Over the past ten years or so the Internet has busted the doors of "free stuff" wide open. More and more we are able to get cool things for absolutely no charge. Blogging platforms such as wordpress are free. Wordpress addons are free. Many iPhone apps are free. Blogs and newspapers provide free content online. You can download TV shows and songs for free (legally or not.) And you can connect with your friends for free via IM, MySpace, facebook, twitter, and a host of other free social networking platforms. I could go on.
The era of "there's no such thing as a free ride" is coming to an end. So many things are free now days I often wonder how anybody makes money anymore, especially competitors trying to sell what someone else gives away.
But free works. This has been true long before the web was invented.
Every now and then I take a walk through Costco on a weekend. Inevitably they have all the sampling booths set up for you to sample their food. It's not a free meal, but it is a free taste. And its enough to make some people want to buy the full package.
Itunes lets you get a free preview of a song before you purchase. That's a handy way to make sure you're buying the song you want. Any fast food restaurant offers free refills on soda. Now we look with scorn on anyplace that charges for the second round (unless its alcohol.)
These are just a few examples of how free works in the real world. But not all of us deal with things that are easily refillable or sampled. Can we still make "free" work for us?
I recently read a story about someone that got free advertorial space in magazines because they offered the readers something for free. The company then used up-sell techniques to break even on the free offers while at the same time building a loyal, repeat customer base.
Many online stores offer "free shipping" for first time buyers, or better yet, on all orders. You often see offers of "get a free X when you purchase Y."
We live in a society that loves to get things for free. But the good business person knows that if you gave everything away for free then there are little opportunities to make money--or live for that matter.
But leveraging the desire to get something for free doesn't mean you have to give away the store. The free must be balanced, and its the good business person who can figure out how to do that.
Giving stuff away for free doesn't have to be gimmicky. It can be a genuine offer. Sometimes you can get more long-term business by giving a few things away. Banks offer free checking because they know that in the long-term they'll make more money from their customers keeping their money with the bank. Authors often give away free copies of their books because they know if you like this one then you'll buy the next one off the shelf.
Consider the long-term customer and compare that with the cost of the free offer you're giving. If you know that long-term value is greater then don't hesitate to offer the free. Use smaller cost of the free to gain a new customer that will pay back in greater dividends
How to use the free offer to your advantage takes a bit of creativity but it can be done. Every industry is different in what they can do for free and how that can be leveraged to create a profit.
At the most basic level, offering free information is a way to get your foot in the door. But don't stop there. Use your free access to your readers to provide free offers that bring in more customers. And once they see how good the freebie is, you'll likely get many others coming back for the real thing.
That's your free tip for the day.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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