Free Stuff is Powerful But It Doesn’t Pay the Bills


Free stuff is everywhere you look and free (or very cheap) is fast becoming the norm in lots of online industries.

Which is all well and good but unless you barter for absolutely everything it’s not going your bills. And there’s not much chance that your electricity company or internet provider or phone company or supermarket will barter with you unless you “barter” with money.

What can you do to set yourself apart and justify charging money for your products?

Use a Freemium Model

This is a model used in all sorts of different industries.

WordPress use it in a couple of different ways for websites – in common with millions of others, I’m using the free version on this site but there are options for me to pay for other services, some of which give WordPress money. They also host people’s websites and have a variety of upgrade options.

Lots of games and phone apps use a freemium model: the basic app is free, you pay for additional features or to get rid of adverts.

Services like DropBox offer free storage space and rely on some people upgrading to the paid option.

Freemium services work but you need relatively big numbers to make money from them.

If you can get one or two people per hundred signups to pay you for extra features, that’s probably a good target but it means you need thousands of freebie seekers to get you to a decent income. Not impossible but not easy unless you somehow manage to go viral with your service.

Premium or Extended Support

This is a model often used by the software industry but it can be applied elsewhere.

Regular support is available free, maybe for a short length of time.

Anything over and above costs money.

With software, it’s often updates to the program for a year and you can buy additional years at additional cost or – maybe – get a lifetime licence.

That works in other areas. Here in the UK, the National Trust offer you the option of paying each time you visit one of their properties or you can buy an annual or lifetime membership. They include extras such as free parking and printed copies of their magazine.

This support model works with almost any business – it could be hand-holding (maybe with email or Skype or Hangouts), it could be a done-for-you upgrade if that works for your niche, it could be a series of pre-written whatevers.

That’s done in diet books a lot – you get recipes and a suggested menu for a week or a month to support you.

In self help, it could be a bunch of pre-written affirmations or a goal setting document.

It could even just be some nice-to-have extras that worked alongside the free product.

Chances are you can do some kind of premium or extended support with almost any niche.

If you’re stuck for ideas, explore related products or even unrelated ones – some of my best promotions have come from different niches where something is commonplace in the unrelated niche but unheard of in the niche I’m operating in.

Personal support

We’re so used to being told by a pre-recorded voice that our call is important but the lack of a prompt reply means that’s a lie.

But it does mean that personal support is something we put a premium on.

Apple have got it down to a fine art – their Genius Bars mostly sort out problems in store and help to justify the premium price for their products.

But the same principle can work with free products as well.

You could offer a handful of free responses or a self-help system.

That could be much like eBay, Google, Amazon and others do online with a seemingly never ending series of drop downs and selections which are a bit like the vending machine tea in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – almost but not quite like what you were expecting.

If you go down this route, be careful how you phrase things. You want people to give you money (obviously) but you don’t want to make them seem unintelligent if they can’t figure it out for themselves.

Personal support can be worth a large premium because it’s becoming increasingly rare in our society.

And if it’s the difference between spending hours searching Google or YouTube to try to find a relevant and up to date answer versus just sending an email or a Skype message, you’ll find people are often willing to pay.

Mastermind groups/Consulting

Napoleon Hill suggested using a mastermind alliance in his book Think and Grow Rich.

They can be done informally – you can vividly imagine them in the privacy of your own mind – or they can be done formally. Maybe as a Skype or Facebook group, maybe with actual meetings.

Marketers like Dan Kennedy offer increasing levels of access and accountability in their inner circle mastermind groups.

You could set up something similar if you get your free product out to enough people because there will (eventually) be some people who get your free product who then decide they’d like to pick your brain in more depth. Either with a consulting session or as part of an organised mastermind group.

Use Affiliate & Product Links

There’s only so much information you can give in a free product.

Whether it’s a short, no fluff, report or an hour or more of video trading or a set of PDFs that would take hours to read and weeks or months to digest and implement.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t suggest the infoglut option for a free product.

Most people are looking for a simple solution even if they know deep down that they’d have to be something closer to a brain surgeon to get it fully working.

Using affiliate and product links for “more information” is a good way of getting round that problem.

People can explore the areas that interest them and ignore the other parts.

So you could offer a highly informative, 30,000 feet, overview of your niche as the free product with numerous links woven into it that earned you a commission.

It’s a neat way of turning your free stuff into an income stream.

People use it all the time on sites like YouTube – they’ll show you the answer and include links to related information.

Recipe sites do it regularly – the kitchen equipment, special ingredients, cookbooks are all fair game for being promoted.

Freemium Membership Sites

This is a slightly different twist to offering free and premium services on one website.

Instead, you have different levels of membership: free and paid.

Those can all be on the same website – plugins like S2Member allow you to do that relatively easily once you’ve got over the learning curve.

Or you could “cheat” like I’ve done on my affiliate marketing site and install a second copy of WordPress for members only.

There are plus and minus points for both approaches.

Two copies of WordPress is a fairly simple solution but does involve the hassle of yet more updates every time WordPress and plugins get new releases.

One site with different membership levels can work to entice people to sign up – the locked content can act as an incentive to upgrade or it can work as a dis-incentive if they think that they’re not getting enough value as a free member. It’s a bit of a tightrope walk.

For a longer discussion on this, click here.

No Simple Answer – sorry!

There’s no simple answer on how much (if any) free stuff to use in your business.

If you’re happy to risk things you could give everything away on (say) your YouTube channel and just rely on the advertising split with them. Which is fine so long as everything stays fine and a major pain in the neck if their computer suddenly takes a disklike to you and either cuts off the income stream completely or merely pushes your videos down in the results.

Personally I don’t like the approach of relying on external factors any more than I have to – maybe that makes me a control freak but I’m happy with that.

Free stuff plus extra free stuff interweaved with products (your own or affiliate ones or a mix) can work well.

Purely paid stuff works for some people – including quite a lot of product promoters on places like Clickbank – but can take a while until you gain momentum.

You need to work out your own internet marketing strategy to figure out what works best for you.

It can be a trial and error approach but then most things are when you’re learning them. And even experts can be wrong footed if they start to believe their own hype too much.

The important thing is to start and fail fast if you have to.

That means giving a new approach long enough for it to take effect without persisting for too long when it’s apparent to everyone (even you) that it’s not working.

Free stuff is almost certainly a part of the internet marketing mix that’s here to stay. But unless it’s just a hobby you need to make sure that there are enough opportunities to get some kind of income as well.

Good luck! And don’t be too proud to ask for help on those occasions where you get stuck.