2010 had a lot of debate about the idea of “free” as a way to build a business, gain a following and turn a profit. One service I was using actually stopped charging me to use it (InvoiceBubble.com) while others that were free placed limits on their use and started charging (Hootsuite). One of my favorite services added a paid option for some added customization (Tungle.com).
Lastly, a free service that tried to close its doors (Xmarks.com) heard the cry of their users who said they would gladly pay to keep it alive (it eventually got purchased by another company and added a paid option). I know that you can make a lot of money offering someone a “free” version and then getting them to upgrade because for the rest of their lives but at the core of “Freemium” isn’t price, it’s a great service. The key to offering things at no monetary cost to potential paying customers is in my opinion, intent. Is it bait wrapped around a hook (that makes the customer a fish and no fish wins in that scenario) or is it truly a gift?
A psychologist friend of mine once asked me if I do anything with 100% pure motives. I was at a three week training to go on staff with Young Life (a non-denominational youth ministry organization) and I was fresh out of college. Without hesitating I said that I did do some things with pure motivations. She pressed me on my answer and I got very frustrated because she seemed to be insinuating that I was in fact doing a lot of things for selfish reasons. It’s 12 years later and if she asked me about my motivations now I’d have to answer differently. Everything I do (including giving away services, tutorials and advice for free) is in some way selfish. Just because it’s selfish doesn’t mean it’s dishonest. What I give away is helpful. When 37signals.com offers free versions of their paid programs people benefit from that. Is there a trick? Not as long as the version you signed up for stays free (this is where I think Hootsuite pissed some people off). Is free great for marketing? I think so.
Every week someone asks me the same question. “What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their business and needs to find customers?” My answer, “Find people you can give your service or product to at absolutely no charge.” Don’t charge them “cost” or a 50% discount. Give your service, product…whatever it is, away. This will benefit you in the following ways:
1. You’ll get honest feedback if you ask for it.
2. They may know some potential customers and send them to you.
3. They may become a paying customer themselves.
4. You will help them.
5. It feels good.
So what’s the point of “free”? I’m selfish so I give things away for free because:
1. I get honest feedback.
2. I get potential customers from those who receive my free stuff.
3. I get paying customers from the same people.
4. It helps people.
5. It feels good.
Let’s get it out there. No one has 100% pure motives. I don’t have pure motives when I love my wife (I want her to feed me and take care of our children because she’s better at both things). I don’t have pure motives in my friendships (I want them to like me, to say nice things about me and to invite me to do stuff with them). I don’t have pure motives in business (I want to get money from people, for them to tell other people about me and I like feeling wanted/important). We’re selfish because we know that givers often benefit the most because giving feels awesome. That’s why I made my tutorials all free (http://www.AndyTraub.com/free).
None of us pure and neither is “free”. I still think it’s a great idea though.
Go give some stuff away and see what happens. Start with giving your family your time then move on to your business, I believe you’ll be rewarded for both.