Skip to main content

The question

I am a mid-career, self-employed copywriter and I’m often approached by acquaintances and aspiring writers to sit down for coffee so they can pick my brain. I feel guarded about offering knowledge and contacts that have taken me a decade of making mistakes and lived experience to acquire. The industry is competitive and I feel the need to protect the way I do business in order to stay in business. Am I wrong for having this attitude? How can I field these requests without coming off like a jerk to others in the industry?

The first answer

Billy Anderson, founder, the Courage Crusade, Toronto: As a business owner, I often get this, too. It reminds me of the people who helped me when I was starting out.

Do you have time to help these people? If not, stop doing it. Do you want to help them? While helping others feels great, I believe that anything we do in our lives for free needs to feel exciting and/or rewarding in some way. Otherwise, we’re not effective at it. If it’s someone you want to help, decide how much time you’re willing to invest: a quick e-mail with some tips, a few links to articles or blogs for them to do their own research, or a phone call or coffee if you’re keen.

Story continues below advertisement

While I have no problem giving away advice based on my experience, I do not share my IP (intellectual property) for free and I’m also hesitant to share my contacts. I often say, “I’m sorry but I don’t refer anyone who I don’t know personally or haven’t worked with.”

I would try to worry less about “protecting” your business in order to stay in business. I believe if we work hard, continue to hone our expertise and treat people well, life (and business) works out.

If people are coming to you for advice, that’s a potential business opportunity. You could create an article, short book, or online course to sell your advice. Then you can refer those resources to the people you’re less keen to talk to.

And if anyone in your industry thinks you’re a “jerk” for being strategic with your time and expertise, they don’t know much about running a business.

The second answer

Eileen Chadnick, principal, Big Cheese Coaching, Toronto: I understand your need to stay competitive, but I’d challenge your assumption that to do so means you must withhold offering advice to others.

You’ve worked hard over the years. You’ve established relationships and have likely built a reputation for good work. A little generosity with others shouldn’t compromise your success. It might even bolster it.

High achievers (including those in freelance and traditional career contexts) don’t go it alone. They network, they share, and they connect with others in a give-and-take reciprocal manner. In fact, many professions have associations that facilitate this.

Story continues below advertisement

This doesn’t mean you share all your trade secrets and contact list but there must be some advice you can offer, such as how to build a portfolio, develop a niche, approach business prospects, etc.

Being generous can help you, too. It can raise your profile. And you never know when someone you’ve helped might circle back with their own goodwill. Perhaps they’ll someday be able to refer opportunities to you.

You don’t have to give it all away (time or knowledge). Be discerning. Set boundaries. Perhaps be more cautious with those who only take. If someone asks for coffee and you don’t have time, offer a brief phone chat instead. But do give what and when you can.

Your good work and relationships should continue to serve you well. Add a reasonable dose of generosity and you may find some surprising rewards – tangibly and/or with that good feeling that comes with giving back.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies