How to Make Money by Giving Stuff Away for Free

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By Jess Dixon

Did you know that strategically giving stuff away is one of the most effective ways to grow your business and, yes, your income?

I know this might seem counter-intuitive, but stay with me. Have you ever had a free sample handed to you in the supermarket, and then bought the product because it was so delicious? Or signed up for a 30 day free trial of a service, only to find it was so useful that you were happy to pay for it when the trial was up? These are just two common examples of this theory in action.

I’m obviously not suggesting you just stop charging for your core product or service. But freebies have two powerful business benefits: first, they’re a powerful marketing tool. And second, they build trust in your business.

You are an unknown quantity to your target audience

Why should someone trust you when they’ve only just learned you exist? In business, as in personal relationships, it takes time to build trust and establish that you’re genuine. Giving something away for free gives your potential customer a no-cost, low-stakes way to get to know you and learn what you’re all about.

People are much more likely to take a chance on a business they’ve only just learned about if they can do so for free. A well-placed freebie can make all the difference between a prospective customer giving you a chance instead of passing you by. And once you’ve got that foot in the door, you can nurture the relationship until the customer falls in love with what you do.

What sort of things should I be giving away?

This will depend entirely on the context of your business and I can’t give you an easy answer. Just a few ideas for you to consider (and you’ll probably have your own ideas, too!)

Product trial period.

E-book.

Report or white paper.

30-minute or 1 hour consultation.

Webinar.

Online course.

Instructional video or podcast series.

Cheat-sheet.

Resources toolkit.

Worksheet or workbook.

App.

Bonus content.

Event ticket.

Sample chapter.

Quiz.

Case study.

Access to a private Facebook or LinkedIn group.

The key is to aim for freebies that make sense for your specific business and aren’t going to cost you a disproportionate amount of time, money or energy to produce and deliver. You have to weigh up the effort against the potential return. An e-book or online course takes quite a lot of time to put together, for example, but once you’ve produced it you can use it for years.

There are some businesses where giving away physical freebies makes sense, but these will be in the minority. In general, aim for digital freebies – these cost far less to produce and are easier to scale as your business gains traction.

Show, don’t tell

I’m a writer, and writers are always banging on about the importance of showing rather than telling. This applies in business as much as it applies in creative work.

You can tell your target audience that your business is amazing and your product or service will absolutely change their lives. But you can’t really expect them to believe you. After all, you would say that – you’re selling something!

If you can show them how great you are instead, you’ll have a much bigger impact. If you run a bakery, you might leave some small cake samples out for customers to try. If you sell a piece of software, perhaps you offer a short free trial period or a basic version with limited features. If you’re a coach, maybe you do free webinars or a YouTube channel where your prospective clients can get a feel for your teaching style. And so on.

Creating advocates

Giving away value in the form of appropriate freebies helps turn recipients into advocates for your business. If someone signs up for your free webinar and then tells their friend or posts on LinkedIn about how useful it was, that’s essentially free advertising. Whether or not that person ever buys from you, you’ve already seen return on your investment because more people have now heard about you and formed a favourable first impression. When you consider that an estimated 90% of consumers are more likely to trust a brand that was recommended by someone they know, you start to realise just how valuable this organic word-of-mouth marketing is.

The first rung on a ladder

Imagine your business is a ladder and the different tiers of services you offer are the rungs. Someone might step over a rung or two on their way up, but in most cases they’re unlikely to spring straight from the floor to the top rung with no in-between steps.

Step one might be watching a free video on your YouTube channel. From there, they might join your mailing list. After that, they might attend your class or buy your book. And eventually, if they like what you do enough, they might buy your pricey flagship product or hire you to undertake a large project for them.

See how it’s a process? Expecting someone to buy an expensive product or service the first time they hear about your business is a bit like asking someone to move in on the first date. Sure, it might work, but taking things one step (or rung) at a time is probably a better idea.

Lead magnets: growing your email list

Your email list is incredibly valuable – email marketing is still one of the most ubiquitous and cost-effective channels. But you need a way to get people to part with their email address and agree to receive your mailings.

The best way to do this is to offer them something in return. Can you give away an e-book, a report, access to a tutorial, or anything else your target audience is likely to find interesting? This is called a lead magnet and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they can help you grow your email list.

The people who sign up to get the freebie might not buy from you now, of course. But in the future they might need exactly what you’re offering, and your business will be the first one to come to mind.

How have you used freebies to attract new customers to your business? We’d love to hear about your strategies that worked, so get in touch!

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