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The Power and Problem with Free in Your Business

The Power and Problem with Free in Your Business

The Power and Problem with Free in Your Business

Today, as a business professional, you're expected to give a certain amount of your knowledge away for free. It's simply the professional standard. While we can argue whether you should do this or not, the truth is much of your competition is probably already offering free content and other benefits of their knowledge. If you don't do the same, you will lose out.

People researching your product or service will find free content on your competitor site, spend more time there, possibly download some materials, exchange their email address for the content and then become part of a nurturing campaign. Or they may come to your site, see there are no free resources, and leave immediately.

Which one of those sites do you think Google will rank higher as being more valuable?

Google will assume spending more time on a site means that site has more of what the visitor is looking for. So your competition will organically rank higher than you will because Google regards it as a provider of high-quality content.

Free is no longer an option. It's a need that your customers have, whether they tell you or not.  Even businesses with a very short sales cycle, ones where customers come in, buys, and leaves, they're still using free resources. Walmart, for instance, has an extensive ideas section on its website filled with recipes, book suggestions, technology reviews, and crafting tips. These are all articles written for the company to serve as a resource for people who are considering a purchase. Walmart understands the power of someone lingering on their site. 

Understand the Power and Problem with Free
As mentioned, in business these days you need to be willing to provide free content and free advice. Many businesses offer a free consultation to find out if a potential client is a good fit for them. After all, if you can't help them you don't want to take them on as a client or customer. That will only result in a bad review.

While you need to give to get, you also must consider the balance because people believe that they get what they pay for. If you're offering too much for free then they may undervalue your services. 

So how do you find that perfect line?

Tips for Giving

It's important to understand the kind of things--that when given away for free--effectively drive business versus the kind of things that when given away detract from your business. For instance, some business gurus will tell you not to allow people to “pick your brain” or take you out for lunch or drinks in exchange for advice. I disagree  But you must limit what you provide. Here's how you can give them enough information to interest them but not enough to feel like they don't need to buy from you.

Understand Know, Like and Trust
Very few people want to buy from a business they know nothing about. People want to do business with other people they know, like, and trust. You can establish these things through your social media, your web content, and word-of-mouth referrals. 

But sometimes you're offered an even better opportunity to help someone get to know you. When a person asks to interact with you by taking you out to lunch, drinks, or coffee, take them up on it but limit your time. Consider this an audition for the role you want to have (with them as a customer). 

If they aren't an ideal customer of yours and they don't fit the demographic you serve, you need to decide whether you have the time available to help. Because if they don't fit your ideal demographic, that's what you're're simply helping. It's unlikely there will be a direct sale unless you impress that person so much that they refer a colleague (who is in your demographic) your way.

See the Benefit to Your Sales Department
When you create resources for your ideal customer, you're also creating resources that tell someone who isn't your ideal customer that they would be better served if they look elsewhere. This means they will “self qualify” without tying up any of your sales time. This can be an incredible benefit to your sales department because it now means they won't be spending time deciding if the people are or aren't a good fit for what they sell.

So instead of allowing your sales department to handle every single person who comes onto your website, providing this important information to them instead causes them to decide on their own whether they are a good fit for your business or not.

Frame the Buying Process
If you have a product or service that requires a little bit of research or comparison shopping before buying, creating free resources allows you to frame the buying process in a way that benefits you. For instance, assume you own a rug cleaning business and you are the only one in town who offers a waterless service. You can create resources around how having an excess amount of water on your carpet is a bad thing and how they should choose a waterless option. You can provide potential customers with a list of questions to ask during the buying process and you can frame them in a way that benefits your business.

Don't Provide the Entire Solution
How many people would hand over $15 for a movie ticket when they knew the entire plot line including all the twists? Not too many. There are still the die-hard fans that might do that but for the most part once they know the plot, they'll lose interest. The same is true of your clients. 

You don't need to worry about giving resources away for free unless you give them everything they need to obtain a solution. For instance, let's say you own a marketing agency. If someone needs some help you don't want to draw up an entire strategic plan and hand it over to them. Instead, you want to give them areas of advice you might suggest something like an email campaign or social media ads. You don't tell them how to do it, nor do you give them all of the information on how you would set something like that up. Instead, you give them ideas and then they can choose to either do the research and work on their own or come back to you and pay for your expertise. 

Giving away free resources is often a point of contention with business owners. It's taking them a long time to get the knowledge that they have and they don't want to just give it away. But you needn't write a business memoir with everything you've learned since high school. Instead, look for ways that sharing your business knowledge can lead you to more lucrative opportunities in the future.

Christina R. Metcalf (formerly Green) is a marketer who enjoys using the power of story and refuses to believe meaningful copy can be written by bots. She helps chamber and small business professionals find the right words when they don’t have the time or interest to do so. Christina hates exclamation points and loves road trips. Say hi on Twitter or reach out on Facebook.

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