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The past several days, I’ve been reminded of an important question we all face each day in our business lives: what do we give away and what costs money? Chris Brogan covered it last year in The Audacity of Free and Gabriella Sannino broached it again in a post today about social media ROI. Today, I’m going to try to break down this pervasive question into one simple thought: strategy.
Why Do We Give Things Away For Free?
I’ll dispell the myth now: 90% of the time, it isn’t out of the goodness in our hearts filled with unicorns and rainbows. It’s because we’re looking to add people to The Funnel. Now, The Funnel varies depending on your business. Perhaps you want email addresses for a mailing list. More RSS subscribers. More Twitter followers or Facebook Fans. But the bottom line of it is we are all selling something and it’s pretty shitty to hate us for it.
Giving things away gets people’s attention and it might get them in your circle, but you’d better have a strategy behind what you’re going to do with them once you get them there. And I’m exhausted with the begging and bitching. Stop asking people who work for a living (just like you) to give you something for nothing. We’re all giving something away. Me? I give away copies of books. iPod Touches. VISA gift cards. Seats to PAID webinars I’m teaching. Why do I do this? As a thank you. To get some new eyes on my site. But I know WHY I’m doing it. If you’re giving something away for free, here four hard truths you better own – we’re all hookers and hookers don’t rent fishnet stockings.
- People will complain that what you’re giving away isn’t enough.
- Appropriate Response: Shut up. It’s free.
- If you run a contest, people will complain about not winning.
- Appropriate Response: Ummm…call Publisher’s Clearing House. If they give in, I’ll give in.
- If you’re looking for something for free, you’re going to get a lot of 36,000 foot view information mixed with some 5,000 foot view gems. If you want ground level insight, that shit costs money.
- If you give something away for free, you need to compel people to return to your site/you/your business. It’s not a hit and run technique. It’s relationship building. Free was just what got them in the door.
Sometimes Free Costs You
I occasionally guest post on outlets like Copyblogger. Why? Aside from having been a long-time reader, they have kickass site traffic. I can get new readers and reach thousands of people who aren’t on Redhead Writing’s radar in a single post. And I do it for free. That’s my trade off. It costs me time an intellectual property.It’s an opportunity cost I’m willing to bear. And I’ll keep doing it as long as they’ll have me because not only are Brian and Sonia pretty kickass human beings, I can justify the expense.
But free can cost you.
There are those coffee meetings. The “pick your brain” sessions. The new client courting processes. I have new rules for anyone who wants to buy me a cup of coffee that I don’t already know. I’ll find the time to met with anyone if you tell me in advance (1) what your agenda is for our meeting and (2) why I’m the one you want to discuss it with. I think that’s common courtesy. And I have a certain approach I take with new clients as well.
We’ve all walked away from coffee meetings thinking, “Holy balls – that’s an hour of my life I can’t get back.” We’ve all been three months into a prospect only to realize we’ve just spent about $2,500 on earning business we haven’t closed yet. Both are bullshit.
It’s up to you to put the hammer down on free things that cost you. Just like there’s no crying in baseball (except opening day always leaves me a little weepy). People who want to pick your brain are asking for something for free. You have to be in control of what you’re willing to give as well as have the cajones to explain to people:
- It’s awesome that you see me as a credible resource. That’s why I offer consulting services. This is my business and if we’re going to proceed, it’s probably smart for us to get a scope of the project put in place so we can hold one another accountable.
- While you think you’re buying me coffee, a $5 chai isn’t proper (repeated) compensation for my time.
Your clients aren’t in business for free. Neither are you.
Strategy: It’s What’s For Breakfast
It should actually be every meal of your business day. Sit down today and consider what you’re giving away for free, why and what it’s REALLY costing you. If you’re on the hunt for free, understand that it’s going to be a lot of general mixed with few specifics and in order to get more, you have to pay. There’s nothing wrong with running a business and earning a living and the people who want you to give away more are much more concerned about their bottom line than yours.
Why yes, I do, "Bob." I quite like the work in progress I've become over the past 38 years, much as I admire who my friends and family have become in their own rights.And it's nice to see you've rebranded yourself from your previous incarnation as "Nothanks" here on the blog. And if you're new and that wasn't you, you should see who's bogarting your IP address. ;-)Not that you'll ever see this comment since your email address is likely invalid and you only stop by to throw molotov cocktails over the fence instead of engage in discourse. But hey - to each their own!
Right on! Wish I had seen anything this honest 10 years ago! These days, I liken this theory to Retail stores, just because basically everyone can relate... While a bakery (my web site) may give out samples (blog posts), you have to buy the cake (my services). It's simple, but it says it. Oh, and... the per minute phone consultation fee service I use? Best.Tactic.Ever! Just having that on my sidebar sends the 'this is what I do for a living and get PAID for' message, loud and clear. Whew! To this day, I still have to remind myself not to 'give away the store' when I'm writing posts, but knowing my target audience helps a lot. My clients don't have the TIME to do web stuff themselves, even if I do tell them HOW... so sharing a 'how-to' every so often doesn't hurt my business, I hope it helps build credibility. Another great post Erika, thanks for saying what a lot of us think... again. :)
Erika, I've watched, shared the "vendor-client relationship" on YT so many times, know full well everyone wants something for nothing. Trying to be like Danny, do a better job of setting - and sticking to - those the "shut up, it's free" boundaries, my coffee consultation rules. Thanks for the reminder. FWIW.
I can so relate. You put into words what I have been feeling for a long time. Whether it's someone who is new to the area, someone who wants to "learn social media," (that doesn't happen over coffee, my friend) or someone who just wants to meet/pick your brain - it takes time. A lot of time, that many people don't have. It's not a myth, we're all busy. I think the opportunity cost is important to understand. I also have started to not do everything for free, that I once did. Someone who wanted to learn more, turned into a side client and paid for services so we could work together and I could actually help her grow overtime, instead of rushing and stuffing everything into once coffee date. Nothing wrong with being selfish. You can still give back (I volunteer with an organization I love and always will) but there are certain things you just can't keep giving over and over, without gaining or growing yourself.
Erika - Enjoyed the post. Defining boundaries in clear, concise ways was probably something you learned to do as you grew your business (I'm assuming). You're in a position now to weigh and measure value and return (payout, likeliness of future project, exposure to a promising vein of clients, etc.). But I'd like to know how you handled project inquiries before you were deeply seated as a consultant. Not the "I want to pick your brain type," but more like "I like what I see with you and I'm willing to pay, but I'm just starting out and don't have a lot of cash. Can we trade services which will prove to be more valuable to you in the long term?" type. Would love to know your thoughts on that. Bird in hand? Or hold fast to what I *want* to earn? These can be tough calls for someone just starting out. Recently I had the "opportunity" to ghost blog for a virtual agency once a month (someone who runs a house of freelancers). The rate per post is about $60; writer supplies own photos; they pay invoices net 30 days. I struggled with whether or not it was a good investment for me. In closing - I'm a big fan, albeit a fairly recent one. Love your fresh, honest approach and the bravery with which you deliver your thoughts. I'm sure it's cost you some. I think like you write - but can only afford to deliver it in small doses here and there. Kudos to you for being unabashedly you.
Great point, Heather. Let's dish. Yep - early on, those opportunities presented themselves. They still do on occasion. As of January 1, 2011, I no longer do trade. Period. I believe in cash and my invoices are Net 0. I call it Car Lot Economics: you don't get the car without paying for it. You don't get my work without paying for it. Period. In my experience, trade opens way too many effed-up doors that will never, ever be square. Occasionally it can be great. Most of the time, it's an equation for disaster for one or both parties. When it comes to ghost blogging, I'd say what you were looking at it fair dinkum. What I would weigh, however, is the win for YOU. Do you need $60/month for no credit or would you be better off pinging a gal like me or the folks at Copyblogger (or sites in your niche) who don't pay for guest posts but can send YOU a nice flow of traffic, retweets and other shares? $60 is a fair per-post price, but the one-off aspect has me wondering. You've given me a great idea for a post for next week so I hope you don't mind stopping by next Monday to read: "Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business." Or something like that. Hope that helps! Welcome to the blog and I hope you have fun while you're here. And if you ever don't, let me know. I'll fix that shit pronto ;)
Glad I can serve as inspiration of sorts! ;-) Yes, I'm a feed subscriber and a FB fan, always on the lookout for more of your perspective. Funny/ironic the idea nugget is "Things I wish I'd known..." Next week I'm talking with a group of advertising students looking for some guidance about entrepreneurship in the communications space. My basic message is going to be: Get your hands dirty and your feet under you. Then ride your passion - and qualifications (not just theory)- into the sunset. Or some other mixed metaphor. I'm actually with you on the post price, at least in the range. It's the infrequent nature and what will amount to net 45 days for that singular line item that has me scrunching my forehead. I actually really like contributing on other blogs because I get to cater tone/voice and topic to their specific audience. It's like dress-up without the stupid girlie stuff. I write for Social Media Explorer and Workshifting now and just started a hockey blog targeting families trying to balance it all. 'Scuse me while I take a nap! ;-).
Great overview, miss. I'm trying to remember where it was, but I left a comment on someone's blog that defined what I give for free versus what I charge for. On my blog, for example, that's free advice. I don't ram affiliate products down your throat, nor do I charge you for blog topics (although we do give those away for free every week on our blogger resource centre) ;-) My clients get the premium stuff - that's business. I'll give you the first inquiry for nothing, but if you abuse that, you're entering new territory and I will charge. Cheer, miss. :)
All I have to say is AMEN! When I first started my business I felt compelled to go to every coffee invite or conference call because I kept thinking they could be a possible client. However, I quickly realized how foolish this logic was because I was giving away so much information trying to "prove" myself that there was no need to come back! I am very possessive of my time and operate under the rules you mentioned-knowing what the agenda is and how do I fit into the puzzle. I will not meet without receiving satisfying answers to these questions. I don't mind people that are trying to help themselves. What I do have a problem with are the folks that continually mooch off of other people's knowledge. I had one person basically ask me how they should market their business (here's the kicker this person is also in the same industry as I am!). I politely told them that starting a business takes time and patience and wished them the best of luck. I always help people out so it upsets me when people try to play me for a fool. Not cool!
Ugh, I am so glad you wrote this post and I wish it were here last week when I had another Virtual Assistant ask me (via DM and 3 unplanned attempts at calling me on Skype) if I would be willing to "mentor" her for free (daily) on bookkeeping. After I DM'd her back to say "I am not the right person for this " she didn't even have the courtesy to write back and say something along the lines of "OK, I understand. Today I woke up to an email in my inbox from my website contact form asking me if I could share what social icon buttons I was using on my site. This I was OK with and even wrote the person back.....except it appears they gave me a faulty email address because it bounced back w/an unknown recipient message. (Okay, we'll give the guy the benefit of the doubt that maybe he typo'd his email addy) This one is my all time favorite though: Last year I was a guest presenter on a VANetworking event and after the event a participant sent me an email explaining she was looking for advice on starting a VA business and would I share with her my insights, how I got clients, what I've learned since starting, blah blah blah..... I didn't know here. I had no relationship with her....I wrote her an incredibly kind message back with a few snippets and said something along the lines of "One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn is that I can't give everything away for free. Every minute I spend doing A means I can't spend with my son, taking care of myself, etc." After that email to her she wrote me back with some super snotty reply along the lines of, "I can't believe you won't help me. It's called paying it forward. You're rude." I replied back...I just gave you one of the most important nuggets you will ever get...."every minute you spend on A, takes away from other things....." (she then did write back and apologize) As a very smart woman said to me last week...when we were talking about giving things away for free...."I only have so much bandwidth". At the end of the day...there are only so many hours, so many minutes. It is all about strategy and no $5.00 latte is going to cut it. Those who run their entire business by sapping and taking someone else's knowledge and intellect....be warned!
30 minutes. No more if it's free. And have a legitimate meeting starting at the 30-minute mark in the same venue. And if people can't answer those two questions, they usually don't follow through with scheduling. If they can, it makes our time more focused because I made them truly think: why her?
"You get what you DON'T pay for." Sometimes free stuff from friends is awesome, but if it's something like a free seminar, you better expect to be upsold. You hit the nail on the head, yet again! Cheers! :)
This is why I appreciate every single person who's ever taken the time to meet/help/advise me for little or no $ in return. I try to keep their time and effort to a minimum, and respect friends' time even more than strangers. And I spend time giving to others, not just taking. Having said that? If you're working, you get paid. That's how the world works, folks, whether you're the boss or not. Anyone who expects otherwise is not really your friend. P.S. How lucky are we that we get this blog for free???
Excellent post, straight to the point. Best thing is when people "look down" on you for refusing to work for free. I just tell them something like: "Right. Name a doctor that gives you a free check up. Or a mechanic. Or anyone in business." Please, stop wasting our time and go find some naive person that makes you earn money without earning something for themselves. Apparently, there are lots of people like that out there.
I love how former colleagues are often the greatest perpetrators of the "can I buy you....to pick your brain". Just because I'm not on the payroll anymore doesn't mean this brain comes free (or cheap!). We're all trying to make a living here. Great post!
I'm really enjoying charging for what I know. I just got an email yesterday from someone asking to "talk with me about coworking." I just replied, "I've love to and here's my hourly rate." Yay, payment. I've also heard from clients that they really appreciate that I tell them right away what my fees are. Also, 3 out of 4 people end up paying!
I'm actually always flattered to meet with folks who want to "pick my brain," and I still consider the network value worth the time. But, the guy that wanted to meet to pick my nose? Well, you gotta draw the line somewhere...
I've also walked into coffee shop meetings without knowing what to expect. Sometimes, people just want to meet me to see if I'm everything they've heard about (mostly "is he as much of an asshole as Joe says he is?). Other times, it turns into a "pick my brain" consult. And when that happens, I just stop talking, I will sit an listen. Then I will respond with a joke, usually inappropriate. Or if I really don't like how the person vibes I'll cut a nice, ripe fart. I am, after all, drinking coffee! As a writer, I get that I have to sometimes go out and meet new people and discuss ideas. I'm never worried about my ideas being stolen because they are usually half-baked. It gets frustrating when those who don't write seem to shove aside the fact that writing, like all crafts, take time. There are drafts involved. Yes, sometimes it will take me weeks to write something (less if you want me focused on one thing at a time). I've had dozens of people ask me to write things for their blogs (always for free) I offer to write a spot, and then they are surprised/ frustrated/ pissed off that I'm not routinely squirting out gold for them. I especially like the occasional client who will ask for a meeting and then try to use it as a way to get my thoughts or work done for free. Even meetings aren't free for me anymore. In most cases, I'll charge you a deposit.
I think I resonate most with the "Can we meet for coffee?" idea, which is still gaining momentum in Italy (they aren't as pro-networking as in the States). I'm getting a lot of people who I consider to know me pretty well making an introduction between me and someone who needs to "pick my brain." I have no vested interest in the new person (most of the time it's not an networking opportunity) and I find myself giving a career-counseling session or a primer to X subject. Sometimes I don't even make them pay for a coffee. Those sessions don't feel as giving away myself as meeting with clients or brands (as I've also done...) but they feel even harder to refuse. What do you think is fair compensation? Asking for a consultation fee? A coffee chat fee? I see you had two questions to ask - agenda & why they picked you; once you get those answers do you feel less likely to waste your time? Do they weed out people?
Last week, i had consulting time with a guru (paid) who said to do free. And it just doesn't sit well with me. I've done free for several people, and they don't value it. At all. And the whole let's have coffee thing? Don't even get me started! From now on, I'm just going to point them to this post! Problem solved. PS since this was free content do I owe you for taking care of this fo me?
Ericka, so a $5 Chai? Come on man, everyone who knows you knows you're worth WAY more! Lovin the post!
Perfect timing Erika! I've often done things for free and in the course of 10 years in business, that'a a whole lotta damn freebies! Just last week I got yet another "I'd love to 'chat', compare notes, support each other" bullshit email. This time though? I called bullshit and said NO. It brought up a bunch of feelings about being nice, helpful, etc. but really, it was also the biggest sense of relief I've had in a long time. What pissed me off the most though was the pretense of a friendly 'chat.' C'mon people, call a spade a spade. Geez!