When was the last time you gave something away from your professional practice? I’m not talking about pens, calendars or tote bags. When did you give away knowledge about what you do?

Not, “Look at the results we get,” but rather, “Here’s how we do it.”

I’ve done a lot of speaking over the years, but last month I gave a 40-minute talk that generated the most positive response I’ve ever had. The speech was called “The Five Essential Free Sources of Information that Investigators Use in Asset Searches After Google Gets Them to a Dead End.” In it, I gave away the basics on how look up companies, real estate holdings and more.

Business inquiries followed immediately from the talk, plus an invitation to speak to a national group of divorce lawyers on the same topic. Divorce lawyers commission asset searches for their clients and so like to hire us.

The idea about the speech to the National Association of Divorce Professionals was to showed people the sources that any decent investigator would be checking in the course of just about any investigation, but certainly during an asset search. Not just talk about the sources, but show them how to use the sources – for free.

The sources were: Company records, real estate records, court records, securitized debts, and securities records. I walked them through some Secretary of State websites, county recorders, EDGAR and on down the list. Not everything is online, I said. Sometimes you have to send people to retrieve paper documents. But at least you will be able to do a little research yourself, if only to make sure your investigator is on the job. Sometimes, what you find online will be enough and you won’t want to hire anyone.


People Do Business with People They Like

Why give away such information when that is what people hire you to find?

Two good reasons. The last thing this speech will do is put us out of business. These sources of information aren’t nearly everything you need to do a good investigation most of the time. I told them this a few times during the talk.

Even if they were, people who are not used to navigating in a sea of a million facts won’t usually be able to make as much out of what they are looking at as a professional will. If you show someone a video about how to drive an 18-wheel truck, would you feel confident riding along with them on their first try?

Yet in showing people what it takes to investigate thoroughly you are helping them see the value in hiring you, while being open about what you do. In a business in which your client needs to trust you with a lot of sensitive and very personal information, that’s not a small thing.

Another more powerful reason to give knowledge away is that people do business with people they like. It’s just likeable when someone takes the time to give you valuable advice at no cost, and with no expectation that you will have to repay him.

If someone helps you at no cost to himself, don’t you like that person better than the one wants something in return?

“Your battery’s dead and you need a boost? OK, I’ll help you, but in exchange for that $100 value I’d like you to buy a subscription to these publications I’m selling.” What do you think of that guy?

Think of giving good advice as part of the entire picture of customer satisfaction, as in the diagram at the top of this article. You have to perform, you have to be competent and offer support, but prospective clients won’t know how good you are until they hire you. They will, however, be able to take some valuable advice.


Givers Get More than Matchers and Takers

One group of professionals to which I belong lives by the creed that being nice to people with no strings attached is a plus, so much so that every new member gets a copy of Adam Grant’s Give and Take – Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.

Grant divides businesspeople into three groups: givers, takers and matchers. Takers are not what this article is about. I made my speech in exchange for no money, no list of leads to which to market – I just knew that if I gave away some useful information, people might appreciate it and appreciate me. If it didn’t lead to business directly, one of them could be in touch down the road. Or, as happened, one of them sent me to someone in her organization who asked me to speak to that group – again, for free.

The other kind of non-giver Grant discusses is the matcher, like the guy above who will give you a boost for a price. Maybe I would have spoken in exchange for something – money, a list of members, an ad in their magazine. Matchers build up smaller networks than givers.

If you haven’t done so, try giving in the context of your business. Maybe it will help the bottom line right away, and maybe it won’t.

But it will probably help in time, and you’ll feel great right away. Not only will you have done a nice thing, but people will probably pay more attention to your speech.