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How Much Information Should You Give Away?

As you become known as a freelance writer you’ll find people ask you all sorts of questions.

Most people asking are simply curious and quickly tire of the topic.

But once in a while you’ll run into someone who is picking your brain for information to use in their own business.

How much information should you give away?

I wish there were an absolute and simple answer, but I’ve never found one. Instead I feel my way through.

Here are some of the things I consider:

How much time do I have to answer the question? If I’m jammed for time and someone calls with questions about freelance writing I’ll tell them I’m short of time and suggest they search the site.

On the other hand, if I need a break or have some time I’ll often chat a bit and answer at least a few of their questions.

Is there a way I an also use the answer? If you follow this blog you know I answer questions about freelance writing in blog posts. When someone emails me a question I often answer it quickly and then do a more complete answer in a blog post.

If a writer or would be writer calls I do roughly the same thing – answer briefly and then use their question here with a longer answer.

Is answering this question a part of my desire to be of service? Being of service is something I truly want to be. That desire is also part of my consideration about questions.

It shows up most often when folks call about ghostwriting a book. Many of them have absolutely no idea how much such a venture can cost them, nor do they have any conception of the process. Even when I figure out I’ll never make a nickle from them I try to leave them knowing more about the process than when they contacted me.

For example, I often send a non-disclosure agreement and suggest that they can use it with any ghostwriter they eventually work with. I also suggest a book or two and even gift the occasional person with one of my own ebooks.

When it feels like too much. I tend to trust people’s good intentions and even so, from time-to-time I get the sense I’m being pumped for information. Sometimes I’ll simply ask how they are planning to use what I’m telling them. Based on their answer I may continue or I may simply say something like, “… you know, you can certainly hire me to help you…”

I’ve actually been hired once or twice because I made a comment like that. Mostly, however, the person apologizes, thanks me and we disconnect on reasonably friendly terms.

How do you handle requests for too much free information?


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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • I tend to give away as little information as possible, I am not very trusting as I have had bad experiences in the past.

  • I know it’s a bit less clear cut for freelancers, but as a publicist I can’t tell you how often people ask for “a phone chat” in which I answer many questions for them and then they disappear. I’ve been in business long enough that my knowledge is worth money. If it’s a simple questions or two and I can answer easily by email, I do so – in the spirit of generosity. Otherwise, I point them to my website where I have a “phone consultation” and an “email consultation” option which they can choose and pay my fee. There are definitely people out there who will take advantage and this has stopped a lot of them.

    • Carol, sounds more or less what I do. I know way back when, when I sold real estate it was the same thing… how much info to give away.

  • “When it feels like too much. I tend to trust people’s good intentions and even so, from time-to-time I get the sense I’m being pumped for information. Sometimes I’ll simply ask how they are planning to use what I’m telling them.”

    This is true. Some people are just there to gather information without any real use. But the question is, should I deny him knowledge because of his lack of desire? Well, I might!
    Ron’s Copywriting Blog recently posted..Cause Marketing For Better Brand AwarenessMy Profile

    • Yeah, Ron, it’s a judgement call no matter how you slice it.

  • I face this issue, too, Anne. Often questions come from new freelancers so I’ll point them to a helpful resource either on my blog or another blog I read. If I don’t have the answer, then I’ll send a holding email saying that I’ll answer it on the blog – that way everyone can benefit. If I feel that I’m doing a consultation for free, then I’ll mention my rates – that usually either ends the questions or results in a commission.

    • Sounds like we approach this in roughly the same way, Sharon… not surprised 😉

  • There does seem to be a grey area about providing helpful information and actually giving so much help that you end up doing someone’s job for them. I suppose you have to be careful that people do not try and take advantage of your generosity.
    Victoria @ My Daily Cuppa recently posted..Time for Reflection and New Years ResolutionsMy Profile

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