Your Core Business Is Not Free

Understand your core business, and give away things that support it. Never give away your core business itself.

I call myself primarily a writer and a speaker. I’m not a vendor of tools or products. I’m not a consultant selling coaching services. And I’m delegating Management 3.0 courses to other trainers as much as I can.

It means that I try to earn an income as a full-time writer and speaker. This is sometimes difficult, when people ask me to do many things for free.


I am very pleased that my brand new Champfrogs presentation, which I gave yesterday at Agile By Example in Warsaw, and last week at Ágiles in Lima, was hailed as “outstanding”, “best talk of the conference”, and even “best slides I’ve ever seen”. Last week in Lima someone told me that I could easily earn USD 10,000 per keynote with my new talk, in other industries (unfortunately, not in the Agile space).

Not surprisingly, people on Twitter often ask me, “Is there a video online (for free)?” or “Where can I download the slides (for free)?” The words “for free” are not really mentioned, but obviously implied. The correct (but for me still difficult) answer is, “When you invite me, and pay me, like they did in Poland and Peru.” Yes, I did many talks for free in the past. But I’m now much better, and more focused, than I was in the past.

Sometimes conference organizers ask me, “Can you bring some of your books (for free)?” or “Can you give a workshop (for free)” or “Will you participate in the whole conference (for free)”. Of course, I very much enjoy the attention people give me, and I appreciate all the requests that are usually born out of pure enthusiasm and interest.

But I can’t do everything for free.

Core Business

When you give away things for free you reduce the perceived value of those products or services. Because if it’s free, it can’t be that valuable, can it? This might not be a problem for activities that support your business. But it is a problem for your primary business. I spent four weeks preparing and producing my new Champfrogs presentation. For me it’s quite valuable. It is my core business!

My books and talks are slowly but steadily becoming my main forms of personal income. Giving away all presentations for free can make sense for tool vendors and consultants, because they have other business models. And their presentations are not called “worth at least USD 10,000” and “the best I’ve ever seen”. On the other hand, I will never earn the compliment “best consultant ever” or “best tool vendor ever” because that’s not my kind of business.

So, what is the lesson here for creative networkers?

Understand your real purpose, and give away things that support your business model. But never give away your core business itself.

p.s. And no, I’m not charging USD 10,000. Yet. 🙂

p.p.s. It’s strange I sometimes feel uncomfortable asking for payment. As Michael Hyatt said last week, people who ask services for free often get paid for their own work, and would never consider doing their work for free. 🙂

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