What’s In It for You?

Earlier this week, I was talking with an interesting guy whom I’ve never met, but with whom I’m spoken before by phone a few times. We were talking about some materials he wrote. I’ve reviewed other things of his, and I’m writing about a shared subject next week, so I had asked if I could have a look at some samples of the materials so I could review them.

We talked about a variety of topics, and then he asked me a question that surprised me considerably: “What’s in it for you?”

I was taken aback. I review lots of stuff and write about lots of people. Sometimes, of course, I get paid for it, so that’s something in it for me. Sometimes I get free things which may or may not turn out to be useful or enjoyable. But mostly, I don’t think about that. I’m just doing my job.

Earlier that afternoon, I’d been talking with one of the designers I work with about a project we have in the works. He was giving me an estimate, but as we talked he said, “You know, if you need this one as a favor…”

“No, no,” I said, “I want the designers I work with to love working with me.”

I also had a request from one of the online publications I write for to review an article slated for publication, and of course I happily did it, with no suggestion on either side that any particular benefit should accrue. Earlier in the week, a website asked me to try something out, and offered me a payment for trying it, as a thank you gift.

What kind of business is this, I began to think, in which people offer each other free stuff with no strings attached, and in which people sometimes insist on paying anyway?

The internet, that’s what.

Lots of stuff on the internet is free. It’s a truism of social media that you should strive to promote others more than you promote yourself. Good stuff, online, flows freely like water and we all share it, splashing when appropriate and carefully building conduits when that works better.

In the long run, this benefits us all. Certainly, we all know of internet start ups that began with no particular plan for monetization, and then became highly lucrative. We all know of individuals who share the goodness just for the sake of enthusiasm for a particular subject, and end up with a book contract or other professional benefit. And we all know — and share — cool free stuff all over the web, some of which eventually begins to cost us money.

So I was able to provide an answer to the nice guy with whom I was conversing, without suggesting that he just didn’t understand the customs of my people. Here are the benefits of altruism on the web:

  • Networking Relationships are part of business online just as much as offline. There are probably lots of other people out there writing good materials that I don’t know about because I’ve never heard of the authors. This guy came into my ken through a job, but I remembered him because I like him and I like his stuff. The more people you encounter and benefit in your online travels, the more your network grows.
  • More networking This guy is a client of a client of mine. What’s good for that client, as I explained over the phone, is good for me. So there’s an indirect benefit. A rising tide may not lift all boats, but it lifts all the boats in my particular marina. I share water (am I taking this metaphor too far?) with boats in other marinas and indeed in other marine ecosystems, but online networks are certainly larger than those in the physical world.
  • Visibility The blog where I’m doing this review had visitors this month from 51 U.S. regions and 105 countries. The guy whose stuff I’m reviewing lives in my state and self-publishes his materials. I bet that some of my visitors will learn something new from my review.  This will increase the value of the blog, and by extension, the value of my work. It’s not too much more of an extension to say that this can increase the value of my business.

I’ve written about a related matter, specifically about giving other sites outbound links, in “Outbound Links, Abundance, and Cake.”






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