Why Giving Away Your Services For Free Will Get You Business
Something you hear as common advice for new freelancers is “Don’t work for free.”
That’s true, for the most part, but there’s an exception. And it’s a big one. Give away your advice for free, and you can grow your business and make much more money in the long run.
I don’t recommend that you take on jobs for no money – that’s just devaluing your services and your profession. Your work is worth money, and you need to be sure to get paid. Giving away services is a bad idea in general.
But if you can give away your advice … which is really a service … and not charge a dime, that’s a great strategy. If your advice is good, giving it away can result in amazing growth and lots of new business.
Take myself, for example. I have a blog (Zen Habits) where I give away advice for free. Now, when I first started the blog, I was not considered an expert at anything. But the advice I give away on my blog has been very well received by readers, and my readership has grown phenomenally over the last 10 months.
Take a look at what giving away my advice for free has done for me, professionally:
I have become an expert at productivity and organization.
I certainly wasn’t an expert a year ago, but now I have people who ask for my advice, who pay for it (in the form of an ebook I recently published), who interview me about these topics, who want to have me in their books or blogs or radio shows or podcasts. In fact, I can’t keep up with all the requests.
I have also become an expert at blogging and writing.
Again, I wasn’t an expert a year ago, but partly because of my writing here at FreelanceSwitch, and my freelance writing elsewhere, I am viewed by many as an expert of sorts. And in the field of blogging, where I consider myself a relative novice (as compared to some of the true veterans and experts), many new bloggers come to me for advice. I’ve even had people willing to pay me to consult on their blog (I didn’t take them up on that, as I don’t have the time) or ask me to be a mentor.
The demand for my work is incredible.
I’m not trying to brag, but just to demonstrate the power of giving away very useful advice. I could have charged for this advice, but again, a year ago no one would have paid for it. Now they would, if I charged. But there are many people who are asking me to write for their publications or blogs, who want to hire me as a speaker or a consultant, who would like my expertise. Frankly, the demand is too great – I cannot possibly do all this work.
I can now sell my advice.
After giving my advice away for free for so long, I’ve proven its worth. And while I would never start charging for my blog’s content, when I sold some of my advice in an ebook recently (Zen To Done – The Ultimate Productivity System), it did phenomenally well (well over a thousand copies sold in two weeks). And I have a print book that’s being auctioned up to publishers as we speak.
All of this wasn’t said in order to brag. It’s just one example of how giving away my expertise for free has done so much for one freelancer – it’s done just as much for many others as well.
Let’s take a look some suggestions for how you can grow your business by giving away your services:
Blog, ebook or newsletter.
These three formats are great ways to give away advice. My blog has worked really well for me, but be warned that it takes a LOT of time commitment to grow your blog to the point where it will help your business. Giving away an ebook or sending out a free newsletter are two other great ways of doing the same thing, but with less time commitment.
Write with authority.
I’ve always made it clear to my readers that I am just a regular guy, writing about things I’ve tried out that have worked for me. But because I have actually accomplished many of the things I’m talking about, I can write with authority. I can tell people how to become an early riser, because I successfully transitioned to waking at 4:00 a.m., three hours earlier than I used to wake up. I can write with some authority about running, because I’ve completed a marathon. I can write about productivity, because I have a full-time job, six kids, a lot of freelance work, a Top 100 blog, and several other projects on top of that. Writing with authority establishes you as an expert.
Be insanely useful.
It’s one thing to whet your reader’s appetite with some introductory advice, and then charge them for more advanced advice. They’ll read that and then go elsewhere. Instead, be as useful to your readers as humanly possible. Give them everything they need and more. If you are extremely useful to them, the readers will come back for more, and will appreciate what you’re giving them.
Give it time.
You can’t give away 10 great articles on your blog, and expect to see increased business overnight. It takes time for you to establish credibility, to reach a wider audience, to prove yourself, to build up a library of useful resources. Give it a year, at least. Sure, some have done it in less time, but if you go out with the intention of accomplishing everything in a few months, you’ll probably fail. Shoot for long-term success.
Capitalize only after you’ve built readership.
Your goal in the beginning should be to build an audience, not to monetize or grow your business right away. Reach new audiences by writing guest posts for other blogs, or freelancing for a number of blogs. Build your readership by writing very useful content, and interacting with your readers, answering questions and giving away advice for free. Only after you’ve built up that audience should you think about selling an ebook or making a lot of money on ads or making more money on your consulting or freelance business.