I fully recognize that this is going to be somewhat of a controversial topic for some, mainly for people who feel that they have been taken advantage of by folks who wanted to "pick their brain" for free.
I have read countless Facebook posts from friends who ranted about giving away their time and expertise for free because it cheapens them and their brand. In my humble opinion and with all due respect, those people are wrong and are not playing the long game.
When you offer your advice, your connections, and even your expertise for free, you accomplish three things that will eventually, if you play your cards correctly, lead to business for you.
You demonstrate your value.
When I focus my time and resources on value, aka helping you win, and not on monetization, meaning you are not paying me, something very interesting happens. Since you are not paying me, you have no expectations. I owe you nothing. When you have no expectations, all I can do is exceed expectations. When I exceed expectations over and over, what I create is delight. Delight can easily be monetized.
Think about things in your life that delight you, like a good cup of coffee. You would gladly pay for that. So instead of promising value for money, how about you demonstrate your value, create delight, and that will lead to the recipient of your value realizing they need you, at which point you define the commercial terms, not them, since they already know how valuable you are. Create delight, then leverage it to create a win win situation.
You differentiate yourself from everyone else.
In a very saturated market, it really is all about differentiation. When everyone else around you is over promising and usually under delivering, try going the opposite route. Don't promise, don't even talk, just deliver.
What I have found with the tens of companies I work with, is that this comes back to you, and I am not talking about karma. I don't pay for groceries with karma. When everyone around you is focused on credit, respect, and money, you should focus on value, helping others win, and you will quickly find that you end up winning as well.
You establish trust.
Trust is the most underrated asset in business. If you can create genuine trust, the sky is the limit to what you can accomplish. By helping someone else achieve success, in any form, whether it is an introduction to an investor, help with some press, or anything else, you show them that they can trust you, because you asked for nothing in return.
Once that trust is established, combine it with the value you created, and you become indispensable. That is the best thing to be and will inevitably lead to a mutually beneficial business engagement.
The catch with all of this is that it requires patience, endurance, and vision. Most people in business lack all three. If, however, you can play the long game and try to help others win by yes, giving away your connections and advice for free, eventually enough of them will come back to you for more, and what you will have built is a vast portfolio of companies that trust and respect you and that want to leverage your abilities in a more formal commercial agreement.
How do I know? Because it happened to me. 40 times.