Teaching Your Clients: a Conflict of Interest?

You’ve developed a specific expertise. Your clients hire you to solve an expensive problem that they don’t know how to solve themselves. In a sense, you’ve created a “black box”, as David C. Baker calls them, a thing that your clients won’t dare peer into.

So: would it be a conflict of interest for you to teach your skills to your clients?

Will teaching your skills cause you to create competitors and for you to lose business?

Maybe not. Here’s a story of something I went through. In this one, I was the client.


At the end of August, we needed to make a decision about the apple tree in our backyard. It was sprawling onto the neighbour’s fence, we had too many low-hanging branches. What do we do?

Our apple tree back in August

We got the help of an expert from a tree servicing company.

The gentleman came in for a free quote. Very professional! He gave us some options: to get the tree pruned to only be on our side of the fence, it would require some heavy pruning. Multi-year plan. Or we could cut it down completely and start anew in the middle of the yard.

The kids agreed: cutting it down wasn’t so bad.

But then we had a great idea: if we’re going to chop it down for a fee, how about we just play-prune it, for fun?. Worse case, we chop it all the way down. Best case, we learn a thing or two about pruning.

We contact the pruning company (it wasn’t just a freelancer, but apparently a small family-owned company) wanting to offer to pay for their time since we decided not to go with them, but we valued their time. “Is fifty bucks okay?” We tell them our plan.

We got back a tirade in reply (separate person from the same company).

We weren’t aware re that all you were interested in was a consultation. […] Our fees are $120 for a consultation. […]

And then this: (emphasis mine)

We don’t provide instructions/advice for people to prune their own trees since this would be a conflict of interest… this is what WE do. It’s taken many years for my specialist to be able to prune trees properly with expert training, so good luck in your endeavor.

Surprising response! Providing instructions/advice, that’s a conflict of interest?


You are competing against your clients doing it themselves. For almost every type of service business.

But for me, I don’t expect every interested visitor to end up in a sale. I don’t want to jack those conversion numbers. I know that people will likely want to do it themselves first.

The value of hiring me, however, is different. “I don’t want to learn the finer details. Past a certain level, I want a professional”. “I don’t have time for this, I just want it done”. “There’s an urgency, can you help out?”

Those are the situations when I’ll be helpful. The times when the job-to-be-done will be revealed. And I’m okay waiting for struggles to occur. Not win every visitor over.


For our arborist friends, I’m thinking there’s something they just haven’t learned. I am in the freelance lifestyle and, despite their ruffled reply, I’ll gladly reach out to them again. They were clumsy with their reply, but I won’t write them off.

But they’re losing out on an opportunity.

Help me learn how to prune my tree! Let me learn the finer details:

Put some videos online. Document stuff with pictures. Blog about tree diseases. Show me jobs you’ve done, before and after. Show me years 1, 2 and 3 after a succesful pruning job. Show me what better looks like. Show me what I’m missing.

Then I’ll realize how many small variables there are, and you’ll be there to teach them to me, and then I’ll trust you, and then I’ll realize the worth of your service, and then you’ll have me as a customer for life.

Customer for life. That’s what you get when you seemingly do something against your “interests”.

Stay Sharp!



@pascallaliberte

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