Recently, I ran into an acquaintance that is an aspiring inventor, and asked how her product development was going.  The last time we had seen each other she was very excited and upbeat; she was scheduled to meet with someone from an organization that provides free business advice.  Yes…she knows I’m a professional business advisor…but she didn’t feel it was the right stage to talk with me.  I was completely shocked to find out at our recent encounter that she had abandoned her projects as a result of the “free” advice she had been given.


Her experience is not all that unusual but nonetheless disheartening.  She did not get to have a face-to-face conversation with the so-called expert that was assigned to her.  She told him about her pending patents, which he promptly looked up and reviewed on the Internet.  He told her that he was extensively experienced with patents and that hers would never make it.  She told me that he had been incredibly rude to her over the phone, completely ripped her idea apart, and recommended that she not pursue things further.  Unfortunately, that is exactly what she did.


When she told me her story, I was irritated that she had been treated so rudely but intrigued by her invention, and so I began asking questions.  I was curious whether she had made a prototype, tested it, gotten feedback, etc.  Of course, she had done all of these things and gotten rave reviews–before her “free” advice.  Then I began asking other questions: Did she want to commercialize independently? License her technology to a related producer? Collaborate with someone working on related products/technology?


I could see the spark of renewed excitement in her as we spoke and told her what she had been through was not uncommon.  I’ve heard many similar stories, including people who have made a good living at a side business and were ready to go to the next level being told that it would never work and was not a viable business.  


As a professional business advisor, I grapple everyday with the question of “free advice.  If I give too much for “free,” then people may not see value in paying for my services, but if I worry about holding back, then I can’t make a true connection with someone.  I try not to just give answers but discuss possibilities to choose from.  Usually, an-off-the-cuff answer in conversation is no more than an opinion.  In my mind, opinions are like…..bellybuttons…. everyone’s got one! 


In the end, I know that I just need to always keep my mind and my heart open to opportunities for expanding my knowledge and resources and share them with others when I can.   


So what is the real price of “free”?  For my friend, it was months of wasted time and feeling negative about herself and her ideas.  Seems like a pretty high price to pay!


P.S. I’m working on making some connections for her with folks that use similar technologies.  Stay tuned for her success stories!

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Comment by Donna Walker on January 18, 2012 at 3:23pm

Beth, thanks for sharing about this experience. She is lucky to have you as a friend and advisor. Keep being your authentic self.

Donna :)

Comment by Michael Erwin on December 29, 2011 at 9:03pm

Great thoughts, Beth!  Find a lot of people in my industry that get "free" advice from experts only to find there were much better options that would've put them much further down the road they wanted to be on.

Comment by Marty Lee on December 22, 2011 at 3:44pm

That's why we need people like you Beth, glad you are a part of EOK :) Looking forward to her success story!

Comment by Frank Podlaha on December 19, 2011 at 8:52pm

The are definitely a lot of "bellybuttons" out there.  Can't wait to hear the rest of the story.

Comment by Leonard Knight on December 19, 2011 at 6:52pm

Great article! Thanks for sharing!


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