Your mother probably told you never to sell the family silver: the bowl with your coat of arms lovingly etched on the side, the flatware with your family initials beautifully engraved on the shafts. In the professional services world, there’s a similar feeling about a firm’s proprietary insights and methodologies. Never give them away. Keep them close.
Some professionals fear that describing their methodology too precisely in an article, white paper or presentation would equip the reader to do it himself. And then why would they or their firm be needed? So they think that if they stop short of telling the reader how to fix his problem (or exploit his opportunity) himself, he may call them for help (which of course is not free). We hear these arguments less perhaps than in the past, but we still hear them. This is wrong-headed. Holding back on what you know, in particular, what you know better than your competitors, is a mistake. Here are five reasons why:
- No one will read your material if it doesn’t tell the reader what to do. Busy executives read business journals to find out how to solve their problems – they can get the news from the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal.
- If an article has no promise of a solution, there is no reason for them to read it. If it seduces with a promise of one but doesn’t deliver it the reader, whose time has just been wasted, will become (justifiably) irritated.
- If you don’t tell the reader how to solve his problem, someone else will. With the internet at his fingertips almost every waking moment, the busy executive can find real help in a fraction of a second. Your unhelpful article (really, a marketing pitch for your services) will be quickly forgotten.
- If your recommendations are so easy to implement that writing them down obviates the service, perhaps they really aren’t worth so very much. If on the other hand, you give genuine insights on difficult and complex topics, there will always be some readers who will need help to exploit them.
- The reader will suspect that perhaps you don’t know the topic as well as him and have nothing to teach him. The reader will likely be right. We know that the reader’s suspicion is likely well-founded because at Rhetoriq we spend all our time vetting story ideas and helping people develop and publish those with potential. All too often, would-be authors think they have a more publishable idea than they actually do. A common problem is that they aren’t able to tell their readers what to do differently and better to achieve the benefits they promise. They hide behind empty generalities (“communicate broadly”; “implement a robust system”; “execute diligently”) and generic methodologies (“Assess, Design, Implement, Monitor”).
Readers aren’t stupid — would-be authors certainly aren’t when they are wearing readers’ shoes. We can all tell when this is happening. We know a lack of substance is much more likely to conceal a dearth of insight than a magic repository of acumen. So don’t listen to Mom. If you are fortunate enough to have family silver, polish it up and share it with anyone who might make good use of it.
They will thank you for it. They might even call.