When I was in college, one of my favorite places to study was deep in the lesser-used stacks of my college library. Just being surrounded by towers of books somehow made me feel smarter.
Remembering that environment reminds me that there are no secrets in libraries. I could walk down an aisle and open a random book, and it would willingly offer me any knowledge contained within.
What if your business were more like a library? Imagine being willing to share everything you’ve learned from your years of experience and allowing your customers — even your competitors — to benefit from your insights. How do you think your business and customers would change?
Understandably, there are certain aspects of your business that shouldn’t be shared with everyone. Trade secrets should remain within a company’s walls, but I’d argue most of what makes your company unique — strategy, breakthrough ideas, processes — should be shared with the world.
Allowing your business to become more transparent doesn’t mean you need to start working for free. I have established limits on how much time I’ll give someone to share my insights. At some point, we will cross a threshold when it’s clear that to use more of my time or expertise, it’s appropriate for this person to become a customer. Until then, I make it my goal to be as generous and helpful as I can.
I do this because there are social and business benefits from giving away what we know, but also because I think it’s fun and rewarding to help other people.
Ultimately, open sourcing your ideas:
Creates trust. Transparency builds trust with your customers. Let your customers see your business operations. Give them details on how an idea is developed and eventually transformed into a solution. Let them see when you’re struggling, as well as what you’re doing to overcome the challenges. This is not easy, but your customers will learn to trust you as they gain understanding of what you do to deliver on your brand’s promise.
Builds your brand. Sharing your expertise with more people helps grow your brand. By providing value and sharing your ideas with everyone, you automatically widen your reach beyond your current customers. When you create real value through education, you build your reputation as an expert, and you become the go-to company in your field.
If you’re concerned with ROI, consider this: Giving away ideas is another form of marketing, and the positive brand equity you build by sharing information is often worth more than the intrinsic value of those strategies, processes, and ideas.
Nourishes your soul. If for no other reason, share your company’s expertise with others because it will make you feel good. You didn’t get where you are today without the help of others. Ask the individuals who have helped you in life and business how they felt when they met you for coffee and gave you advice. Each person will tell you that sharing advice and information is one of the most fulfilling professional roles you can experience. Don’t waste time — reach out to someone who needs your counsel, and let her in on everything that makes your business great.
Too often, business leaders feel like they must maintain a competitive advantage, and therefore, they’re unable to share any kind of information related to their companies’ success. This view leads to isolation and shuts you and your company off from the network of connections you need to succeed.
When building your company, don’t guard your ideas with fear and suspicion; create a place where information and ideas are shared freely. It would take many lifetimes to read every book in the library and absorb all that knowledge. The same holds true for your business: No one’s going to become you just because you shared your insights. And if sharing your ideas for a few hours each month is enough for someone to steal your secrets, then they were never that great to begin with.
Josh Cramer is the founder and CEO of Cramer Development, a word-class Web and mobile application development company that helps clients create new businesses and products through ideation and technical services.