Giving Content Away for Free – Businesses Beware

Giving Content Away for Free – Businesses Beware
Wendy Thomas - Wed Apr 29, 2009 @ 05:16AM
Comments: 22

In a recent Way North Writers meeting Hope Clark who authors a website for freelance writers told the group (copywriters, journalists, and aspiring novelists) the following story. The best advice she ever got, she said, was when she was at a writer’s conference and a colleague told her “to never write for free.” Hope said that she had an epiphany from that advice that helped her hone her business direction. Photo Credit: TheTruthAbout...

Now on some level that advice may sound a bit harsh and while there will always be cases where you will want to help someone just because you can, the point of the story is well taken: If you don’t place value on your work others won’t.

It’s a simple story but it has great depth in its almost Zen-like quality and can be applied to any aspect of your work.

A common marketing strategy these days is to give away a free report or tip sheet when someone registers for your site. It’s a great tool for attracting attention people, let’s face it people always want to get a bargain. However, by placing a monetary value on that report, for example, “you can get our free report – normally valued at 29.95”, you are now giving value and importance to what was once a free item. You are telling the clients that your work is valuable and although you are willing to part with it (if they give you contact information) you want them to know that your work does not come free.

In the minds of the clients, this report suddenly becomes more desirable. They now want it. They really want it.

Compare that example with some of those infomercials that are currently out there. They advertise a product that, let’s face it sounds pretty good. But then they add if you order, you’ll also receive a second item. And…. If you order in the next 15 minutes you also get a third item. Absolutely free!

I don’t know about you, but that sort of sales technique turns me off. Instead of thinking I’m getting a bargain, I start thinking “hey, these items must be pretty cheap in order to include them all for one price.” The desire I had for the initial item (that remember, sounded pretty good) has been diluted by all the free add-ons. The entire deal has lost value with the result that I pass on it.

Think about this as you make content available to your clients on your website. Too much of a good thing can truly be, too much.

Comments: 22


1. Sarah Mitchell  |  my website   |   Wed Apr 29, 2009 @ 05:38AM

Hi Wendy,

Thanks for a valuable reminder.

I find this concept extends to discounting, as well. For as much as I'm loathe to discount my services, and thereby discount my earnings, there are times when I do it especially if it means securing a new client. Still, when I invoice them I always put the full amount on the invoice description, show the discount, and then invoice the difference. I never want them to think my rates are less than they are, or get used to paying a lower fee than I would normally charge.

This comes in handy when the hoped-for 2nd piece of business materializes. I can comfortably quote/invoice normal rates and if there's any question refer them back to the original invoice showing the full amount.

2. Mac McIntosh  |  my website   |   Wed Apr 29, 2009 @ 07:56AM


The idea of giving something a price, but offering it for free works well for increasing perceived value in B2B marketing too.

One client promotes its webinars as costing "$95 per attendee, but attend as our guest for free". Then, as a confirmaiton to registrants they send a zero balance due "paid" invoice to Webinar registrants saying something like this:

Seminar registration fee: $95.00
Paid by XYZ Corp: -$95.00
Balance due: $00.00

This has increased the the number of registrants, the number of people who actually attend their live webinars, and the number who watch the recorded version later on demand.

Like Sarah, I also show the normal price on my invoices, then a "Special Customer Discount" line showing a negative number like "-$500.00.

If the work is ongoing, I add another line on the invoice saying something like "Project Savings to Date: $..." or "Total savings to date: $..."

And, if I do anything that I don't charge extra for, I also itemize it on the invoice. For example, "0.5 days travel time $1000/day: NO CHARGE"

I've found that if my clients focus on the price alone, they tend to perceive my services as being expensive. But when they see everything that they are getting, including discounts and no charge items, they perceive the the price to be a better value.


Mac McIntosh

3. Wendy Thomas  |  my website   |   Wed Apr 29, 2009 @ 08:29AM

Sarah and Mac,

Thank you both for that detailed and helpful information. These are very good suggestions for gracefully handling what can be to some, a tricky situation.


4. Kate Headen  |  my website   |   Thu Apr 30, 2009 @ 03:17AM

I agree with both Sarah and Mac. I put any discounts and any complimentary services/travel right on the invoice. Along the same lines, I find most of my clients see my rates as a sign of my expereince and professionalism - and they are happy to pay them to ensure they get quality work. I have actually said to a client (who was considering a much cheaper provider): "Do you really want to have someone working for you who is willing to accept $X for their work?" They hired me at my full rate.

5. Laurie Phillips  |  my website   |   Thu Apr 30, 2009 @ 07:38AM

I love the suggestion to provide an invoice with a zero balance. Great idea, Mac!

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