How to Make Money with Free

image of sign saying yes, it's free

We live in a world of free. If you’re trying to make money, especially online, you might think that would make things difficult.

Every day, someone releases a new eBook, video, or podcast that not only contains tremendous value, but gives away many of the “tricks of the trade” that we used to have to pay for.

You’d think that the paid content business would be shrinking in the face of all this free information, but it keeps getting stronger. How can that be?

For instance, there are a lot of free materials that teach people how to set up a WordPress blog or to use Twitter effectively. A quick search on YouTube will provide you with hundreds of videos that can teach you to do almost anything you want to know.

Yet, there are still people making plenty of cash selling products explaining how to do any and all of those things.

How do they do it?

Building relationships

People buy from those that they know and trust.

Sure, there are people in the yellow highlighter brigade who can sell ice to an Eskimo, but it isn’t easy to do. (And you may not even want to.)

Most of us can’t write the ultimate sales letter. We also can’t afford to hire a $20,000 copywriter. So how do we do it? We build relationships.

When you establish a “winning difference” or USP, you can start attracting the people who really dig what you do.

If your stuff is good, I guarantee you can find at least one evangelist to recruit others to come check you out. They’ll spread the word for you, which attracts more evangelists, and means that you will have ever more people stopping by.

Nurture relationships with your readers and evangelists and your small army will continue to grow.

The benefit of free

Content marketing is all about giving away some of your best stuff for free. Not just your “pretty good” content, but content that will improve and add value to the lives of your readers.

As they learn more, their game will improve and they’ll keep coming around for more. And they’ll want to reciprocate by either buying your paid products or spreading your message.

Most people won’t buy from you unless you’ve proven to them that you know what you’re talking about. Great content is one of the best ways you can do that. When you give content away for free, you earn trust and anchor your business in the mind of that reader. If they use your stuff, and it works, they’ll keep coming back for more.

They’ll pay for souvenirs

I first heard this idea from Seth Godin when he gave a speech about book marketing, but the concept applies to nearly every online business.

He said that people buy souvenirs, not products. In the music industry, Nine Inch Nails does this by selling collector’s editions of their albums. In the blogging industry, we can do it by selling a physical version of a product, limiting quantities of digital products, or by publishing a book.

If your blog creates a great experience, think about what kind of souvenirs you could offer that would let them hold onto that experience.

They’ll pay for access

Particularly if you’ve used your blog to build your reputation and authority, you can also sell different levels of access to you.

The people who truly love what you do want other ways to access your knowledge. Your raving fans will start by picking up every digital product you offer. From there, many will want more exclusive access, such as a consulting service, a mentoring or coaching program, or a monthly membership with exclusive access to you.

If you empower people to do what they most want to do, they’ll want to buy something in order to feel closer to you. (And, of course, it goes without saying that you’ll deliver value that’s in line with the prices you’re charging.)

JB Glossinger does a great job of this with his Coach Cast. Brian and Sonia do it with Teaching Sells.

You’d have to sell thousands of eBooks to make a living as a blogger, but it might take only a few hundred premium members to do the same job.

Free samples have been part of marketing and selling since long before the Internet. Give great value and follow a few proven models, and you’ll discover not only does “free” not hurt you, it can actually be a great boost for your online business.

About the Author: Nathan Hangen writes about web entrepreneurship at NathanHangen.com, and about how to use social media to fuel your brand at Making It Social. Follow him on Twitter @nhangen.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. Making money is not an easy task. It needs patience, tricky mind, focus, right moment and lots…I think

  2. Agreed. You said it very well. It has to be quality content.

    Also I wanted to mention that by doing this you are helping others learn. And they will especially love you if you help them figure something out they are stuck on.

    It raises the bar quite a bit when you can help someone and solve their problem. Which is what it’s all about, solving problems.

    Good post!

  3. The “souvenirs” angle isn’t talked about often enough, and it can work amazingly well. It’s particularly good for creative folks–painters, artisans, etc. You can create a great experience with a show or event that’s free, which pulls folks into buying a physical object to remember the great event.

  4. Especially in the early stages, many bloggers should focus on building success by creating a foundation of quality content, solid promotion and great relationships.

    Spending time monetizing during the first few months probably isn’t the best use of their time anyway (plus, they’ll be disappointed with the results!).

  5. It’s so true though that I would be willing to buy an ebook or something from a site I trust, even if I know that some heavy research online would get me the answers for free – it’s about the relationship they’ve built with me :-)

  6. How many of us wish we had our very own Obi-Wan Kenobi? Giving your audience your best makes them feel like you’ve got their backs. That feeling can be hard to come by. If you really care about your people, they know it.

    Trust is a gift.

  7. I hadn’t come across the souvenirs idea before – that’s a good one. Thanks Nathan.

  8. I don’t think people understand how much leading with value can help out your business. It seems like are tons of people that are only looking to make a quick buck, and that’s why they aren’t making any money.

    The day that I decided to really help people get exactly what they want was the day that my business really took off. The more information I gave away for free, the more money people would spend on my products.

    I think that’s a huge lesson to learn for anybody trying to succeed in this business.

  9. Sonia,

    I’m still waiting for my Copyblogger coffee mugs and T-Shirts. Large in both cases! ;)

    Shane

  10. Nice post that illustrates how it’s important to give and share with others, spreading the knowledge and building a trusted image and brand.

  11. Hey Nathan,

    Make money with free by building trust and a genuine relationship with your followers for free, and then providing them with premium value-giving solutions that they’re willing to pay for.

    It could be a product delving deeper into a topic, giving people detailed step-by-step guides to something they desire to do. Or it could be a premium version of something you already have (like you mentioned, a “souvenir” of sorts).

    There are examples of writers (Seth Godin, Leo Babauta) who released a book or e-book that simply collects articles from their blog. People still bought it because they:
    a) save time by having the best content conveniently collected into one package, and
    b) get a premium version of free content by having it be nicely packaged and presented.

    What’s great about making money with free content is, while it may take more time initially, it’s easier and an investment. Once you have a solid and constantly-growing following that trusts and desires you, you don’t have to do new work to find potential customers each time you have something new to offer.

    Awesome reminder to build followers with remarkable free content, then offer amazing and value-giving premium paid content,
    Oleg

  12. @Shane, you are totally right, I think that would be pretty cool myself. :)

  13. Nathan, good post, thanks for sharing some premium free content.

  14. Agreed, Nathan. One of the best bits of advice I took away from the BlogWorld Expo this year was from Brian Clark, who said “Don’t sacrifice a lot of money later for a little money now. ”

    Your first blog will be the one that you will have to nurture, build trust with, and share your knowledge for free in the beginning. But, from there you can launch other blogs or businesses that will take off and will monetize much quicker.

    Love this statement: “Not just your “pretty good” content, but content that will improve and add value to the lives of your readers.”

  15. One quick note:

    Turns out selling ice to Eskimos is pretty easy, according to Fast Company. :-)

    http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/45/cdu.html

  16. “If you empower people to do what they most want to do, they’ll want to buy something in order to feel closer to you.”

    This is a great point that grabbed my attention Nathan.

    In my estimation, for your ideal client/prospect, nothing short of direct, face-to-face, live and in person contact will ever fulfill them.

    Whether it’s bragging rights or feeling like there’s knowledge they’re not getting by just buying your info products or… having the idea that their situation is unique… they see complete customization is the ONLY way to successfully resolving their issue(s).

    Great writing facilitates this process and Dan Kennedy’s “Influential Writing” product teaches this masterfully. I’m sure Teaching Sells does also but I don’t have direct experience with it so I can’t brag about it.

    What I can say is money is “Freelance X Factor”. Brian and Sonia put together an amazing resource that shows you how to successfully market your services without being douchebagy or blah like 80%+ of your competitors are.

    Leo Babauta’s A-List Blogging program has served me well also in this idea of demonstrating your expertise via showing up to party with gifts rather than empty handed or worse… empty handed, needing a hand out.

    Thanks Nathan for reinforcing this principle in my mind.

  17. Your are so right.Funny that people buy souvenirs but won’t pay for the same marked as product. I think products are dispensable, souvenirs are for keeps, and seem special.

    But I think getting to that point takes hard work, and lots of time building relationships

  18. Thanks for all of the positive comments.

    @Stacey – I love the Obi-Wan Kinobi reference…there’s a blog post in that :)

    What I find most interesting in the comments is that most of us admit that this process works, even from a buyer’s standpoint.

    It’s one of the reasons that I struggle to move to the Kindle from paper books, and I suspect it is a reason that people will willingly pay for information that they already have access to.

    @Coree – that is such a great example because many of us have been conditioned to expect instant results and overnight success, even when we are given examples of what it takes to be successful over the long term.

    @Sonia – I’m down for some Copyblogger gear too. In fact, I was joking with Lisa Morosky at bwe09 that I can’t believe more bloggers don’t sell T-shirts and other similar merchandise.

  19. Free can make you money, so long as the perceived value isn’t free.

    You do have to “sell” free just like anything else, with benefits and building value into whatever you’re offering for free.

  20. Nathan, an Obi-Wan post occurred to me, too. Working on it…

  21. How about this. Your next Authority Rules type of project; make the price of admission the purchase of a copyblogger t-shirt instead of giving the information away for free or requiring people to comment on a post.

    I’ll buy one for that.

  22. Trust is built on a relationship and what better way to earn the trust than by offering free goods and services. Loved the article Nathan!

  23. Great article and site! gonna start reading your posts :) thanks

  24. Spot on Nathan! No matter how much great content I write, I haven’t gotten as much response or queries as now that I’ve decided to hold a free webinar addressing all issues from setting up a website to making money online. The respondents feel that I’m all there for them and that goes a long way towards building a relationship based on trust. This is one popular site.

  25. Great post..FREE- runs the internet not just blogging.Imagine what would happen if you had to pay to search with google.Imagine if twitter charged 50 cent to tweet.Imagine if we had to pay a few cents to join facebook.Imagine if we had to pay to read copyblogger.
    The truth is ,any website ,blog or service that does not give a ‘free’ is really missing out in the action.
    Am building my “free” and will be giving it out soon.

  26. Chris Andersen wrote a great book on the subject of free. I believe it’s still available, free, in audio form from audible. The wonderful thing about the internet is it gives all of us the chance to build relationships at little more cost than our time. Which is slowly killing off the yellow highlighter scorched-earth crowd who still believe they only have one shot at you. Thanks for the great post.

  27. “He said that people buy souvenirs, not products. In the music industry, Nine Inch Nails does this by selling collector’s editions of their albums. In the blogging industry, we can do it by selling a physical version of a product, limiting quantities of digital products, or by publishing a book.”

    That’s an interesting example to site the music industry because for artists touring is what’s keeping their career going.

    But what’s most interesting about the live music industry is that concessions and sounveries are where the most money is made (not on ticket sales) when it’s all said and done. So even though I believe in free in the sense you’re using it, I still think its strange how it’s the opposite for live music. How many times do you see bands giving away free concert shirts at concerts? But still fans will pay 20-30 buck for a t-shirt because they love that band and want to remember that experience.

  28. @DaveN, hah, thanks for the awesome “ice to Eskimos” link!

  29. once again content is the king, but free stuff + great content would be a great traffic magnet :)

  30. I’m glad people are shifting back from this “free only” mentality. There is a lot of room for paid. Both require value and a good angle. The most important element, however, is hard work and smart delegating. That’s it.

    Ramsay

  31. I like all points you share here. Do open source projects using the same tactic? Their products are completely free but they can still make most out of them and even become rich. For instance, Firefox earn millions last year although it doesn’t require users to buy.

  32. Giving away quality content for free is great for a couple of reasons:

    1) It shows the reader that you have plenty of creative resources and that you are not afraid to share. It signals abundance mentality. People want to know that they can get more of what they life at any point of time in the future.

    2)It shows the reader that you are concerned about the reader and not about making money. That makes them feel more connected with the author and they learn how to trust him/her more.

    3)Great quality content will make people appreciate it and understand that they are getting something of value. It is my experience, that given the chance people will willingly pay for something that is of direct value of them.

    4)It gives the readers the ability to “test drive” the product before committing themselves to a higher degree of involvement.

    5)Free does not cause buyers remorse :), it just costs a few minutes of their lives.

    Yet, the trick to the author is to keep writing and creating quality content. Once people get used to it, they start expecting quality. Delivering anything other than that, will make people question you and your motives and your identity.

    Thanks for the reminder to create quality and live in abundance.

    Best,

    Tomas

  33. Carefully selecting your words and strategically placing them on a page to create impulsive reactions from the reader can lead to a direct sell.

  34. Great post Nathan.
    The challenge of free for those of us from the baby boomer generation is huge. I was told as I was growing up that if it was FREE then it probably wasn’t very good. Getting over this hangup has been quite a journey and a real key in trying to be more effective on line.
    The great breakthrough came when I decided that the technology we’d developed for eight years needed to be given away free as part of membership. Our business and traffic has taken a totally different direction from that time. I firmly believe in the power of free because it’s very hard to compete with and it gives people the time to get to know who you are and what you do in depth before having to hand over money.

  35. Those are some good points. But, with a lot of competition out there offering very similar items for free, it’s important to be unique, and really stress relationship building.

    Relationship building does take quite some time though, and many people who read similar posts to this one will think it’s a task that can be achieved within a week, or even a month. They need to realize that building relationships online is as hard, if not harder, than building relationships in person.

  36. You know, it’s much easier to build good relationships, build evangelists and have them help you market/sell your product/service! Sure it might require that you give a lot of yourself (and knowledge) over and over again and often times for free… But when they evangelize, boy do they evangelize and refer people to you almost without even thinking about it! And that’s…well, that’s just magic.

  37. The day that I decided to really help people get exactly what they want was the day that my business (and imcome) really took off. The more information I gave away for free, the more money people would spend on my products and services. It’s a valuable less and one I learned.

  38. It is so true that building relations in your business is the first thing you need to establish to see success. Some people do that by sharing things for free, some do that by creating highly unique content and some do that by getting personal. I am trying to combine all three and in the long term I’m sure this will work.

  39. Great post Nathan. Agree that building relationship is the most important task for online success but it takes time. It’s great to see that people are earning more by giving valuable content for free.

  40. All very good points. I will be implementing Free-ness into my model. Thanks

  41. Great post, I agree with you Nathan.. Showing proof that you know what you talking about and have the results that you talk about is a sure ticket to success on the internet. Thanks for info.

  42. Building relationships is key to success of making money online. Thanks or sharing this.

  43. The benefit of free! That one section of your post says it all. If what you give away for free is good, then people will come back for more. That’s how you build relationships, and trust, and that’s how you make money. Thanks….

  44. Hi Nathan,

    thanks for the info.

    I think that “Building relationships” is really important, in business, but above all in Life.

  45. Great post Nathan. Yes I agree with you, building relationship is essential and combining that with free will work for sure. In my business real estate a lot of customers come for bargain deals but ultimately buy a regular priced house. It is pretty much like the concept of giving away free stuff and then coming back for more.