Everyone Wants Something For Free

freeMany of us do most or at least some of our business online. We scout prospects, market our services and communicate with colleagues on a daily basis. Add blogs and social networking to the mix, and you’re probably online more and more each day.

The intrinsic nature of the Web is providing and receiving free information. Anyone with an Internet connection can find a lot of what they want to know online for free with a simple keyword search. Informational web sites, value-packed blogs and free downloads are everywhere and information (some of it good) is abundant.

But this can introduce a unique challenge for professionals who want to participate in the free information world, yet have to make a living at the same time. Should you be giving it away? And what happens if you decide to charge for the information you possess?

Let’s look at why free might make sense. Here are some of the reasons why you may choose to keep information you provide online available for free.

Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk for Free

How many times have you gotten a freebie that you really didn’t need or want? Because we’re a society of instant gratification and wanting to have it all, all the time, it’s hard to turn down a giveaway, even if it has little immediate value for you.

Plus, if someone can get the information you are trying to sell somewhere else for little effort and no investment, it’s a no-brainer. Free will win almost every time.

The Web Is about Sharing

Sharing is vital in today’s online world. If you have a blog and are active in social networking, a big part of what you may do to build relationships is provide valuable information to help others in your situation. If you’re not willing to impart any of your hard-earned wisdom for the good of others, it may be difficult for you to network effectively online.

If you share what you know and help support the efforts of others, it’s easier to establish yourself as an expert, which can lead to more (paid) opportunities. Many times, the value of the exposure and future prospects is worth giving it away.

Free Can Lead to Paid

A loss leader (when you offer a product or service at a loss in order to attract consumers who you hope will purchase from you again) can build trust in you and your brand and lead to additional sales in the future. For example, if you use the loss leader strategy with information you make available online, you might give away a free report or guide, and then market paid products and services to the people who received your giveaway.

Where to Draw the Line

Once you start giving information away, it can be difficult to work paid products into the mix. You may find that:

  • You’re losing potential clients because they no longer need to pay for what they want from you.
  • You don’t have a value-added, paid offer to follow what you’re giving away.
  • You invest more than makes sense to provide the free information.

If any of these situations come into play, you may need to revisit your approach and try a new strategy.

How do you feel about the free-for-all purpose of the Web? Do you use it to your advantage in your business? If so, how?

Image credit: Jeffrey Collingwood

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  • Vantrix

    “Free can lead to Paid”- may be true but then one has to has to be very selective in providing free services lest it becomes a drain on your valuable time…

    -Anita CM
    http://www.vantrix.net

  • http://www.kaplang.com Michelle

    I totally agree with everything you have said and give a lot of info away myself on my own blog but as for doing actuall work for free, well I would no longer do something in the hope of gaining future work because people do not value free and there are also too many dishonest people around these days.

  • DebJ

    For a fascinating and insightful take on the concept – history, present and future — of free including ways to make money at it read Chris Anderson’s “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”.

  • http://brianswebdesign.com skunkbad

    If it’s free, it’s for me! I heard that said somewhere, and my thought is that you get what you pay for. Sure, there are some great things in life that are free, but sometimes free means inheriting bugs and security vulnerabilities. Can you really write quality code at a discounted rate, if you are trying to go as fast as you can to make up for the discount?I own a retail store, so I can approach this from a retail merchandise perspective as well. My thoughts are, anytime something is free, there is some hidden fee or lack of service that is making up for it. Businesses don’t survive unless they make a profit.We try to impress our customers with personalized service, and let them know that they are getting great value compared to the discount whore of a store down the road. We know our customer’s names, and they are made to feel like family. They get attention and are treated better because they paid for it. We take time to build a better customer relationship, and the customers appreciate it.I will tell my customers that we are not the cheapest place to shop, and they will usually tell me they wouldn’t go anywhere else.

  • Guest

    Obviously giving things away for free doesn’t work everywhere. You can hardly give away your services for free, which require your time and effort in particular. On the other hand, you can give away free tips, articles, small programs and so on.

    As the article says, you create a bond with your prospects by showing them what you can do. There are many ways to build trust but free stuff may very well be the easiest.

    A good real life example is that of music industry. Artists give away their best pieces to play on radio for which they get nothing in return. Yet they show off their works and build fan base that way, which in turn buy their records.

    Give your best stuff away to attract prospects. People will buy the same stuff from you just to show their support, let alone your other products.

  • http://www.HereNextYear.com lerxtjr

    “The intrinsic nature of the Web is providing and receiving free information.”

    Might have been that at one time, but now I think most marketers are savvy enough to know that if you answer some questions for free or give a reader some steps to take for free, people get the point. There is always “more.” And, that more is what you wind up paying for.

    And, y’know, that’s a good thing. If I have a real problem and someone is able to solve it, give me a few free tips to prove to me you’re a real person, but, lemme tell ya, I’m HAPPY to pay you if you can fix my problem.

    The intrinsic nature of the web is “solving problems” paid or otherwise, rather than simply getting free information.

  • JSullivan4

    Going with Skunkbad on this, the majority of “free” info is crap. Certainly there are exceptions (WordPress for example, but I’d be comfortable lumping the free stuff in the not-so-useful bin. I also charge a premium for my services, and have recently been experimenting with the “bribe model” (free reports for contact info)on my site. I don’t know we’ll have to see where the chips fall.

    <a href="http://www.sullivanwebdev.com&quot; Berkshire County Web Design

  • Patrick

    There is often real cost in getting things free.

    It can be seen by the low value Americans place on quality news coverage as they refuse to pay for news content and news departments shrink the number of reporters. It can also be seen as manufacturing jobs move overseas because Americans aren’t willing to pay U.S wages. Another example is obesity, which is due, in part, to cheap food everywhere.

    Another example is the way in which we don’t feel the true cost of war by borrowing and using recruitment instead of the draft. Furthermore, it is these wars that not only lessen the cost of war, but they also lessen what we pay at the pump for gas.

    Because Americans tend to see themselves as consumers above citizens, we pay an enormous cost for getting things free.

  • bluegrove

    I have more visitors on free than I do on pro! Esparza Marketing Willie the Marketer