It just depends: Should you "go analog" or "go digital"?
More on giving it away

Give it away give it away give it away now...

Where do you stand on giving it away? Most everyone agrees that doing volunteer work for your community or school, for example, is a noble and worthwhile thing to do. But what about in business? Big companies can afford to give away things, from software to trips to Hawaii, but what about us little guys/gals? There are those who say that as a highly-skilled professional, you should not "give it away" by agreeing to offer your services unpaid. You've worked hard to get where you are today, they say, and you deserve to be paid for your time. They say offering your skills for free cheapens what you have to offer. There is some merit to these arguments, but I believe in the idea of "giving it away" when I can.

"Eat like a bird and poop like an elephant"
My philosophy about "giving it away" or sharing information freely relates well to an idea I first read in Rules for Revolutionaries. I recall reading this book by Guy Kawasaki in 1998 while on the bullet train bound for Tokyo. In chapter seven Guy says "Eat like a bird, poop like an elephant." In other words, (1) get out there, meet people, press the flesh, consume knowledge like crazy, attend seminars, etc. (birds eat a lot!). And (2) spread the knowledge, information, and contacts that you gained around, share of your time and talent (elephants are good at...well you know). Below: sample slides from a past presentation where I talked about Kawasaki's idea.

    Bird_1    Elephant_slide_2

I may be naïve, but my philosophy concerning public speaking has long been to remain open to non-paid opportunities, outside the business world, if I can actually be of help. Doing "free gigs" does not lower the value of what I usually "sell." In fact, doing the unpaid work outside of business probably adds value to my "brand" so to speak. My thinking is that discounting my services, say, to an investment firm, may indeed cheapen my brand. So I don't do that. However, I do not think doing some (sometimes more) work 100% free of charge cheapens what you have to offer, depending on the circumstance. Discounts cheapen, but free is free — and some of the best things in life are free. (They don't say, "Some of the best things in life are...discounted 50%"). Selling yourself (too) "cheap" is different from "giving it away." For example, Starbucks is not going to discount their drinks, but maybe they'll give free hot chocolates on Christmas Eve evening in certain stores for tired, procrastinating shoppers.

"Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."
                                                  — Sydney J. Harris

"I poop therefore, I am"
You can't share everything, of course, but I like the spirit behind "pooping" (sharing and spreading). For all the free gigs I do, I always get something out of it such as a new contact, new knowledge, a recommendation, etc. As Guy says: "I poop therefore, I am. The more information you give away, the more you get as people come to trust you and see mutual benefits." I have never regretted doing a free presentation. Years ago I used to seek out speaking opportunities at business associations, user groups, etc. so that I could improve my skills and learn. Now I no longer look for opportunities to present free, but I usually end up "giving it away" several times a year anyway. And that's fine with me.

"Pooping" this Friday in Kobe, Japan
Pg_preso_1This Friday I will be "giving it away" again at the Far East Headquarters of P&G out in Kobe for a special ACCJ event. For those of you in the area (Kansai), you can get more information on my presentation by contacting the people at ACCJ here. Or send me an email and I'll forward you the ACCJ announcement (in English and Japanese). My presentation begins at 5:30 pm in the P&G auditorium. At about 7:00 pm interested audience members can join ACCJ at the Sheraton next door for a mixer. The title of the talk is "The Art of Presentations," covering some of the same issues I explore in this blog.

Do you have any stories about how the "eat like a bird, poop like an elephant" philosophy has helped (hurt?) you, either as a person or organization?



I agree at all!
This is my first comment to the blog, altougth I have been reading you for a long time. So I will present myself a little. I am freshman at computer sciences and free software fellower. Here in Majorca (Spain) we have a group of users who make presentations around the island in places such as schools or seminaries. Rigth now I am very unexperienced, but I must say I love giving notes. Not just because I share, therefore I am, even that I have learned a lot about speaking to people I hardly know. This year I had a summer-time job and my skills in speech were very useful to talk to my boss.

I imagine I am not the kind of people you perhaps expected to read this web. But I am of the toughts that the best way to learn is to teach and practice, so in order to learn to hold presentations I do free ones. With this I have free chances too.

Keep on with the blog!

Milan Davidovic

Free stuff seems to be attractive to a market only when it's perceived to be good enough to pay for. How to build this perception and create buzz? Perhaps the key is *who* you give it away to.


This reminds me of one of my favorite passages from the Tao Te Ching:

His task completed, he then lets go of it;
seeking no credit, he cannot be discredited.
Thus, his teaching lasts for ever,
and he is held in high esteem.

Gray Miller

I can vouch for the "poop like an elephant." About a year ago, a little less, perhaps, I began podcasting. It was a free show, weekly, but no one else was doing it on my particular subject. I also helped others, such as Heidi Miller of "Diary of a Shameless Self Promoter" podcast ( startup theirs--again, free of charge.

Lots of labor. No apparent return on investment. Until I was in the lineup for a job where the fact that I had a lot of experience in podcasting, and high-profile kudos from people who I'd helped, set me apart from the rest of the crowd and got me into my "dream job"--where now I get to, you guessed it, get paid to produce podcasts.

Bread cast upon the waters, etc...

Love your writing, by the way. We're thinking of making your essays on Power Point required reading before any board meetings, in fact. Keep it up!


I've always had the philosophy of providing some services for free. Whether or not its free presentations or free technical support. I don't feel it interferes with charging, but agree wholeheartedly that its better than discounting.

I typically maintain 5-10 simultaneous paying clients, and that's just kind of a maxium on how much I can divide my attention and still provide great service. But, having a large client list is very beneficial for references, word of mouth, or even just the casual, "you worked with them". So, any service, I can handle via a telephone call or email in 10-30min, is free; given with a smile, and a please call again.

Many call back, and provide us with numerous opportunities to convert them to paying clients, without a hard sale. I even provide referrals. I find it builds good will. Stating that you don't have time, the projects too large or too small, or whatever, goes over better with a few names, phone numbers, and some basic info about the type of service they might receive.

I've always called it service. Whe your working with people and providing them a service, I feel like you owe it to them and yourself to provide the best service possible; free or paid. Sometimes that means referring out, sometimes that means giving it away, and other times that means getting paid. All three actions build your wealth, because they build your reputation and establish a professional history.

Chris Conroy

I believe that people are beginning to see a business as a part of the community - especially small businesses. Where larger business can make a big splash, smaller businessed can have significant and sometimes more real impact.

We've done pro bono (and discounted) work for several years. It gives us a chance to work with organizations whose mission/values are in line with ours. We feel good about our work and they get to reach out to a larger audience with their message.

We recently started a program in which non-profits can apply to have us do a project in the upcoming year. You can find out more at


I've been giving it away on usenet for many years. (and of course, that old chestnut about usenet being like an elephant with diarrhea was the first thing that came to mind seeing this post). Of course, I get 10x more from usenet than I give to it, so there is an obvious economic payback. It even led to jobs when people needed my skills and I was obviously skilled, didn't even have to tech-interview. But it didn't help worth shit when I needed a job after the dot-bomb.

Kevin Bjorke

Actually, we have a whole department devoted to that: and I think some of our competition does too, but not to the same degree

We *do* see a win, the vendors that drive our end-consumer market almost always look to us first for guidance, and we stay involved with them and with academia so that all of our knowledge expands. very win-win imo

Michael R. Janapin

I'm a professor here in the Philippines and I share the same principle with you. Thank you very much for helping us get over the crippling _you_have_to_pay_me_ mentality given us by commercialization. :-)

Craig Strachan

What do you think of the idea of "giving it away", but presenting a 100% discounted invoice. IE: You give it away, but whoever is getting the free service/product etc is seeing the value of what it is worth - since many belive that you "get what you pay for"?

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