 Reasons Why That “Free Consultation” is a Losing Strategy for Entrepreneurs.

Jackie Harder (April 22, 2015). Women need to stop giving away their services.  HuffPost.



Note: as nurturing, moral, and ethical human beings, it has been a heart-wrenching week.  Although I have a lot of thoughts about what has been transpiring south of the border, I am choosing to give more time to processing it all.  However, I have included Vickie Rivard’s wise words of wisdom as a reminder to stay soft:

’tis a brave thing indeed
to be such a tender-hearted mama
in such a broken-hearted world.
-courage, dear heart.


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