The Bitch Slap: Theory vs. Teaching

Bitch Slap Theory vs TeachingBefore your undies get in a bunch, the two winners of Carol Roth’s “The Entrepreneur Equation” are at the end of this post. Scroll if you must.


On Wednesday, we featured a killer how-to post on how to make your Facebook Fan Page appear as your employer in the new Facebook layout. Step-by-step instructions. Michelle, the author, even told people to ping her online and that she’d so Skype sessions with people to help walk them through. Folks, right there is awesomesauce and you need to spread that shit on your professional like truffle butter. Why?

Because as we discussed, that is ground-level kinda shit.

Yesterday, the monthly SOBCon twitter chat (transcript link) had me as their guest to discuss online strategy. What do you need to consider when you’re looking to establish one? How often should you review one? And then the inevitable question came: do you have any examples of an online strategy? What do you use during your research phase to build the strategy?

And here’s the Bitch Slap: that information is mine, mine, mine.

I am a giver to a fault. A generous partner in a relationship and I have historically given away entirely too much for free in my professional life. But here’s the rub: I’ve spent my entire career developing strategies, methods, tricks and fancy-schmancy little things that help me get my job done – and I’d be a blithering idiot if I just teed that stuff up for the taking by the masses for free.

Think about every keynote speaker you’ve seen at a conference. Brene Brown gives an incredible TED talk on vulnerability. She’s a research professor at the University of Houston and has more letters after her name than a reproductive endocrinologist. Mad street cred. Mad skills. But in her entire presentation, she doesn’t give you the HOW. Nor does she offer you a one-on-one counseling session (though she’s waaaaay credentialed to do so). She’s teeing up some pretty powerful theory.

If you want to learn how to do something so that it is:

  • tailored specifically for your needs
  • relevant to your nuances
  • repeatable and scalable according to your goals

that is going to require some teaching. And as a rule, my friends, that teaching isn’t free. I would be be dumbest of the dumb among businesspeople if I hosted a one-hour webinar called “How to Build an Integrated Marketing Strategy.” There’s no way I could do it and be useful without giving you a metric ass ton of my intellectual property. So here’s where we sit down and talk about things you have that people need to pay for and things that people can reasonably assume are available somewhere for free.

Theory is Free, Teaching Ain’t

Wanna know what I think? I’ll tell ya. You don’t even have to buy me coffee. But you need to do one thing today: you need to have a clear understanding in your professional life of where to draw the line on “theory.” I’ll tell a how I do it:

  • If I’m telling you some things to do that you can find on Google or are solely my thoughts about a subject, that’s theory.
  • If I’m telling you how to do something that’s a result of my research, my experience and my processes, that’s teaching.

Fremium as a business model is bullshit and you’re going to be stuck in the second job at Starbucks rut if you keep giving the milk away for free. And if you keep trolling the interwebz and your local professional events in search of people who will tell you how to blow your business out of the water for free, you’re an asshole. I will call you out, deny you that cup of coffee and tell you that my brain and time have price tags attached to them.

But that doesn’t make me an asshole. It makes me profitable. And it also keeps people who want to spin me through some gauntlet-type proving ground before hiring me from wasting my time.

A Bit on Intellectual Property and Proprietary Information

This will be short. Me? I have a little penchant for the carbonated bevvies. Fresca. Coke Zero. Yes, yes, I love them even though I know they will cause me cancer or make me rot in nine ways. Here’s the power of intellectual property and proprietary information: I can’t pick up the phone and call Coca Cola and say, “Hey! I just love Coke Zero. Can you send me the recipe?” Alex, I’m going to take “Shit that Doesn’t Happen for $500.” And that’s all you need to know about setting expectations on getting intellectual property and proprietary information for free.

U Can Haz Value

So stop it. And please, stop it right fucking now. Mom was right about a lot of things, and if you put out on the first date, the guy probably isn’t coming back for more of anything other than the free, good stuff. What you do and how you do things has value and if you’re going to be successful at whatever you endeavor to undertake in business (and life) you need to place appropriate values on your time and property. And there are ways to do it.

  • Proposal processes: Christ on a cracker, a proposal process shouldn’t take eons. How can you stop the bleeding of time and energy spent on earning business and start making clients shit or get off the pot sooner?
  • Pick your brain session: I won’t let you put your finger in my nose, so why am I letting you stick it in my brain and dig around? It’s super fun to get together for drinks and coffee, but draw the line on the time and information you share for free.
  • Lower your expectations: You don’t walk into Nordstroms and expect to walk out with a bag of free clothing. Why do you walk into free webinars and bitch when you leave with a bunch of theory?
  • Open your #$%^&*(!  wallet: Back to Nordie’s – free samples at the cosmetics counter are theory. A full makeover session complete with eye cream, moisturizer, eyeshadow, mascara and a firming masque is teaching. For the dudes, Grand Theft Auto on your Playstation is theory. Getting behind the wheel of a tricked out Porsche on a racetrack and moving it around without killing yourself? Requires some teaching. We are all teachers in some regard and we all deserve to be paid.

So that’s it, my monkays. Establish barriers to entry for your time, expertise and intellectual property. Mama didn’t raise no fool and nobody want to be the easy girl at prom. And maybe you’re the person looking for the easy girl. Well, that’s fine. But if I have anything to say about it, some of those legs will be closing up and you’re going to have a tougher time finding the business poon.

You’ve been slapped.


And now, the winners of the two copies of Carol Roth’s “The Entrepreneur Equation.”

Devon Jordan, CEO and Founder of Epsilon Nu Tau at Cal State University Fullerton, the nation’s first (and maybe only?) entrepreneur fraternity. I’m sending him a copy of the book so that it can get put on collegiate reading lists and we can start finding the right business path earlier in our intellectual careers.

Ben Anderson, who’s looking to put an end to being a serial job searcher (a feeling I can relate to oh so well). Hopefully,the book will help him hone-in on where his real niche is and put him on a path of charging The Man instead of working for him!

If you’re a winner, please use the contact form on my site to send me your information no later than Sunday, February 20. If I don’t receive your information by then, I’ll award alternate winner.

72 replies
  1. Kellie J. Walker
    Kellie J. Walker says:

    Congrats Devon and Ben!

    I so appreciate this post, Erika. My cheek is going to be sore and red for a few hours, but that’s ok. I’ve had a sense that there was a line somewhere that I instinctively knew not to cross when it came to freebies. But, I’ve never been able to articulate exactly where the line was and why. Now, I don’t have to. ‘Cause you just did it for me.

    Hey, guys! Erika did my homework for me. Who’s up for early recess?


    Hugs and happy Friday!

  2. Ken Brand
    Ken Brand says:

    I’m concerned about your Fresca consumption. I image it’s killed your taste buds, how else coud you swallow that stuff? Other than that, the good news is, it has no discernible effect on your bitch-slap supremeness. Rock on. Except for the Fresca.

  3. @keithprivette
    @keithprivette says:

    Ok Erika were you issued the only copy of the Spot On Encyclopedia? Your posts the last several months have been so rich with actionable content, that you may be putting into play a whole new context of business people. Which is a good thing! I think I may have to pick up Carol’s book. As always such a pleasure to stop by and read your blog!

    Hey Kellie wait for me!

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Wow-it’s 7:35 a.m. in Los Angeles, and I’ve been bitch-slapped to last me through the weekend;.

    Love and agree with the boundaries caveats…one thing I’m on the fence about: I was consulting with a well-known blogger about giving “free” (in my case therapy) content away, but just enough to establish cred and pique interest so they’ll come back and eventually purchase. That was my position.

    Said person countered with, if you show how you do what you do in detail, ppl will be so blown away by your free stuff, they think “wow, if this is free, the paid booty must be even more awesome.”

    Love to hear your opinion, or anyone else’s on this matter.

    Thanks, Erika!

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      I don’t buy it, but I think the threshold is different for everyone. It has to be a level that you’re comfortable with and what you give away can’t in ANY way take away from your paid services. It’s one thing to pique their interest. It’s another to set unreasonable expectations.

    • brentter
      brentter says:

      FYI: catching up to all the blogs i love after taking an extended break from the social scene (including social media and other things) makes it hard to pick which of your bitch slaps to respond to. I know the last time i posted on your site I didn’t read what i typed so it ended up looking like I was calling you a bitch or something similar (which i think i was told about within a few hours by a very very angry friend of yours). But i do like your blog/posts….don’t always agree with you but hey, opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one and apparently I tend to show my ass when i don’t mean to in post responses more than most do.

      Hopefully this one will come off a little lighter though.. its advice my dad told me early on in life when i was trying to sell websites to local businesses and most were asking for me to make them stuff for free….well.. its actually a short story that i was instructed to tell them but its worked ever since i was 14.. including repeating it to some asshole last night on the phone. Never gets old. Use a car dealership as the example:
      “what if you owned a car dealership and asked me for the same thing – telling me that you’d add a link to your site and a bumper sticker with your contact info on your car, heck think about how many people would see that and hire you? Plus this is easy for you, it’d take no time at all!” Then tell em what your response would be: “fine, i’d love to make you the site, but how about instead you give me a brand new car for free in exchange for the work and i’ll keep your dealership tags on the back… everyone stuck behind me in traffic (i grew up in LA if that helps explain that part) will see i bought my car from YOU! they’d rush to buy new cars at your dealership after seeing how happy I was in my new ride and you’d be rolling in the cash.”

      Most of the time you’ll get the same response, “but the car would be worth more, I’d be losing money!” Then ask them how long do they think it’d take to make the site/content/product that they’re asking for and if I’d have to do any pre-planning before starting the actual work, or if I’d need other people working with me to complete it (they’re rarely if ever right or even close to the real answer, that or they’d say they straight up don’t know). Bingo. Briefly explain just how much actually goes into the work….If they start to try and continue their plee for free content tell them to fuck off or to realize how the triangle of business works…(another gem of advice probably already given on this site somewhere): You’ve got a triangle with three words, u have to pick two: quality, time, cost. Because if you want a ‘cheap’ site from me that isn’t what i’m quoting you it’s on the bottom of the to-do list, and i won’t put much effort into it nor would I put quality/expensive developers or designers on it. I’d find the cheapest way to get it done and it’d take a long time to get finished – so it’ll probably be pretty shitty compared to what you actually want (or have seen in the portfolio)… ohh and if u want it fast AND to be kick-ass: it’ll cost ya because it’d be a rush job with folks that already get paid pretty nice salaries/fees (if you’re working solo just remind them that’d mean you’d probably be working on their work when you should be focusing on another clients deliverables and they’re paying customers too). 

      Btw back to the triangle… i only say that because at an ad agency an old boss of mine actually drew one on a whiteboard when a potential client tried to low-ball the original offer… he left without giving us the business…. two months later they called and asked us to fix what the cheap company they hired had given them…no questions regarding the rates this time. That method is risky… but if you don’t need the work/client and feel ballsy it’s one hell of a way to convince someone your work is worth the price. Just don’t do it if you actually need their $ as it’s a coin flip whether the message will get through.

      As for my comment to the actual post by Erika:
      I offer free services, i rarely give them when asked….i.e. any ignite, a few non-profits who needed a way to collect donations, etc…I’m happy to help them. That’s why I offer. If you want something that I charge my clients for but you expect it for free you better be either a really good friend, dating me, or you’ve done the same for me in the past when I couldn’t afford whatever it was you do for a living. Otherwise here’s my rate for a formal RFP  based on your needs (yes i charge for rfp’s…project management is a job, not a social service. The smart ad agencies charge as well, it’s where i picked up the tip.. well, not all ‘smart’ ad agencies.. just usually the ones i like the most it seems).

      and thats my two cents/short-essay.
      hope it helps. Congrats if you found this 3 month old post and actually read even half of what I wrote.. I’m still working on the whole brevity concept when responding to folks when not on twitter.

      Erika – keep bitch slapping, people will either find help in the advice or learn to duck….most the time though they needed the slap to wake-up to reality (god knows i’ve been there many times in the last year).

  5. Sydney Owen
    Sydney Owen says:

    Sheer brilliance. As someone who’s going to be doing the no-pants dance in seven days, I actually did my first “yeah, it’s going to be $XXX for that” when someone asked me for something I had been doing for free, that they CAN’T Google… mentoring is one thing, giving shit away fo free is another. And part of it made me sad, but part of me was wicked happy about it – in that I’m starting off on the right foot with this whole “getting clients and figuring out what exactly I have to offer” kind of thing.

    Awesomesauce. Get down with your bad self.

  6. DanielleMiller
    DanielleMiller says:

    Hi Erika,

    Nice to ‘meet’ you. I always feel like I need to ‘introduce’ myself since you don’t me from the proverbial hole in the ground;), but I’ve been (take your pick here) following, fanning, stalking, lurking, peeping, wallflowering, and enjoying your awesomesauce for awhile.

    I just wanted to let you know how much this post resonated with me. Coming from a teaching background (like literally in the classroom for 10 years), I’m used to giving away the farm for nothing and I believe I’ve been slapped into next week (deservedly so!).

    I love how you differentiated between theory and teaching; and woe to me if I don’t freakin’ freakin’ apply it in my business.

    Thanks! Have a terrific weekend 🙂


  7. Jeff Gibbard
    Jeff Gibbard says:

    I don’t routinely curse online, though I have a filthy mouth IRL, but holy fuck you just bitch slapped that post.

    In many of the speaking engagements I’ve attended, or seen chatter about, people bitch that there wasn’t a step-by-step action item list. F-U pay me! The funny thing is, that without understand the theory, the “WHY” then no matter how granular the to-do list is, it won’t be effective.

    Perhaps one of the best things I’ve ever read: “Folks, right there is awesomesauce and you need to spread that shit on your professional like truffle butter.” MMMM….truffle butter!

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Oh, dear God, Erika, you are reading my mind, or maybe my inbox.

    I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at this attitude of entitlement in the era of “Thank you for helping us launch our site. Please contribute a thousand-word blog post every three hours. We will pay you $15.”

  9. Cassie
    Cassie says:

    GREAT post. I’m surprised at how many people want my brain, but don’t want to line my pockets in any way. If I provide you with ideas that will make you thousands (or millions over time), isn’t that worth something? If so, why are you balking? Love this. I’m sharing with my other entrepreneur buddies.

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    The bottom line? Every cost in business must be recovered. So, every hour that isn’t paid for is made up in the cost of another hour someplace else. Prospect “A” should not get a free ride on Client “B.” No free lunch… and no free plans, ideas or expertise. Nice work!

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      Ass, grass or cash – nobody rides for free. And given the availability of grass her in So CO, I think that leaves ass and cash. And I stopped putting out to get a gig a loooooooong time ago…thanks, Doyle!

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:


    From my perch (deep fried, with chips), I have stopped doing free webinars. I don’t sit down for tap your brain coffee with anyone other than friends. If I do sit down for coffee with someone, I am holding stuff back. Like the strategy.

    I had a thing semi-recently where I was brought in to pitch business. After all the signs of being able to pay, it turned out we were (gasp) five-digits away in overall price. I’ve seen this movie before: s/he’ll go with the cheaper provider, then ask her/himself why the work is so crappy.

    Good Times.

    Oh, and Great Post.

      • Anonymous
        Anonymous says:

        S/he: “Economy has treated us well. People need to start spending again.
        This brand wasn’t as much of a priority as our main brand, but it’s
        going to be this year. I just got back from visiting one of my three
        kids at a private college last week.” Not to mention the fact that the
        business model is borderline brilliant (just unknown, which is why I was
        invited in).

        Sadly, I discounted my rates, then offered another discount again if the
        whole package was purchased. That, still, led to an insurmountable gap.

        I’ve stopped beating myself up over this one: they’ll get what they pay for.

  12. Kristy Swanson
    Kristy Swanson says:

    Thank you ma’am, may I have another?
    I have been thinking about this concept a bunch lately, about how much “value” to offer at zero cost versus getting paid for my skills, brain, etc. I’m all about giving people big value–AND getting paid for it. Because I’m worth it, dammit.

    And I needed the reminder, because the emphasis out on the web to “offer free stuff!” can take over my brain sometimes. Everyone loves something for nothing, yet most of us don’t value something that we get for free–so I’m trying to think in terms of “added value” vs. “free stuff”. And yes, I’m charging for it. Thank you!

  13. Leon Noone
    Leon Noone says:

    G’Day Erika,
    In my “consulting to major multinationals” days, I had a little rule. If a company asked me to put in a proposal for a job I would say. “My fee is $200 an hour. I estimate that I’ll take, say, four hours to complete a proposal for you. However as it’s only a proposal at this stage, my fee to prepare will be $4oo not $800. However, if you decide to accept my proposal and give me the job, I’ll reduce the overall fee by the $400 you’ve already paid.” If the company didn’t agree, I didn’t submit a proposal.

    Interestingly enough, every single time that a company agreed and went ahead and paid for the proposal, I got the job.

    The problem is us. We have to believe that we’re “worth our hire.”

    Slap On!

    Best Wishes


  14. John Falchetto
    John Falchetto says:

    I will show you which tools to use but I won’t tell you how to build stuff with them unless you pay. Thanks Erika.
    Yep pay up if you want me to put out. Thanks for the slap you promised it earlier this week and as usual didn’t disappoint.

  15. Sheila Scarborough
    Sheila Scarborough says:

    During the SOBCon chat, I responded to the person who asked for a social media strategy example (she is a Web accessibility expert and an entrepreneur herself, by the way, and is the furthest thing from a moocher. Context is critical.)

    I gave her a link to a blog post I wrote about this, but I’ll summarize my standard strategy framework here:

    1) Who is your market?

    2) What sort of people are your customers?

    3) Where are they right now on the social Web (and where might they go in the near future?)

    4) How can you best engage with them there?

    That’s it. Have at it.

    Of course, answering those questions thoroughly and crafting an approach based on those answers means you’ll be billed at my normal consulting rates.

    But really, giving a basic framework in response to an innocent question during a business chat would not have been a bad move.

    All else you’ve said here re: valuing one’s hard-earned knowledge? Agree completely.

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      Hey there, Sheila. You know what’s great about Twitter chats? Bang-slash information shared in 140 characters. You know what sucks about Twitter chats? Bang-slash information shared in 140 characters.

      We had a huge technology fail yesterday during the chat and not only that, there’s no way to get everyone’s CV prior to something like that. So yeah, I’m gonna pull the “that’s proprietary” card when a question like that comes up. And I certainly wouldn’t EVER call someone a moocher (your words, not mine). That chat was a prompt for this blog post, sure, but more than one person asked that question. Regardless of who or how many asked the question, my response would have been the same. If you look at the transcript, I gave about 4 points for people to consider in crafting an online strategy. So I did give a basic framework. And I did what 140 characters would allow 🙂

  16. annmariastat
    annmariastat says:

    This is the reason I very seldom do RFPs any more. If I have a relationship with the customer and I see a good probability of us getting the work, I may do it. In most cases, though, you want me to spend 80-160 hours of my time putting together a proposal so maybe you might consider us to do work for you? And some of these jobs are only for a few hundred hours of work!

    I also don’t do work for free “to get the visibility”. Yes, when I was first getting started in business, but after twenty years if I still need to work for free, I should be taking that second job at Starbucks.

  17. Valery Satterwhite
    Valery Satterwhite says:

    Damn! Amen woman! Bitch slapped the shit out of me today. I ‘shared’ your post on Facebook because there’s no way I could say it better. THANK YOU!

  18. Merredith
    Merredith says:

    Emily asked that you, personally, slap me on this topic. And on pricing. But before you do? Now that you’re back on coffee? You left three bags in my freezer. Just sayin’. Be kind.

  19. Chris Eh Young
    Chris Eh Young says:

    Bitch slappin’ brilliant post right here. I teach a class every week on social media. I teach people theory. I teach it for free. This is my choice. What I always end up getting are the inevitable questions about actual tactics and if I would be willing to lay out a plan for them. Sure I will, but that’s not free. That’s usually the point where people get angry and disgusted at the thought of opening their f*%king wallets. They completely ignore the hour and a half of free information they got and begin to bitch about the free line ending.
    I find my sessions more than generous and am seriously considering making them pay sessions. It seems that people don’t appreciate what they get for free anyway.

  20. Tucker Wannamaker
    Tucker Wannamaker says:

    I have absolutely sucked at this and it just felt so good to get slapped. I live in an industry full of “giving away shit for free.” We even have a law that tells us we can’t(mostly) give away shit for free and yet we hold on tight to the wonderful practice (that rots our will to live) by still trying to do as much of it as we can!

    “and the times…they are a-changin’.” thanks for the slap for me and my industry.

  21. Michael LaRocca
    Michael LaRocca says:

    Thanks for helping me focus on what I should and shouldn’t be giving away over here. Still a blogging newbie.

    I was being interviewed by for my first-ever podcast, and he asked me about something, and I thought, “um, that’s chapter one of the book I’m peddling,” but my gut instinct was to give it away, don’t hoard the info, and that’s what I did. Reading your blog gives me intellectual justification for my emotional response, so that was good. What I gave away was the part of chapter one that any Googler can find. I didn’t give away the part on how I applied it (my research), so yeah, I done good. Nice to know it after the fact.

    Meanwhile I think he’s having trouble transcribing the thing because I drawl like a redneck, but it’ll hit the interwebz eventually. Then my traffic will plummet. I’ve got a face for radio and a voice for newspaper.

  22. Michael LaRocca
    Michael LaRocca says:

    Shout out to Ben Anderson for the phrase “serial job searcher.” THAT was the flaw in my original business model. Serial customer searching. Now I’ve got authors “in the barn” for four years and counting, so I don’t have to search so damn hard. Woohoo!

  23. Leslie A. Joy
    Leslie A. Joy says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I really needed to read this. I have a tendency to get so excited at the idea of a potential project idea, that I forget that it falls under my service listing and that I can, you know, CHARGE for it. You’re post is totally going on my fridge as a reminder.

  24. Willis eTech
    Willis eTech says:

    Another great article Erika. As a photographer, I have often either shot for free (hoping for a tidbit later), or been asked for shots that I’ve taken at charitable events (always been happy to help the local non-profits). Never again me thinks… Oh, and do you have any advice for shooting at these charitable events? Should I shoot them gratis, or just offer a super duper discount?

  25. Jason Ramsey
    Jason Ramsey says:

    Erika, ….. what can I say other than Solid. F…ing. Gold. I always love reading your posts, and I’ve known for some time you’re a great writer. Occasionally though, you touch on a point that many people need help with and really is misunderstood by a lot of people. My kids and I talk about Theory vs. Practical on a daily basis. I do this because you’d be surprised how many people I run into that don’t know the difference? Self admittedly I didn’t learn it myself till I was in my 20’s. This also reminds me of one of my favorite Dean Martin lines, “I already know how, …. I want to know when”.

  26. Bill
    Bill says:

    Erika- Way too much nose picking going on theses days. Great stuff. I enjoy your provocations. (bitch slaps) I think you should go on a real bitch slapping tour across the Country. There’s an abundance of business leaders long over due for some serious slap therapy.

  27. Kray
    Kray says:

    Erika, your comments on theory vs. teaching reminded me of situations with prospective clients when I was  a marketing consultant.  Sometime during the initial meeting, the prospect would start to ask me specific questions as to how I would solve the problems she/he had.  The “how” was the teaching.  “What”
    the prospect needed or wanted was the theory.  When I smartened up to this trick I would volunteer the
    “what” information, but the “how” information had to be paid for by the prospect/client.  Thanks for pointing out the free vs. fee lesson. 


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