Are you giving away free stuff.... good quality complimentary stuff... only to find that people are JUST NOT INTERESTED?
Do you have a lead magnet that just doesn't inspire people to opt-in?
Are you offering complimentary consultations to attract new clients... only to find people running away from your offers like they saw the Ghost of Christmas Future?
Do your free subscriptions find no readership?
Well, you're not alone. Here's a bit of news that should surprise no one with any amount of business experience...
Giving Away Free Stuff Just Doesn't Work!
Honestly, it never really worked well at all. EVER.
I mean back in the late 90's, maybe. Maybe then you could find someone to enthusiastically subscribe to your email newsletter because the only other emails he was getting were from his mother.
Everybody is excited about downloading their first e-book... but when you have entire websites dedicated to distributing free PDFs that anybody can publish in a matter of a few hours... you just don't feel like downloading.
Today, everyone's barraged.
Everyone's getting too much email. Maybe even too much postal mail.
But don't expect your favorite internet marketing guru to tell you that giving away free stuff is a horrible strategy. Why he has something to sell to you. A shiny new info-product. On a spanking new website that he spent a thousand dollars having designed.
He has no new info to share, for the most part. But he has a shiny new info-product to sell to you. He knows most people will never ever get around to consuming his content, let alone implement his suggestions. The rare minority that do implement might actually succeed just because they did something at all. And the even rarer minority that find out his stuff isn't as applicable... well, to them he'll just issue a refund. No problem!
But the guru has the same shtick to sell. "Build a list of prospects" he says. "How, by giving away free stuff, of course."
Sounds good in theory.
"I'll give away a free PDF that costs me nothing. And the prospect will give me his name and contact details."
Except, nobody wants your free PDF. Not unless you are already a recognized thought leader in your industry. Not unless they believe that there is a good chance your free e-book is going to give them some value in exchange for not just their contact information, but also their time spent on reading it.
Why Giving Away Free Stuff Is A Horrible Business Strategy
For the most part, people equate free with valueless.
The thought process goes, "If your so-called secret were really valuable, why are you giving it away for free. Why aren't you charging a bomb for it?"
So even if you dedicate hours and put in a whole lot of effort to create something, and then offer it for free in exchange for a prospect's contact information or a worse... an appointment... you are killing your own positioning as a real expert, or a thought leader, or a champion of the industry.
And, it's true...
Go to any thought leader, or recognized expert... and try to get them to give you a free 30-minute consultation. There's a better chance of you buying a flying car in the next 10 years.
Valuable people don't give their time or attention for free.
In fact, they charge top-dollar. Valuable products don't get offered complimentary just to attract a prospect. They sell for a premium, if they're truly valuable.
In fact, I was recently contemplating creating a behind-the-scenes journal documenting the start of a new business. I am about to start a new business soon, and I might actually document each and every step along the way to create a sort of blueprint, or at least a re-workable template for anyone who could access it.
If I do end up creating such a journal, you can bet no one's getting any part of it for free. Well, no one but Westernston's most premium clients. They pay six-figures a year, so they'll always have access to every training and every tool we create for free, or for a nominal charge. But other than that, such a journal will be priced at least $4999, if not more.
There is just no way I am going to put in that much time, attention and effort into creating something only to sell it for a few hundred dollars, or worse, give it away for free.
But more importantly... there is no way I am going to let poor positioning affect the perceived value of such a valuable journal.
Can Giving Away Free Stuff Ever Be A Viable Tactic?
No. And yes.
For the most part, the answer is NO. If you're giving something away, either it's not so valuable in the first place... or you ought to have charged something for it. Preferably, a good amount.
Having said that, there are conditions where giving away free stuff can be a good method to generate leads, buzz or traffic. But only under very specific conditions...
- Firstly, everyone should know that whatever it is you are giving away for free IS UNQUESTIONABLY VALUABLE. In fact, ideally, they should KNOW that you had to spend money in order for them to get the free stuff.
- Equally as importantly as the first point, they should understand clearly What's In It For You.
This second point can be confusing.
Of course, the conventional marketing wisdom tells us to focus on the “what’s in it for me” for the customer. And I have no problem with that. You’re giving away free stuff that’s valuable. So that’s what’s in it for them.
But exceptional marketing is about anticipating and entering the conversation that’s going on in your prospects’ heads as they read, watch or listen to your message.
And when something that is credibly valuable is given away for free, the question they’re asking themselves is…
What’s The Catch?
And that’s where explaining what’s in it for you is important.
Conventional marketing wisdom will have you believe that you talk about the prospects’ problems, needs, desires, fears, self-esteem, hopes and wants. I have no problem with that.
Where that advice falters is when your favorite marketing expert or guru of choice will tell you that that’s the ONLY direction your messaging should be in.
Of course most people like talking about themselves, reading about their hopes and desires, justifying their failures and generally focusing on themselves.
But people are social. And when you offer them something valuable for free, they can be suspicious. It’s the nature of society. Either there is an implicit agreement that the favor might be returned one day… or there are ulterior motives involved.
So when you are giving away free stuff, and it’s perceived to truly have value… your prospect’s radars and scam detectors are going wham-wham-whaaam.
Which is why it is imperative for you to allay their suspicions.
And How Do You Allay Their Suspicion?
Simple. Just tell them what the catch is. Straight up front.
If you are offering a coupon or a voucher, it’s pretty clear why. People know and understand that the use of that voucher or coupon guarantees a sale.
But if you offer a product for free, the first thought people have is to question its value. And if you manage to convince them your offering is valuable, they suspect you have ulterior motives.
Which, you most likely do.
You Want A Conversion!
You want to convert them into a paying customer or client. You want them to give you money at some point of time hopefully in the near future.
So if you insist on giving away free stuff, be sure that they know its value without a question. And they understand why you’re giving it away.
Why Do Free Consultations Find Few To No Takers!
Because people’s attention and time are valuable commodities. And unless you are a popular person of repute, they suspect your time might not be worth as much as theirs.
Further, they suspect that if they do talk to you, it’ll be a pitch fest, or a sales call instead of it being a valuable consultation. Which experience has taught them is often, if not always, true.
What You Should Do Instead
If it’s information you’re giving away, instead of trying to get someone’s contact information, give away whatever you are going to give away with no strings attached.
This article is free for anyone to view, regardless of whether they’ve paid us millions of dollars, or they’ve never heard our name.
You do this in order to establish credibility and authority with people who’ve never heard of you. Or to reinforce your thought leadership with people who already know of you.
Then offer a paid product. Once they know what you can deliver, don’t be shy about charging a premium.
Desire Is Non-Negotiable
Either your content and your style resonates with a reader, or it doesn’t. You can’t change how they feel about you.
Either your offer is lucrative to someone, or it isn’t. You can’t create desire out of thin air.
They either find you authoritative on a subject matter right now, or they don’t. You can’t change their perception of you immediately. In fact, for the most part, their perception of you will reinforce itself continually no matter what you do. It’s selective bias at its best.
What you can do is test offers. You can test new offers and see if you find more takers for those.
What you can do is buy exposure. You can spend as little as 10% of your marketing budget to bring back people to your website who visited in the last X number of days, but didn’t buy anything, or fill out any forms.
And most importantly, what you can do is have a no-nonsense, no-time waste attitude towards everybody.
Being clear and focused about what you’re offering… and then being unabashed about whatever it is you’re charging is the key.
Until next time