Free Items Prove Value to Customers

One of the most common (and best) pieces of advice given to new freelancers and B2B consultants is to market your services based on value rather than price.

Maybe the second-most common advice is to offer your prospects something free.

These recommendations aren’t as contradictory as they may seem. In this post, we’ll look at some effective methods for marketing with free content, and we’ll cover the “freebie” you should avoid.

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Prove your value, build your list

Smart prospective clients will want to know why they should hire you, and giving them useful information is an easy way to demonstrate your knowledge, technical skills, and understanding of what they need. In exchange for the free reports, webinars, email learning series, or other content you develop for your marketing program, you get prospects’ email addresses to help grow your list and establish a base of warm leads.

With these two goals in mind, let’s look at ways your business can offer compelling freebies to your audience, with the understanding that all marketing roads should lead to your inbox or your email list. The actual content you create will depend on your business, industry, and clientele, as we’ll see in the examples ahead.


Blog, vlog and podcast content

You don’t have to have a written blog, video blog, and audio podcast, but choosing one and posting regularly on an industry topic can give your audience a taste of your expertise. For marketing writers, Copyblogger’s blog is the online bible, covering both the details and the high-level view of copywriting for business.

Obviously, the blog’s content is free and it can inspire readers to pay for Copyblogger’s marketing tools. In the blog sidebar is a “get free training” signup form that collects users’ email addresses in exchange for more than a dozen e-books and an email course, which can also lead to service purchases. That’s an unusually large cache of free material, but Copyblogger has been around for a long time and has a vast library of content.


Side-by-side paid and free content on your site

Nielsen Norman Group does user experience research and consulting for enterprise, and they produce detailed reports on UX topics, from accessibility to designing sites for school kids. Their reports typically cost a few hundred dollars, but NNG offers some as free downloads, no email address required. They’re listed alongside reports for sale on the same topic, so UX managers can see the level of detail and the type of insights they can expect if they buy a report.

For example, maybe I’m wondering whether to spend a few hundred dollars on their Tablet Website and Application UX report for my hypothetical team. Before I make that commitment, I can download the company’s 116-page iPad usability report to see if it inspires trust and seems like something my team can use. For B2B consultants and firms, offering hassle-free proof of expertise can lead directly to sales of other content.

This free content approach is also a good way to repurpose information products that are no longer up to date but represent your work well. If you don’t have content old enough to repurpose this way, you can always write something just to use as a freebie – as long as it’s high quality and a good example of your paid products.

Exclusive content for email list members

As with Copyblogger’s multi-email training program, you can develop an email course on a topic your audience wants to know more about, whether it’s marketing their business, hiring the right people, or designing a website. You don’t have to produce a series, either. If you run a shipping business, you might send a pre-holiday shopping season checklist to the retailer segment of your list, or short guides on customs rules in different countries. Whatever you send, make it something they can use right away, and make sure they know it’s a benefit of being on your list.


How-to videos and webinars

If you’re comfortable walking viewers through a particular topic on camera or running a webinar with a slideshow and Q&A, you can establish a rapport with your audience and reach people who don’t have time to read reports and blogs or who simply learn better through watching and listening. The AV approach is especially effective if you sell design services, and it works well for B2B and B2C training services, from rooftop solar installations to clicker-training service dogs.


The freebie of doom: working for “exposure”

In contrast to selectively sharing free content that demonstrates your value and expertise to prospective clients, working for exposure or on spec communicates that you don’t actually know the value of your work. There are (at least) four problems with working for exposure.

  • You don’t get paid.
  • Clients who ask you to work for free usually don’t actually have the money to become paying clients.
  • Any word of mouth referrals you get may include a mention that you worked for free, so these new prospects will expect you to be free or cheap.
  • If the client is finicky or makes lots of change requests—and you might be surprised by how demanding these nonpaying clients can be–you’ll sink a lot of time into a project that stresses you out and doesn’t pay the bills.

The only times it might benefit you to work for free are

  • When you’re doing pro bono work for a cause you love.
  • When you’re starting out and need a portfolio. In that case, offer to work for clients of your choosing, rather than agreeing to work “for exposure” with unknown prospects who approach you.

But back to giveaway content.

Every free item you share should provide a real benefit to your prospects, show why you’re the right person to provide paid services to them in the future, and give them a reason (and a way) to contact you for further expertise. In other words, by giving your audience a free preview of your value, you’re showing them why you’re worth more than someone who charges less.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance B2B content marketing writer. Her specialty areas include SMB marketing and growth, data security, IoT, and fraud prevention