How much does FREE cost?

If you don’t make money (or don’t want to) doing what you do, then you can probably skip this post. I personally have a few blogs that I really enjoy, and is one of them. In a recent postIt’s not free, Erica Napoletano writes about the value of your time and the reasons to give away things of value (your time as well as “stuff”) for free.

Erica’s post makes some great points, and she specifically discusses free as an element of your overall business strategy. Lots of people (including me) would agree that as a consultant, it can be necessary to build credibility with a potential client. There are some traditionalways to do this, such as referrals and various types of marketing.  There are also two types of free you can provide to your customers and potential clients. Note: depending on how you slice it, there can be a million types of free, for now just go with me on this “two types” thing.

1. The “Marketing Free” category is about getting the customer in the door. This includes content on your blog, tips sheets, special reports and other items specifically designed for anyone out there to see your value and learn more. I’m not talking about the traditional marketing crap, where you learn that there are 10 tips to riches (or whatever) and how Joe, Sally, and Johnny used them to make $12,000 per month in thier first year. I’m talking about something with acutal tips (see my example) that can stand alone. If the prospect wants more, then yes, readers can become customers and buy more advance materials.

2. The “Free Gift” category is where you take actual products and give them away as a promotion. This isn’t simply a “get them in the door” tactic, but sometimes of an enticement to attend seminars or a way to get some premium product out there to get referrals. I’ve seen speakers give away products like $297 Home Study Courses, $59 CD sets, and $19.99 Books to audiences as a method to get their product into the audiences hands. Three things may happen here. 1. Great word of mouth in that audience leading to further inquiries, 2. The person who gets the free item buys other items themselves and 3. Maybe nothing.

What may not fit cleanly into either category is when you give away your time as a consultant. Although I think it qualifies as more of the “Marketing Free” variety, the fact is that any one-on-one conversation is never generic (if you want to be hired) and so would have more value than th standard tip-sheet.

The trick here is determining that value and making sure you aren’t letting yourself get taken advantage of. In Erica’s post, she talks about the free cup of coffee not usually being enough compensation for some of the meetings she has had. It makes sense, since an hour of coaching (even at my rates) is higher than the cost of a coffee. Although, certain Starbucks offerings (with a rice krispee treat) do come close.

If you are going to use “free” as a part of your overall business strategy, don’t take the concept lightly. Like any other part of your strategy, anything you give away (even blog content) should have value, but not be all of your intellectual property. After all, just like in any job, when you do the work you should be paid for the effort, right?

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