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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.