Expertise – when is it worth paying for?

I’m almost amused by the number of comments on LinkedIn recently saying ‘Don’t pay for (insert service of your choice here) … You can get it free from the internet’ or ‘from (state tangentially related profession here)’ or ‘I’ll advise you on that’ (from someone not in the relevant field). 

We all love a bargain don’t we? Sometimes you can even get things for free.

Businesses are made up of individuals and teams making buying decisions, so no wonder they are subject to the same factors as people in general. But sometimes ‘free’ can equal value for money. Or even worse – it can do you harm.

There is no shortage of people out there willing to give free advice, on any topic imaginable. Why then do professional services companies still succeed? They must either be doing something right or they are good at faking it. Perhaps all industries are made up of both? Which makes the buyer’s choice all the more difficult.

The question of impartiality

I’ve even heard it implied that free advice is impartial advice. But why would that be so?

Leaving the obvious quality issue to one side, can someone please explain to me why giving something away for free automatically qualifies a provider as more objective than those who are able to charge for it?

I would suggest that the opposite is true. Especially if the reason someone has the luxury of being able to offer something for free is that they are funded by the government or funded by a company that makes its money doing something different.

The dangers of free advice are actually numerous

One is that there are probably no consequences to the ‘advisor’ for being totally and completely wrong. You haven’t paid them for it. You didn’t give them the chance to fully consult you on your individual circumstances. You are probably not in a contract with them. They don’t have a professional status that is at risk. You had no real reason to take their advice. Wrong was it? And what?

What do you want from me?

Next is that in most cases the free advice will probably be given (however subtly it’s done) on the grounds of seeking something from you in return. It’s a bit like the old ‘Here is your free website … By the way, the hosting costs £xxx and the hidden costs include x, y and z. And of course you are tied in for the foreseeable …’ Think that doesn’t still happen?

What’s the deal?

Then there is the simple concept of fair exchange. Why should some professional activity be worthy of payment and others not? Why should teaching students be a paid profession but careers ‘advice’ be voluntary?

Selection process

A key aspect of objectivity is the question of: Are you narrowing the pool of professionals by only considering those who will do it free?

Ask yourself what it is that your business is seeking? Is it:

  • Brainstorm ideas that might work.
  • Anecdotal evidence of things that did work for someone else and may or may not work for you.
  • A list of options from which to choose.
  • A tailor made package of advice that is perfectly suited to the circumstances of your company, its objectives and the personal goals of its directors. Based on understanding of all of this.

The first three of those could reasonably be expected free of charge.

Only the last of these requires expertise.

And it would be foolish to expect this, as described above, to come for free.

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