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February 28, 2017

How Much Free Content Should You Give Away? A Logical Guide for the Content Marketer

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all love free stuff.

We’ll take free shipping, buy-one-get-one coupons, Starbucks rewards for coffee, and even tattoos that we might think twice about if we were forking over our own money.

If it’s free, sign us up.

As marketers and business owners, we’ve all seen free content giveaways – it’s easy to grab an eBook, how-to guide and podcasts with just a click. But how much is too much?

Is it possible to give away so much content that it becomes detrimental to your efforts?

The Evolution of Shopping and Loyal Customers 

Technology has definitely changed how we shop. No longer are we forced to get in the car, drive somewhere, look through merchandise, pay, load it up, unload it, and put it away.

It’s exhausting just thinking about the process.

We still buy, just on a different scale. We talk to Alexa from the comfort of our couch, or we click on an app and let it do the work for us to the tune of billions of dollars (U.S. Census Bureau).

For the most part, consumers trust the online retailers they shop with to deliver what they need at the right time, either because of an incentive or because past interactions have proven that the companies are worthy.

At some point in time, your favorite online retailer has attracted your attention and has kept you coming back for more.

What Should I Give Away, and What Should I Charge For?

Finding the balance between what to give away and what to sell can be challenging.

It’s true that you want to put into the hands of potential leads good information that is worth their time. At the same time, you don’t want to give away so much that it hurts.

You might have heard these lies about giving away content for free:

  • If you give away content, people will always expect it for free.
  • If you give away content, it becomes less valuable.
  • If you give away content, people might steal it and use it for personal gain.

And they’re right. These situations may arise.

But you can’t let those few stand in the way of the greatness you could achieve in connecting with an audience who wants what you have to offer and is waiting to pay for the awesome stuff.

Stop Making It So Difficult – It’s Simple!

Salma Jafri is a content marketing strategist who writes for the Huffington Post, and she suggests two simple rules when you come to the crossroads of Free Street and Paid Avenue.

  • Give away the why, what, and who: That’s the inspirational stuff, the content that shows your audience the potential and your best thoughts. It’s the results, the stories, and the opinion.
  • Charge for the how: The how is the roadmap, the processes you’ve designed, and the templates. It’s the customization, training, and empowering measures that will help your audience get to the top.

And, she points out, always make sure any free content leads straight back to what we can call the Land of Buy. This could be your social media channels, website, or online store – anyplace where your paid products are located.

What content types does your audience want to see? According to HubSpot research, the top requests include videos, online classes, and interactive tools.

Graphic courtesy of HubSpot

Graphic courtesy of HubSpot

How Giving Away Free Content Benefits All of Us

In these days of content marketing, the same idea is true: we give away free stuff because it keeps those potential leads and customers coming back.

So, does that mean helping someone today sells more than a hard sale? According to content marketing experts, the answer is yes (CopyBlogger, SingleGrain).

Content remains vitally important to entrepreneurs, business owners, and marketers. And while everyone needs to make a profit, there are benefits to giving content away.

3 Benefits to Giving Away Free Content

Providing free content can pay off and add value to your brand. Here are some ways we all benefit:

1. It Allows Your Audience to Try Something New 

Big box stores are known for situating sample carts up and down the aisles, giving customers a chance to try everything from chicken wings to laundry soap. What’s the point? It puts the product in the potential buyer’s hand and encourages them to put it in the cart.

Does that mean every sampler will buy? Of course not. But it removes the barrier and makes the product tangible and, hopefully, desirable.

Your followers make thousands of choices every day, and decision fatigue can quickly set in if they feel overloaded. When we allow our audience to learn on their own time, in their own style, and then “sell” – buy – they will be better equipped to make the right decision.

Why? Because they’ve tasted and seen that your product or brand is spectacular. In a short amount of time, they have moved from sampling your free content to buying your product or service.

If you are always expecting your followers to fork over something before you offer them anything, they’ll never know how relevant your content really is.

Let them try something new or risk losing them to a competitors’ solution.

Give away: One piece of free content that then leads to paid content.

2. It Sets You Apart as an Authoritative Voice

The more confident you are that you have something valuable to offer your audience, the higher in quality your free content will be. Before you create any content, you must approach it with the idea that you know what you’re talking about. That means you’ve done your research, looked at expert opinion, and run the ideas by someone else who can affirm your efforts.

In other words, you have to know you’re the boss.

The content you create – whether it’s YouTube videos, podcast interviews, or how-to guides – serves as your authoritative voice in your field. Not only does this position you as a trustworthy leader and act as a marketing tactic, it also shows that you are a master problem-solver.

Pour that cup of ambition and get to work.

Give away: Podcasts that end with an opportunity to secure paid consulting.

3. It Gives You a Loyal Following

Every content developer and marketer wants a loyal following, not just with prospects, but with industry peers. Offering free content keeps your name and voice right out in front, which has the potential to attract new contacts as well as new customers.

Free content is a way to educate your followers and set you apart from your competitors by proving why your solutions are the best ones. It provides your potential customers a chance to share your good stuff with their friends and followers.

Jeff Goins reminds us that people don’t value what they pay money for; they value what others value. They value what gets talked about.

People listen to their in-crowd.

Give away: A free printable in exchange for an email newsletter signup.

What About the Value of My Efforts?

You may be thinking at this point, “Those are great song lyrics and valid points, but what about my time, investment, and creativity efforts? Why should I work hard only to give it away for free”?

Good question.

Here’s the answer: When you give away quality content, it builds trust. It establishes a relationship. It means when someone has a problem, you are the first solution they think about.

You give away the good stuff and you sell the awesome stuff. By taking this approach, it could land you more return than if you tried to sell it.

And along the way, you are working to build trust, which has no price tag. This development of a dynamic and symbiotic relationship will eventually lead to your customers wanting to hang out with you on a regular basis.

Those sample carts we mentioned? According to research, they have the highest sales lift compared to other in-store mediums. But purchasing a product isn’t the only advantage; customer loyalty to both stores and brands are two other benefits that retailers have experienced.

Need a bit of inspiration? Check out this Inc. interview with Code School CEO Gregg Pollack about his experience with giving away content as he built his business.

Get Started with Giving (and Receiving in Return)

This process of deciding what to give away and what to sell doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it to be; with a little bit of practice, you can find the balance you need to get moving in the right direction.


Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.