The money you attract is the exact measure of value of the ideas you have succeeded in externalizing.” -Elizabeth Towne
Does giving away free stuff cost you sales?
This is something that comes up with almost every client of mine at some point. They’ve heard all about the power of giving away valuable free content, but they start to wonder…is it costing them?
There’s a general concern that by giving the milk away for free, no one will want to buy the cow.
This can be especially concerning at the start of building a business when we haven’t seen a ton of profit from the seeds we’ve sown.
There are plenty of coaches and business gurus who will teach you to guard your content goods like a hawk and dole out just enough to whet someone’s appetite.
There are also schools of thought which warn against giving anything away for free at all. I’ve had more than one person online comment that they’d never give that away for free.
I’m going to share a different perspective backed by buying psychology and personal business experience. Then, you can put on your CEO hat and decide for yourself.
Let’s break this down into four key reasons why giving the milk away for free will actually help you sell the cow!
1. It’s Psychology: We Want to Give When We Get
Study after study has shown that us humans feel pretty darn obligated to return the favor when someone gives us something for free (even if we don’t want it).
This is why free downloads rule the internet, grocery stores are handing out Kombucha samples like they’re going out of style, and receiving compliments tends to make us return in like.
This is something Robert Cialdini talks about in extent in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
He explains that humans are wired to want to repay what people give us - favors, gifts, invitations, etc. When we get something of value for free, we feel obligated to reciprocate.
What we can take away from this? When it comes to our concern about giving away free value, content, freebies, trial sessions, gifts, compliments, comments….it’s all good. In fact, it’s all great!
As long as you’re also asking for an even energy exchange on the flip side (this can be anything from an email address to a sale), giving things away is going to tap into the power of reciprocity and help you sell more, not less.
If you’re reading this, I know you’re a heart-centered entrepreneur and you’re only going to use this information for good. Knowledge is power, use it responsibly.
2. Builds Our Know, Like, and Trust.
If you’ve been in the business world for more than a second, you’ve heard all about ‘know, like, and trust.’
There’s a good reason for this. Building relationships where people get to know, like, and trust us is an essential ingredient to being able to sell our products and services, so we can make money doing what we love.
Giving something valuable away for free helps with all of the above.
People have an easy way to get to know and like us and our work through a free offer. And, there’s some buying psychology wrapped up in this as well.
We tend to buy from people and companies we feel we know, we like, and we trust.
“Few people would be surprised to learn that, as a rule, we most prefer to say yes to requests of someone we know and like,” says Cialdini.
When two products or services are similar, we also buy from who we know, like, and trust. Even if that same product is slightly inferior!
What’s maybe even more important in an increasingly online world where we don’t always know who to trust, giving a free taste builds trust. It says, “I told you I’d deliver on this promise, and I did. I told you what to expect, and that’s exactly what you got.”
That’s what trust is all about, and that’s very powerful when it comes to business building.
3. It Starts the Commitment Process.
When we give a ‘no strings attached’, low-commitment offer to someone, we give people an easy way to say ‘yes’ and move towards us.
If we think about the path from first meeting potential clients to the time they become paying clients, we often see a series of small commitments that build on one another.
This is a little like dating. The more ‘yesses’ we get, the more the commitment has the opportunity to escalate. And, since not everyone is ready to say ‘I do’ to our big-ticket offers when they meet us for the first time online, free gives someone an easy, first date to say yes to.
Giving away some goods for free makes that first step towards us, that first commitment, so much easier.
But, don’t kid yourself, this is still a commitment. It’s a commitment of time and energy, which is pretty valuable. Anyone who’s ever been on a bad first date can attest to what commitment this really is!
This is another piece of buying psychology Cialdini talks about. When someone makes a move towards us and commits in some way, say by giving us their email address, watching our webinar, or hopping on a free call with us, they’re more likely to buy from us.
Why? Us humans really like to seem congruent. This is fancy Psych 101 talk for, we like to look like we’re consistent.
As entrepreneurs building businesses we love that also get us paid, this is incredibly important to know. Often, the easiest AND most heart-centered, service-based path to a sale (aka getting paid) is by giving away your best stuff and giving people an easy way to move towards you, make a commitment, get to know, like, and trust you, and reciprocate with the next commitment you offer them!
4. Personal Business Experience
I’ve built a profitable and sustainable business I love off a core strategy that’s centered around giving away tons of free value.
This allowed me to book my first paying clients ever. And as my business grows, I’ve been doubling down on what I give away for free, and it’s only increased my bottom line.
So, while some coaches might tell you to put a kibosh on the free stuff, I’m going to say, it’s probably costing you if you aren’t leaning into the power of giving free value. From a business strategy perspective this also just works.
Here’s the one addition I’ll make that’s easy to forget as we go down the free wheelin’ road: don’t forget to make offers for the next level of commitment and sell. Otherwise, giving away tons of free stuff can cost you business.
Wishing you your version of success!
P.S. Want some support building a business you're wildly in love with that also gets you paid? This just so happens to be what I'm really good at helping entrepreneurs, creatives, and coaches do!