I was bragging a bit on Facebook the other day about how much traffic we're getting on our YouTube channel - https://youtube.com/smallbizthoughts. We have reached 7,000 views per month!
One of my longtime Facebook friends, David, made the following comment:
"Karl, it comes as no surprise to me. Unlike many others in your field, you provide very valuable content with no financial commitment. Many others seem like they are just trying to lure you in to buy their latest training series for $.
I realise you also offer paid for content, but you are one of the most generous contributors to the SMB IT community."
I know that many people are suspicious of "free" stuff - especially if they don't know me. Those who've known me for ten or fifteen years are far less suspicious.
So I thought I'd expose my thinking about giving away information free of charge. It begins with this view of the IT Consulting community (click to enlarge):
Like everyone else, I started my company as "just me." Unlike many others, I had deep experience with very large organizations' IT infrastructure, including managing teams of twenty-five people (and more) to take care of almost ten thousand endpoints.
I grew my business from just me to more than a dozen people. Somewhere along the line, I was one of the early adopters and proponents of what we now call managed services. I went on to advise larger and larger organizations with multi-state operations and over a hundred employees.
Sharing and Growing - in the Community
Along the way, I shared my knowledge. At first, it was online in forums and newsgroups. Then in in-person local meetings. Eventually, I spoke at SMB Nation and many other conferences. I wrote books and toured the world training IT consultants. Sometimes I trained them on specific technologies (e.g., Microsoft servers); sometimes I trained them on my philosophies and techniques.
All along the way, I realized that there are different needs for different kinds of companies.
I also noticed that almost everyone providing services to IT consultants wants to talk to and help the larger companies who have mostly figured out how to be successful already. These folks basically charge for everything. They either charge you - the attendee - or they charge the vendor who wants your attention.
My experience has taught me that the smallest companies need the most help. I learned how to put this in words thanks to my friend Don from Australia. He pointed out that "little guys" like him (he's easily a foot taller than me) can only work on one thing at a time. So it makes no sense to buy into a big training program. He literally cannot send the service manager to one set of classes, the sales manager to another set of classes, and the customer service reps to a third. He is all those people.
At any given time, the types of companies illustrated above exist in some mixture.
- New consultants enter the market. Nowadays, these people might be called "managed service providers" - but they don't call themselves that. How could they? If you think you're a computer consultant, the term managed service has no actual meaning. So you're not going to call yourself that or Google it.
- Eventually, these folks learn about managed services and try something. But they need to learn more about the business model. LOTS of them try a few things they read about online, but do so out of context. So they don't have much success.
- Many are simply never convinced that managed services will work for them.
I want to help these people! My personal mission for my life and for my companies is to help as many people as possible to be successful. For these folks with one-person companies who are trying to figure things out, I have lots of free resources.
Note: About 70% of the contents of my four-volume Managed Services Operations Manual is available for FREE on my blog. And, in fact, I've indexed a lot of it at www.sopfriday.com. So you can get a lot by reading the blog and never spending a penny.
As companies grow, they face new challenges they didn't have before. And they need just as much help. With luck, they have a little money to buy some books, buy some classes, and maybe buy a membership. Again, my goal is to help as many people as possible.
The biggest challenge for these companies is staying focused on what matters: Profit! All too often, they get side-tracked into discussions about how much revenue they have or how many employees they have. And, all too often, they are not profitable. They lie to themselves about growth and investing in their future. They convince themselves that they'll be profitable tomorrow or next year.
And, to be honest, they join peer groups that encourage these behaviors. In some of these groups, people get together and lie to each just so they don't lose respect from each other. They are barely getting by, going deeper into debt all the time, and bragging it up with their friends.
For these folks, I offer classes and books and membership. But more than that: I offer honesty that no one else is giving them.
Too many people in this business are losing money and afraid to face it. They are digging themselves into debt and growing poor instead of growing rich. I am committed to helping these people straighten out their companies and their personal finances.
I'm not perfect. I've been through some really bad finance experiences. So I'm in no place to judge. But I've also built a number of successful companies and helped a lot of people grow their companies to new heights.
These growing companies can and should be saved by the magic of recurring revenue! As many people have experienced, recurring revenue reduces a lot of stress. First you make $1,000 per month. That's enough know that the system works. Then you make enough to cover rent and utilities. Eventually, you make enough to cover payroll. But all along the way, you have some extra cash flow and the ability to try new things.
In a business that completely redefines itself every five years, trying new things is a requirement. But if you're scratching and clawing to pay the rent, it's much easier to keep doing the old stuff that got you where you are - even though you know it doesn't work.
My for-pay programs are great for these growing companies for one big reason: I provide the training you can assign to the service managers, the sales managers, and the customer service reps. When you're ready to change ten things at once and super-charge the whole organization, our program is perfect. We probably don't charge enough for it. But I'm okay with that. I've never felt good about memberships where everyone paid a different price. So mine is priced for the smaller companies.
Large Companies Need Love, Too
One of the great frustrations of my life is that larger companies think they've got it all figured out. If fact, I know from experience, most of them haven't figured out much at all. I've coached companies of all sizes, and I can tell you, they ALL have the same problems. Companies with two employees don't have good processes and procedures. Companies with a million in revenue don't have good processes and procedures. Companies with fifteen million in revenue don't have good processes and procedures.
These companies call on me from time to time. I always help them out. But they ALL could do themselves a great big favor by just going through my programs and saving about $50,000 in coaching.
In fact, starting last year, I now include my Community membership in my coaching program because I spend so much time telling people to read this chapter or take that class. I didn't want them to think I'm just trying to sell more stuff, so I raised the price and included everything I've ever written.
. . . So you see . . .
I give away lots of information to people who need it the most. They can only do one thing at a time. So a blog post or a YouTube video works great for them.
And I don't worry that larger companies will gobble up all this free information and never buy anything. They are convinced that nothing free is worthwhile, so they pay me to give them the same information in exchange for money. That way they find value in it and feel good about the transaction.
Never feel guilty downloading the information I give away for free. But once you start to grow, I would appreciate it if you buy a book from time to time. Or take a class. Or join my community. We'd love to have you. https://www.smallbizthoughts.org