Death To Free: How To Get Paid For What You Do

Death To Free: How To Get Paid For What You Do

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Things That Are Not Funny

Last week we had a few days of things that were not fun or funny. At the same time that one of our business partners was in Nashville demoing our new software, we were here in New Jersey making sure everything went smoothly. Except right in the middle of it all I got sick and with no doctors in sight, ended up having to go to the emergency room.

And even though that wasn’t fun OR funny, the even less funny part is that while I was there, someone stole our license plates.

That necessitated a police report, a couple of trips to the DMV, a bunch of paperwork and things that were not fun in general.

But there is a bright side. Amidst all the stress, the people we dealt with from the medical personnel to the police officers to the DMV and everyone in between were extremely nice and helpful. So if something bad had to happen, at least it came with great customer service. And in the end having people on our side made a huge difference in our outcomes.

The Myth Of The Internet

Today we want to talk about getting paid and how to do it. But it seems like we’re running uphill because there is a myth perpetrated by internet culture that before you can expect to get paid for anything you first have to give away a lot of stuff for free.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem in the real world. When a contractor comes to our house he never offers to paint the bedroom for free and then if we like it he’ll think about charging us to paint the living room.

So why is this so prevalent on the internet? Well, we’re not entirely sure except to speculate that it worked for someone. And that person then told everyone else to do it, and like the echo chamber that the internet can be, everyone just… did.

The thing is, giving stuff away for free did work for a lot of people. We’ll call them “the early adopters” because they were giving stuff away long before anyone else thought to do it. And there was a lot less stuff out there and a lot less competition.

Now that content, and especially free content, is so ubiquitous, we’re all in a race to the bottom to out-free each other.

A Dangerous Mindset

The more you give away, the more people expect you to give stuff away. So when you finally do politely ask for money, people are outraged! And then we start to feel somehow wrong for asking for it.

People who are the heavy hitters in your industry, I bet they don’t run around giving everything away for free. That isn’t to say they don’t have a freebie, a perk, an offer – but they more often sell.

Giving stuff away also encourages tire kickers. They’re just out trolling for free stuff and will probably never pay you. Why should they, when most of anything they could need is free – if not through you, then somewhere else?

Perpetrating a constant stream of free stuff just devalues what you do.

So what can you do?

A Seriously Social Intermission

Today Ian Anderson Gray brings us a question with a perfect tie-in. He asks: when was the last time you checked your vanity metrics? Your Klout score, number of Twitter followers, number of Facebook fans. Admit it, you love those numbers! And we do too, but they are not an end goal.

Would you rather have fans or customers?

Would you rather have an impressive Klout score or customers?

Would you rather have a huge email list or customers?

You’re seeing a pattern, I bet.

Keep the end in mind, and if you’re running a business, that’s to make money.

Money Is Not A Bad Word

If you’re afraid to ask for money then you probably shouldn’t be in business. Wanting to make money is not wrong or bad or immoral. You’re providing value in exchange for money. It’s a fair trade and it’s how business works.

The first thing you need to do is accept that or you may want to consider running a charity instead.

Raise Your Prices

We touched on this with Chris Curran last week and it sounds completely counter intuitive, but raising your prices can result in more – and better – business.

Of course we’re not talking about arbitrarily raising your prices. We’re talking about assigning a price tag that equals the value you provide.

Is that easy to do? Heck, no. We’ve spent years working on that formula. But start thinking about what you’re worth instead of what the other guy is charging.

How good are you at what you do? How much experience and knowledge do you bring? And yes, how much time do you invest?

We’re not fans of hourly pricing but there is a practical reality to the time you spend on your work. That could include not just working time but thinking time. There is actually tremendous value in your brain!

And we’re talking about selling services because if you’re selling a widget there is only so much you can do about price if half the world is selling that widget, too.

But when you’re selling a service, YOU are the product and that means your collective years of knowledge and experience and talent. That’s worth something. And you have to value it before you can expect someone else to.

Find The Intersection Of What Makes You Money And What You Love To Do

There may be parts of your job that you love but that don’t have any real monetary value in the marketplace. And there may be things you hate to do but that make you money. The trick is in finding that place where money and liking your work meet.

Get rid of the rest.

If you try to sell everything you’re not going to enjoy yourself and you won’t really ever be a master at any of them. It may sound counterintuitive but instead of broadening your services, narrow them down. Focus on the things you’re great at.

Sometimes there is a practical reality to business where you need to do things you don’t love because you need the money.

But if you don’t find that intersection of things you love and things that make you money, eventually your business is just going to be a financial and emotional burden on you.

Follow “Free” With “Buy Me”

We don’t want you to give stuff away. But there is merit in the idea of giving away a freebie as an incentive for people to join your email list or follow you. But if you’re planning on giving something away or making a free offer, make sure you always have a process and system in place to move people from free to paid.

If you put on a free webinar, be ready to sell something during or after. If you offer a free download for joining your email list, then email those people with your paid offer.

Don’t follow up your free offer with another free offer. Choose your freebie carefully and make sure it’s only the tip of the sales iceberg.

Build Your Reputation

If you’re working in a saturated space (and who isn’t these days?) one of the ways you can compete without pouring a ton of time into free thing after free thing is to work hard on your reputation and authority.

And one of the ways you can do that is to get yourself a guest appearance on a podcast. Nay, many guest appearances! Yes, you can guest blog, but there is something very powerful about getting your voice and personality out there in a way that doesn’t come across in writing.

Find podcasts in your niche and pitch the producers with your idea. We’re always happy to hear from people who have relevant ideas and lots of podcasters are glad to fill their guest rosters.

And one final counterintuitive suggestion… find shows that may not seem like a good fit… and fit them.

Recently I was on a podcast called The Creative Yarn Entrepreneur podcast hosted by Marie Segares. It’s a podcast dedicated to home based business owners who create patterns for knitting and crocheting or do crafts themselves.

I can barely thread a needle so why would I possibly have been on that podcast? Turns out Marie wanted me to help her home-based business audience learn more about creating their websites and promoting themselves online.

So while a podcast about yarn may not seem like a good fit on the surface, it turned out to be perfect. Your job is to do some homework and find opportunities, even when it seems like none exist.

A word of warning: don’t pitch an insurance podcast on discussing cold fusion. It should go without saying that your topic should be interesting and relevant to that podcast’s audience.

Your Action Item

If you feel compelled to give something away for free, email, call, message or smoke signal one of us and let us talk you out of it. More importantly, let us talk to you about what you can do instead.

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Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera
  • Happy Belated B’Day to the lovely and talented bag lady, @tammierampley:disqus!
    Sheesh. I feel like a heel for missing Tammie’s birthday. But I hope she partied hardy!! 🙂

    • Don’t feel bad, if not for Facebook I would have missed it too 🙂 And ended up forgetting to mention it on the podcast. Blame it on the hiatus.

  • Your sense of humor always shows through in your writing Carol. I LOVE that about you!

    • Aw, thank you 🙂 Glad to hear that and appreciate your kind words!

  • Lindsey Anderson

    I really enjoyed this article. I hope you are all feeling better over there. That social media conference looks killer.

    • Much better, thank you! I have no doubt the conference will be great. There are great names on the speaking roster and Jeff and Alisa are amazing.

  • Always love your writing, Carol Lynn! And I had to read this, with a title like “Death to Free.” Can’t figure out how companies, like Copyblogger for instance who give away boatloads of valuable info, are doing amazing business. I can NOT figure out how that business model works for the micro business person!

    • You know, it works for some people… but it works for people who (a) have been in there and at it for a long time and have the advantage of being big names and (b) have a serious business model behind it. They may produce a lot of free content but they have quite a lot more of paid options – from themes to hosting to communities (if those are still running) and lots of stuff. They are not the guy trying to build an email list by doing a lot of stuff for free and hoping it turns into leads. And therein lies the myth! WE are not Copyblogger. Copyblogger spent years building its business (and failing, too!) This idea that we are going to be them (or Social Media Examiner, or any of them) is defeatist and crazy. So how about we do what we do well and sell it at a fair price to people who want it?? (PS: thank you for the kind words, I appreciate that!)

      • Agreed. I’m using Rainmaker platform and have some issues with their free membership model (that they suggest everyone adopt). I simply can’t crank out valuable free content like Copyblogger does. Yep, different business models.