One weird trick for making more money


A great question came in from Hannah:

How do you determine which parts of your business you want to share for “free” (templates, etc) as part of your “authority/expertise” and which parts are considered IP that you sell or use for work?

I worry that my answer to this question is going to come across as simplistic.

Answer: the goal is to grow your expertise to a point where you can give 100% of it away, and have the giving-away move you into a better rather than worse position with respect to your clients, prospects, and the industry you serve.

Of course, there’s a bit of nuance underneath that rather broad declaration.

A few examples are helpful as we think this through.

1) Check out Simon Wardley (thank you, Stephen for your repeat urging that I check him out; I finally get what’s great about Simon and his work).

Simon gives away 100% of his IP.

You’ll observe him saying, via his Twitter account (, that he gives away his IP because there are things that are more interesting than money. What he leaves unsaid (that I would add) is that making his IP 100% free enables easier access to money for him, and it is the privilege of those who are reasonably well-supplied with money to say “there are more interesting things than money”. 🙂

Simon does have a point though, and I think his very free release and assertive distribution of his thinking and frameworks (IP) is part of what makes him able to say “there are more interesting things than money”.

Does he mean it? Probably. 🙂

A few places you can start investigating how Simon freely distributes his IP:

2) Jonathan Stark is another great example of “it’s mostly all free because these free things form breadcrumbs that lead you back to a monetization point that you may eventually act on, and even if you don’t ever pay me, the free things support my mission of ridding the world of the cancer of hourly billing.” (Obviously I’m inventing what I think Jonathan would say, but I think I’m pretty close here.)

Jonathan has very helpfully segregated free and paid stuff into 2 indexes on his site, and studying what’s going on there is a really good use of your time in understanding how to approach giving away IP:

3) David Baker is a great example of “I publish a TON of free stuff, but some of the core IP is proprietary for… reasons (probably that you can’t effectively interpret or apply it on your own, but it could be more mundane stuff like the difficulty of anonymizing the corpus of data the IP comes from because it’s a very large corpus of data).”

A metaphor here for David’s approach is 23andme. If you sent them a saliva sample and then they sent back only the raw findings of the DNA test, it would be useless to most of us. We wouldn’t know how to interpret that data because were not experts in genetics.

Here’s David elaborating on this idea of data, and the reasons you might keep it proprietary: The talk is excellent and well worth your attention.

I think those 3 examples are very informative. Do check them out.

Again, I’m urging you to grow your expertise to a point where you can give 100% of it away, and create a dynamic where the giving-away moves you into a better rather than worse position with respect to your clients, prospects, and the industry you serve.

Here’s what will happen if you make this your goal:

  1. You will flee areas of skill commoditization because these are the areas where giving away your IP weakens your position with respect to your clients.
  2. You will seek to align your expertise with where your clients want to go rather than where they are now or where they have been because focusing on an improved future state creates a dynamic where giving away your IP strengthens your position with respect to your clients.
  3. If your focus in #2 above is significantly far ahead of where your prospects/clients are now, you will seek to self-commoditize parts of your expertise via IP so that your clients can do for themselves the parts of the journey that you would rather not be distracted with doing with or for them. (This explains why I have put so much time into this:

I said that your goal is to be able to give away 100% of your expertise. I really mean this, but I also want to assure you that if your expertise is relevant to your clients, and it helps lead them into a better future state, you will never lack for opportunity to get paid to apply your expertise. You can give all of the IP away and have a better business than before.

Plenty of people will want an experience that helps them apply your expertise. You might apply it through consulting, group experiences like workshops, training, and so on. When this happens, the value is created through a combination of the expertise and your care that the expertise produces the best possible results for your clients in their specific context. That’s how you design good experiences that clients will pay for: answer the question “how can I best help clients in a particular situation with a particular budget be more successful in applying my expertise?”

And to be clear, you should monetize the crap out of experiences that directly involve your care, your customization of the IP, or your help in applying the IP.

I hope my POV on this question is evident, and I do realize it’s a POV that is only relevant to indie consultants (bioweapons engineers: please ignore this advice!). In true burying the lede fashion, here it is in crystalline form:

Give away 100% of your IP at all times; if that does or would harm your business, change your business into one that benefits from giving away the IP.

Or, in more conventional news headline form:

Consultant Gives Away 100% of Valuable IP, Makes Lots of Money Anyway

Or, in clickbait headline form:

One weird trick that allows this consultant to give everything away and still make a top 1% income

Alright, enough horsing around with headlines. I think you get the point (of view). Thanks for the excellent question, Hannah.

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,