Fellow Kent-based marketer and Top100 Digital Marketing Influencer Daniel Knowlton recently started a discussion thread on his Facebook page which I contributed to.
It was such a great topic of debate, that I got a bit carried away and wrote A LOT, which I wanted to share more widely by creating this blog post.
Daniel asked us to think about whether it is right for businesses to be giving all their content away for free online. I responded by saying that I personally aim to share as MUCH knowledge as I can as WIDELY as I can, and would encourage my clients to do the same (I try to lead by example!)
I do this through my own blogging, contributing to discussions and answering queries in various Facebook Groups including my own (The Fruitful Marketers Playground), as well as sharing links to interesting articles via my LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.
As Daniel says, so much information now is already available online. If you’re not sharing it freely, then people can find it from other sources. So – why not be the source and position yourself as a helpful expert?
I understand (from personal experience) that there can come a time (or times) when you just feel like all you are doing is GIVING and not GETTING anything back. While it can be good to give with no expectation of any return (this is pure, best-intention giving-for-the-sake of giving as discussed in books such as The Gift and The Go-Giver), it can sometimes become unsustainable. There may come a day when you no longer have the time or energy to continue helping people for free. At the end of the day, your business needs to make money to keep going, and you need to enjoy sharing and not resent it or feel like it is becoming a tedious chore.
So, what is my answer to the question: ‘when is time to stop giving away for free and when should you start selling?’
The short answer is – when it feels right.
The longer answer is – that point will be different for different people depending on their specific business model, purpose and life stage.
Broadly speaking however I think that whenever information is being personalised and given privately to a particular client rather given publicly as general advice then you should be charging for this as a bespoke service.
You can still give out some personalised advice free of charge (e.g. by responding to queries via social media in public groups and pages) but by allowing others to view the conversion you can reach a wider audience and justify the value of the free work for future lead generation and brand building.
If someone messaged me privately to request advice I would arrange to speak to them or meet up one-to-one and would look to charge for my time and the value I am giving to ensure a fair exchange.
So I guess the roundabout answer I am getting to here is that it needs to be about balancing- what you are GIVING for what you are GETTING in return. This is a long game though so it’s not about quick wins!
There is no hard and fast one-size fits all answer to this – you need to keep adjusting over time as your business develops. In the early days of launching and trying to establish visibility and credibility it might make sense to offer more of your time to giving help for free but as you get busier and more well-known it becomes less sustainable. Everyone needs to find their own personal balance.
Have you found yourself struggling with this question?
Have you reached a point where you have had to cut back on what you are willing to give away for free?