My parents gave me free advice while growing up, but what was the cost? I had to brush my teeth, do my homework, mow the lawn, and respect them. In my youthful world, that was a heavy price to pay.
Today, as I sift through my many e-mail spams, I am amazed by the number of people who are willing to give me free advice - as long as I visit their Website or register for their e-mail newsletter. It's not free when it clogs up my inbox and puts me over the mailbox limit.
(We editor types get a lot of pictures from sources that tend to overburden our already stressed-out super mega-pixel load limits.)
Being the curious person that I am, I followed my short attention span to a feature on an HVAC contractor's Website the other day. One of the features at the site was titled, "Do It Yourself."
I was curious because I have always thought that HVAC service contractors were in the business to serve and make money. I know that it is a nice public service to offer free advice on the Web - but at what cost?
DIFFERENT TYPES OF DIYERSFor those of you who may need a refresher: DIYers is an acronym for do-it-yourselfers. These are the people you find at Home Depot and Lowes on Saturday morning, or those who surf the Web in search of downloadable plans for installing a new sink in their extra bathroom. Admit it, the DIYer bug has touched us all.
And since so much information is freely available on the Web, why wouldn't someone take a shot at picking the brains of equipment installation experts? In our case, that would mean advice from HVAC professionals. No strings attached, right?
At this particular Website, the free advice included this disclaimer: "... cannot be held liable for damages, consequential or inconsequential, resulting from the installation or operation of equipment. This equipment is intended to be installed by someone with the proper expertise, background and certification. Do-it-yourselfers accept all risk for both installation and equipment selection. We strongly encourage an on-site inspection by a certified professional."
After reading that I had to ask, why even bother giving advice then? The only real advice is to tell the DIYer to call a professional. So, in essence, the advice is not free. Far from it.
I asked some friends how they felt about giving advice on the one hand, while disclaiming responsibility if the advice is used in the wrong way.
One asked, "Would it be fair to assume that if a homeowner is injured or property damage incurred from advice obtained from a Website, a lawsuit would include all who were in the chain?" Another said, "The best disclaimer will not stop a lawsuit. Idiots are granted immunity."
In this case, free could equate to a costly lawsuit, if the DIYer chooses to go the litigious route. I'm sure that many have done that.
IN SHORT: BE CAREFULI don't want anyone to get the impression that I am against free, professional advice. I am not. But I caution those who dispense it. The people listening to your advice come from different backgrounds, training, mentality, and preparedness.
Not everyone will view your free advice in the manner it is intended. Trust me, I know. I am one of those dads who would rather assemble something without reading the instructions because it looks so simple. The instructions can save people like me a lot of grief.
Continue to be a true professional and give advice to people that you know will use it wisely. It will pay you back many times in referrals and future business.
That's the good side of free advice. When used properly, it can pay you back handsomely.
John R. Hall, Business Management Editor, 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), firstname.lastname@example.org
Publication date: 03/13/2006