September 16, 2014

Can having information public hurt consulting business ?

People frequently ask me if the fact we keep information public can hurt our consulting business ? Lets keep aside for the moment amount of new business publishing this information brings to us but think it also have significant negative effect because people find information on MySQL Performance Blog and use it instead of purchasing our services ?

Sure they do. There are people searching for advice finding it on MySQL Performance Blog and so they do not need to purchase any commercial consulting. However these people are not likely clients on the first place – if not our blog they would find information in MySQL Manual or on thousands of other sites, or may be they would read some books.

Seriously speaking for vast majority of the problems you can run into there is information out there – so you only need to find it, filter the one which is authoritative and matches your case and then figuring out how to apply it.

In general “Googling” usually works for solving simple issues which can be solved by applying ready recipes, for example basic MySQL Configuration tuning. If the problem which you’re having is complex it may require experience and background to quickly find right solution for the problem.

We know extensive knowledge is important for complex cases. If we get sore throat (simple problem) we just go to the store and get over counter drug. However if we get red dots on the skin the way we did not see before we would likely go to the doctor to for advice. There are many things which causes such symptoms and special skills is required come with diagnoses. There are surely a lot of information on the Internet which would fit description “red dots on the skin” but special skill is required what you’re dealing with.

Happily computers are not humans and they do not break that badly so you can try different “medicine” for your problem though still you unlikely will have possibility to discover and try all possible recipes.

Besides experience you really need the constant practice. Doing MySQL Optimization I have to keep thousands of facts in my head which apply to the area. Many of them would be complex, something like “Innodb uses row level locks, unless you’re doing insert in table with auto increment which uses table level auto increment locks unless you’re running MySQL 5.1 with…” To analyze problems efficiently you need your brain to have these facts available and apply automatically to provide you with “blink”, intuitive decision regarding what is likely cause of the problem or what best decision would be.

If you would sit and read MySQL manual you would get large of these facts in your head, however without constant use they got quickly forgotten. This is another reason having information available does not cause competition.

Though these arguments apply to good consultants – skilled and experienced You may not be hiring the consultant, but robot which executes “internal instructions” working on your issue. In this case surely having such instructions public can hurt business badly. In other cases value could be access to the information which is not easily available, though I think it does not apply to the industry of Open Source software consulting we’re working on.

In general I would encourage all consultants to write more about their experience and do not get scared about diminishing their value by disclosing secrets. It does not happen and return from publishing is so great !

About Peter Zaitsev

Peter managed the High Performance Group within MySQL until 2006, when he founded Percona. Peter has a Master's Degree in Computer Science and is an expert in database kernels, computer hardware, and application scaling.

Comments

  1. Quite so!

  2. Sheeri says:

    I completely agree. We all can’t do everything ourselves, which is why we [mostly] don’t grow our own food, sew our own clothes, etc. So we buy products that experienced and skilled people produce, and we buy services from experienced and skilled people for those things we cannot (or do not want to) do.

  3. peter says:

    Thanks Arjen, Sheeri

    I know you both share the same vision and publish and share a lot of your findings :)

  4. I had this debate a few years ago when Cobalt RaQs where popular. We had started building add-on packages for the RaQ. Many of our competitors charged for these. We soon realized the same thing you point out:

    “these people are not likely clients on the first place”

    The people downloading the free packages where not the people that would pay for services to begin with, so we just put them up on our site for free and only charged for installation assistance.

    I think the key value of a good sysadmin is the aggregate knowledge in their head. Someone could spend hours digging out the same info found on this site or you could just pay someone that has that info to fix the problem. Often, you will find the more cost-effective option is to pay the expert.

  5. Giving away free information like this is a tremendous sales tool – it’s the best form of advertising there is. The primary message that free technical content conveys is “These are smart and helpful guys”, which is exactly what you wish to be known for.

    Sure, many who have small problems will just use the tips and fix stuff themselves, but what you’re looking for are customers with big problems and money in their pockets. They have a lot of choices for hiring consultants, and many will opt for the smart and helpful guys over the ones with the slick salesy websites.

    I’ve been giving away Tech Tips on my website for years, and I’ve never regretted giving it away.

  6. peter says:

    Thanks Steve !

    I think many consultants understand this these days, though some still think they are giving away some secret sauce by sharing the knowledge :)

  7. Joel says:

    From someone who has used their services (Peter), I can say that the blog and the consulting practice are complementary and not cannibalistic. Our company derives tremendous value from their consulting and their blog. The “Mysql Performance Blog” is required reading around here and we plan to regularly use their consultants. We consider ourselves very knowledgeable with Mysql and have been using it since Isam was the only table choice but these guys definitely added value to our installation.
    Cheers,
    Joel

  8. peter says:

    Thanks Joel,

    It was pleasure to visit you.

  9. Josh says:

    Most people would rather be taught to fish than given a bite to eat. I’m a bit geeky in nature and decided long ago it was easier doing for clients rather than teaching. 4 years later and a ton less help calls … I am definitly wrong.

    Teach the masses to google, it saves gray hair.

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