[IMGCAP(1)]“Why should I give free advice?” That’s a question we sometimes hear when we advise clients to blog, answer questions in public forums and generally offer professional insight to their audiences.

It’s a reasonable query, since these educated folks are seeking strategies that can help them become more profitable. Doesn’t it seem a bit illogical to hand out information for free, when their goal is to earn more money?

It’s not that they’re simply selfish, either—most of the individual CPAs and accounting firms we meet are committed to volunteer efforts and charitable giving that benefits the less fortunate among their communities. They just don’t see the direct connection between giving free advice and firm growth. That’s understandable, but the connection is there and it’s a strong one. From a purely self-interested standpoint, here are three solid reasons it pays to give of your knowledge:

Building respect: When you share professional insight—whether through original articles, informative content ghostwritten by others or answering direct questions in a social media setting—you’re establishing yourself as a knowledgeable expert and a resource to those who need information. Your name becomes associated in the minds of those who see it with expertise and a willingness to help out. Those are two perceptions with obvious benefit. If you found yourself with an unmet need that required specific knowledge and skills, wouldn’t a helpful expert you know of be the first person you turned to?

Building relationships: One of social media’s strengths is its multidirectional nature. It’s not like traditional advertising, where you are talking to an audience who has no ability to respond. Your content invites interaction, inspiring comments and initiating real conversation with colleagues and potential clients, among others. Your helpful explanations to those with questions are personal. A reference library is incredibly useful, but lacks the interpersonal satisfaction of a conversation on social media (or anywhere else). And again, when it’s time to fill a need, turning to the person you’ve come to know is the logical choice.

Reciprocity: Sharing tips, advice and information is no different from any other kind of gift. It is recognized and appreciated as such by those who need or benefit from it as well. Most human beings are reciprocal by nature, which means that your offerings and friendly interaction inspires not just goodwill and appreciation, but also a desire to reach out to you in response. That can come in the form of greater engagement on your chosen platform but often also translates to an almost automatic assumption that you will be the chosen service provider, should a need arise. At the very least, you will be among those seriously considered and explored for the right fit.

Giving professional advice and information in a social media context must be handled carefully, of course. It would be neither responsible nor sensible to offer the same depth and detail in that venue that you would to an established client. Staying within the boundaries of ethics and logic, however, you can still make significant contributions that will pay off handsomely in terms of the reputation you build, the relationships you create and, ultimately, the number of new clients who seek your services.

Sarah Warlick is content director at bbr marketing.

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