How to Monetize “Free”

These days, everyone talks about free content. “Give it away!” they say, but does this really work? Well, yes and no. As with anything, there has to be a strategy.

Last Saturday I was on my morning run through our neighborhood and I noticed a number of garage sale signs (that’s tag sale for those of you back east). One of the signs had a sign beneath it that read: We have free stuff! As I ran though the neighborhood I passed that house and noticed they put all their free stuff in the “Free zone” and already, even at that early hour, hoards of people were migrating there.

I passed the other garage sales which were doing OK, but not great. Clearly the one with the free stuff pulled more people, but did it actually sell more paid merchandise? Yes. I checked in with the sale after my run to find most of the good stuff gone (note to self: shop first, exercise later). When I talked to the homeowner they said that the free stuff went fast, but as I noted each time I passed by, it wasn’t junk stuff, it was actually good enough to make the garage sale shopper feel like they got a real deal. If it’s junk and it’s free, it doesn’t really matter.

What’s the lesson here? Free stuff can help you sell more of the paid merchandise, but you have to be careful, because some people just want freebies and that’s fine. But they are not your customers. Here are some tips to help you maximize the use of free:

1.      Why free? The first question you should ask yourself is why are you doing this?  If you aren’t sure, then free might not be right for you. Free content should be offered to help further your message, build a list, and get new people into your marketing funnel. If your model isn’t set up this way, maybe it should be. If you aren’t interested in this kind of a marketing model, then free probably isn’t your thing.

2.      Define how free can help: Figure out why you want to give free stuff. As I mentioned above, getting clear about your model will help determine if a free product is even worth your time. If it is, then you need to figure out how it will help you. As an example, we have a lot of free stuff on the Author Marketing Experts, Inc. site (www.ameauthors.com) but the free for us is designed to build trust. Distrust is rampant online, and in particular, in the book promotion and publishing industry. There are a lot of scams out there and so trust is important. Our free stuff builds our mailing list, yes, but it also builds trust.

3.      Make sure it’s really free: A lot of people have content that is purported to be free when it’s not really free. What I mean is that you get a sliver of it, not even a piece really worth mentioning, but the stuff you want is something you have to pay for. If you want to do free, make it free. Find something of value and give it to your customers.

4.      Make it something your end user wants: As I’ve mentioned a few times, make sure the free is something people want. If it isn’t you a) won’t bring in the right crowd of people (you’ll end up just getting the freebie hunters, and b) you won’t build your mailing list as fast. So, for example, give your readers something really substantial like an e-book or tips, or a workbook. Virtually any electronic product is easy to create and deliver. When I changed our freebie on the Author Marketing Experts, Inc. website, we quadrupled our sign-ups. So, what was the freebie? 52 Ways to Sell More Books. Now, as an author, isn’t that appealing to you? Exactly my point.

So, what if you’ve written a fiction book? Well, consider this: 83% of Americans want to write a book, so what if you gave them a free how-to guide? You don’t even have to create this yourself, you could partner with someone who has already created this. If you don’t like that idea, consider (for those of you in the historical fiction market) doing a did-you-know piece on the history you’re referencing in your book. The idea here is to a) give value, and b) give your readers something they will care about. Also, whenever possible, give your readers something they need to keep so it will remind them of you and your book: tip sheets, workbooks, reference charts. All of these things are pieces that your consumer may keep, which can keep you top of mind.

5.      Take names: You should never give free away without asking for an email address. I see people do this all the time; they have a ton of free stuff but never collect emails. If that’s the case, the freebies you are offering may be of great value to your end user but they won’t matter to your marketing. Get emails. It’s called an ethical bribe. You get something (their email) and give them something (the free stuff).

6.      Make it easy to get: Don’t make free difficult. What I mean is make it easy to get your free stuff. If people have to jump through hoops, they won’t do it and the free stuff won’t matter. For example – put your free stuff on your home page, or at least have a link to it, though I recommend using free stuff as an ethical bribe (as a way to get sign-ups for your newsletter). When you ask for their email, make it easy. A simple click or two is all it should take. Then, don’t ask for too much information. If you ask me for my address, birthday, and whatnot I doubt I will want your free stuff that badly. Shorten the staircase. If you make it complicated, it’s not really free. Just bait. If you bait your consumer in this fashion. You’ll lose them.

7.      Make the free stuff work for you: If you give away something, make sure that it works for you. What I mean is that when you get our free stuff, we always make sure and remind folks of who we are and what we do. For a while we had a free Twitter e-book that always went out with our product catalog imbedded in it.

8.      Call to action: Make sure that your free stuff has a call to action. You are collecting names and email addresses and building your list, that’s great. But what do you really want people to do? Define what you want them to do, and then include your call to action in the free stuff. Let’s face it, it’s a good piece – designed to help your reader – but it must also help you. It’s ok to promote your book on the last page, or encourage folks to do a consult with you if that’s what you offer. You can also offer specials and change these periodically in the giveaway.

9.      What will you give? People often ask me what you should give away, and I say, it depends: Who is your market and what do they want? Now, on our site you’ll see 52 Ways to Sell More Books, which is an e-book we offer when you sign up for our newsletter. Do our folks want that? You bet. Why? Because they are authors and authors want to sell more books. A special report or e-book always makes a great freebie, maybe you have a white paper that you did on the industry; if so, offer it as a freebie.

10.  Follow up! The best kind of free stuff is, as I like to call it, the gift that keeps giving. Auto responders are a great system but often underutilized when it comes to marketing. If you are collecting names and then never contacting your prospects again, what’s the point? Our 52 Ways to Sell More Books is delivered over several weeks, and then when we’re done, we deliver more quality content. People need to be reminded, and reminded again. Now, you can also funnel folks into your newsletter as I mentioned earlier. I do both. We have the auto responder and the newsletter. Think it’s too much? Maybe, but our market wants information. Define what your market wants and then give it to them. If a newsletter and an auto responder is overkill, then scale it back. No one knows your market like you do.

The real key here is that free stuff can work well for you in so many ways, but free stuff without a goal is just free. Great to get free stuff, right? But then how is all of this hard work going to pay off for you?

If you still aren’t a believer of free, try it for 90 days and see if it doesn’t change your life. If you do it right, free will monetize your audience like nothing else will. The biggest reason is that in an age of pushing things on consumers, your audience really wants to sample what you have to offer before they buy. Free is a great way to do that. It’s also a great way to stay in front of your audience, build trust, and develop a loyal following.

Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert and an Adjunct Instructor with NYU. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. She is the author of five books, including Book to Bestseller which has been called the “road map to publishing success.” AME is the first marketing and publicity firm to use Internet promotion to its full impact through The Virtual Author Tour™, which strategically works with social networking sites, blogs, micro-blogs, ezines, video sites, and relevant sites to push an authors message into the virtual community and connect with sites related to the book’s topic, positioning the author in his or her market. To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at http://www.amarketingexpert.com. To subscribe to her free ezine, send a blank email to: mailto:subscribe@amarketingexpert.com Copyright 2010 Penny C. Sansevieri

Comments

  1. says

    Another idea could be having a sweepstakes/free giveaway on a Website. People would be more likely to come back, like your example of the garage sale, and possibly buy something. Thanks for the post!