This blog is brought to you from the 2015 HECA conference in Cincinnati. No guarantees, I’ll strive for coherence, despite the near-delirium brought on by late-night basketball, timezone disorientation, and near-zero tolerance for Midwestern heat and humidity.

The planning committee members noticed my vulnerable state last night, and now my name is on some document or other, declaring my position as co-chair of the 2017 conference in Southern California. Suddenly it’s time to really start paying attention to the way things are run around here. I’ve spent my last couple of conferences enjoying the ease of so little responsibility. But I knew from the start those days were numbered. Experiencing events like this conference year after year from the same perspective feels like such stagnation.

That’s the thing about this business overall: everyone does it so differently. Consultants — particularly the newer ones — show up to these conferences absolutely starving to hear the nitty-gritty details about how other people run their practice. They want to know about pricing structures, services offered, package contents, tools used on the job, client loads, marketing techniques, specific verbiage that others use when having sensitive conversations with families. Not that it’s any different from any other business, this whole notion of comparing notes, but there’s an interesting duality at work among IECs.

Because we’re in the business of advising, most everyone would proclaim themselves to be in support of total transparency, because it’s through the transparency and clarity of the information that we deliver that we make the world a better place — one well-informed family at a time. But with discussing business practices, often there’s that undercurrent of insecurity: am I handling this piece in the best possible way? (And are these people judging me?) Do I give up my competitive edge if I give away my secrets? What if they “steal” my idea? How you handle your business just feels so personal; it can be tremendously difficult to shine a bright light on it while others are watching.

It’s an inspiration when, above all the anxiety-borne static in the room, you run into people who really are willing to share so openly and honestly. Last year, I was fortunate to connect with a veteran IEC who, after the conference, took close to an hour on the phone to fill me in on her recommendations for growing a referral base and managing a marketing budget. Yesterday, Ethan Sawyer (aka The College Essay Guy) was generous enough to share his actual bookkeeping from the past couple of years, illuminating the way that the videos he offers for free and the pay-what-you-can webinars he runs each year have led to his business’s growth.

I’m in awe. It’s that kind of courage and willingness to act unconditionally out of that place of generosity that really make these events (and the delirium/over-stimulation/sleep deprivation) worth it.

By Nick Soper