How do you share information in forums such as this one without compromising your market edge or your trade secrets?
I responded to another question that I felt was digging too deep into the way I run my business, I felt that by providing the level of detail that was asked, I would be giving too much away.
Here are my stands: "this is a place where we can help people and help ourselves at the same time".
When we attempt to advise people with good fate, we will become better on what we are advising, because we have more chance to practise our knowledge and brush up our skills while we also help people to solve problem. Thus win-win situation. Practice makes perfect, this is a place for improvement.
Yes, I also acknowledge the fact that we are afraid to have trade secret leak out ... But the brutal fact is that if the few wordings written in here or forum will bring about business disadvantage on our side, than we need to seriously look at how why our unique core values are so vulnerable, do we really able to compete in the first place?
Never be afraid of sharing.
When people ask questions and they do not know the answer they basically are looking for professionals to work with. If someone does not know something they usually do not intend to learnt it. They ask for finding the most compatible person with the right expertise and fitting style. Within a business, they already have their place. Their time is full of with whatever they doing. Sharing your knowledge with them won't do you harm. It only shows how adequate your expertise is.
Thinking of loosing clients or business over knowledge sharing is the #1 self-esteem enemy of the business people. Sharing your knowledge is the best marketing you can ever do. Article marketing and forum based marketing are amongst the most attractive marketing types at the moment. People get to know you. They get a feel how you think how you work. More information you share more people can see that you can be the best expert for a job.
If you feel you could share more information than you feel comfortable with without charging for it then start a consultancy and offer your service for a price. Say: this and this much I share with you now and if you are interested, here is my website/email/phone number call me and we can schedule an appointment. It works all the time :)
For me, basically, I could tell you every tool we use, every scan we take, and every step in development we take... but it wont be enough. You have to know what do do with the tools. It's the experience that counts, and that is something you can help people with, but wouldn't give away.
I can explain to you how to fly a plane in 2 minutes... but I wouldn't get in there with you until you have practised at least 50 hours... you see the difference?
You have received a lot of very good answers on this topic and I agree with almost all of them. Mostly I agree that in order to gain knowledge we must share it. I don’t think that there are that many real “trade secrets” left, only very good ideas! And there is nothing wrong with sharing concepts. While you would always keep your client information and company information confidential, sharing good business practices can only enhance our ever changing business climate.
At the end of the day business is business and you share what you are comfortable with.
I personally look at these forums as helping each other and learning from each other, and if my response can add value for just one person I am happy.
I was always told, that no matter what your secret is, telling it will never compromise what you are doing. Because no two people do things the same way and get the same results. So helping someone understand a process is not taking your edge away...because there is enough candy for everyone to share. Your customers know you and their customers know them and unless they are next door or in the same building, even under cutting their prices will never produce the same results as yours. quality is quality.
I treat these forums as places to share ideas. I do not believe most ideas in the group are new or are that original. Comments to questions that I read help me see where people are and how they respond to different situations.
If someone has developed a new product or idea that needs protected, then they shouldn't share on a forum. However, that is at the discretion of the individual. All this to say, I basically agree with what Walter Wise has said.
If your market position is that fragile, then you're doing something wrong. You don't have to share what's in the secret sauce, but transparency goes a pretty long way to building up your credibility in the market, both with your clients and your competitors.
Read any of the 37 Signals books or Jack Stack's "Great Game of Business" and you soon realize that keeping it all to yourself kind of kills innovation.
I believe in the law of reciprocity however trade secrets are not to be shared. Your time researching and educating yourself to support those in need is called "value".....and "price" is what is paid for it. Conduct your business with integrity with intent to "help others" and your business will take care of its self.
Next time someone asks sensitive questions, ask them "why do you feel that information is important?"
For me, each case is different. I'd need to know a lot more information before I could answer a question with more detail.