Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Neo/Post Economy: The Information Age 3.0

Malcolm Gladwell, Mark Cuban, Chris Anderson, Seth Godin, and Chris Brogan are talking interestingly about the idea of free. I would suggest that you read what they have to say about it. I am sure the conversation will continue.

In the new economy, which is still a long way from working itself out, things are shifting as we speak. It still has a long way to go. It has been broken badly and for a while. Smart people are discussing the value of free. Should the Internet be free? Should digital music be free? Should the news be free? Will customers start to pay for what they can get for free? Should providers give away what used to charge for?

Have you heard about the hamburger joint that gives its food away for free? All they ask is that you give them whatever you think is reasonable. Stiff them or leave them a ten. It works. They make as much or more that they would with fixed prices on their items. Most of the customers love them.

The saxophone player on the street corner hopes you put some coins in the cup. The waiter at your favorite watering hole hopes you like his service and tip him well. I heard Johnny Depp left a $4000 tip the other day. My dad, who was a small business owner, would often barter for goods and services when his customers couldn’t pay.

I am an entrepreneur, a CEO, a consultant, a small business owner. I blog frequently. I am LinkedIn. I do Facebook. I Tweet, Ning, Ping, and Xing. I get the whole social networking thing. I have a weekly newletter. I field phone calls, answer questions via e-mail, I comment on others’ blogs. I answer questions.

Through these activities I have the capacity to inspire, motivate, inform, solve problems, find solutions, identify hidden problems, move careers forward, help others make decisions, and provide new insights and opinions. I can keep a deal alive and kill it. Much of this I do for free (Mostly voluntarily, sometimes, not so much).

Yes, that’s right. I give lots of information, advice, and counsel away for free. I like it. It adds value. It develops and deepens relationships. It works. I get a lot of free lunches and dinners. And I get a lot of free coffee. Don’t get me wrong. I like it. And I will continue to do it, a lot.

When I am lucky, I get real business that way. I get hired. I get involved in projects, I provide services and products to my customers. I write proposals. I submit contracts. I have billable hours. I have fees. I send out invoices. I get paid for those things.

But in the Information Age and with the Economy 3.0, that sometimes isn’t enough. For many people in my shoes, it really isn’t enough. Sometimes there aren’t enough projects or enough billable hours. Much of my value is not easily billable. More troubling, much of what I do others do not see as billable. They seek me out. They see the value. They thank me. They say “I owe you one.” They say “I will try to bring you business.” I appreciate that so much. Sometimes the cash does not come with it.

What am I doing about it? What should I do? What should you do. Well, I am going to keep adding value, giving away information for free, and building deep relationships. Also, with my customers, clients, and valued relationships I am asking them for something in return. I am asking for them to keep my lights on and bills paid for a few days or a few weeks. Whatever they can afford, whatever they thing I am worth to keep in business.

You can call it what you want: donations, sponsorships, retainers, pay-per-click, pay-per-view, a service fee. I don’t care. I don’t think they will care. If they feel I add value, they will want to keep me going. They will want me available to them. They want my blog alive, they want my Facebook, my Tweet. They want to be LinkedIn with me. They will want me to send them my newletter. They will want to continue calling or e-mailing me. They will want me to have place to work, a fast computer, a smart phone, and a way to test the next new thing in my field or theirs. They will want my advise, my information, my counsel. I will be there for them. But I will need their support, their sponsorship. They will be there for me. I will thrive.

If I am lucky, I will be able to break even, stay in the black. If I am even luckier, I will be able to go to camp with the rest of the kids (actually my kids will get to go to camp). If I am really good, I will be able to put something in the bank for a rainy day.

And, that is the beginning of the new economy. Malcolm, Mark, Chris, Seth, Chris: There is free and there is value. It will all work.

Doh?! Geez, did I just give that away for free? If you liked the song, put your coins in the cup.
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