Why You Shouldn’t Give EVERYTHING Away For Free

February 18, 2013

WHAT Leslie? What do you mean? Everyone's saying that you should be giving away a ton of value for free. In fact, you've even said it. Isn't FREE the new way to establish authority? Please clarify . . .

Let me start with a story. If you don't know much about me, I LOVE music. From the age of 12, I lived on the piano. Singing in and playing for different church groups was a regular part of my existence.

ConfusedIn college, I started to get very interested in recording and started purchasing equipment to help me learn about recording. At the time, I browsed around a bunch of blogs and forums learning a tip here, a trick there. It was awesome.

However, at a certain point, I decided to take things even more seriously and bought a course to become a certified Recording Engineer.

If I remember correctly, the cost of the program was $299. At the time, that was A TON of money for me to the point that it was almost painful, but I was ready to take things seriously, and that's exactly what I did.

A package was sent to me in the mail. It contained all of the resources I needed to learn about becoming a Certified Recording Engineer. My path was clearly laid out for me, and I went at it like nobodies business. The Result: I'm now a Certified Recording Engineer.

There was something about being fully invested into that program that encouraged me to take it SERIOUSLY. I can almost guarantee that if I hadn't invested, I would NOT be a Certified Recording Engineer today.

The Value In Free


If you've been following what I do here at Become A Blogger for a while, you know what I think about Free. Free content is a great way to offer value and attract people to your brand. It's a great way of providing value for your target audience.

I do a FREE Podcast, post FREE Blog updates here, create FREE videos, AND give my time for FREE by responding to comments right here on the blog. Then, there's my Biology Blog where 99% of what I do is create FREE Biology Videos. Some (including myself), would say that I give away TOO much for free.

Why? Because in my Crazy mind, I have the notion that I can change the world by doing so. And I seriously believe it.

Free is not all bad. In fact, Free allows me to make money. Needless to say, I place a high value in Free. But sometimes Free is not Enough.

Are You Building A Business?

Money on HandMy blog is my business! That's not always something I used to believe. However, I now look at my blog as a business, and that concept has changed the way I look at my blog completely.

Now, if you are building a business, you are gonna have to make money. Money to get things done, to pay people for services rendered, to grow and expand your business, and yes – to PAY YOURSELF. Isn't that why you got into business in the first place?

Don't let your altruistic mentality Stop you from taking your business seriously. Trust me. That's something that has held me back in the past, but I'm learning and growing, and becoming more accepting of the fact that I am a businessman.

Do You Want People To Take You Seriously?

blog promoteIf you don't value your time enough to put a monetary value to it, why should anybody else?

Your time is the most valuable asset you have. However, it's the thing that gets wasted the most. If you're investing a ton of time building your blog, you want to show that there is value associated with that.

Whether you're creating products, providing a service or promoting other people's products, treating it like a business indicated to others that you are serious about what you're doing.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I've been a part of a number of groups. From my experience, it VERY HARD to get a group of people together in a volunteer group, who are committed to being there on time, doing everything that they committed to doing and helping that group to grow.

However, whenever I'm a part of a Paid class, there is Significantly greater participation. Why? Because there's a value associated with the class, people take it more seriously.

Help People Take Themselves Seriously

TimeIsMoneyWhen I invested that $299 into my Recording Engineer course, I knew I had to take myself seriously. It was almost painful, and I needed to make sure that the investment wasn't a waste.

So, as soon as I got the course in the mail, I went at it. I went through all of the written content, listened to the CDs and did all the exams. It was GAME TIME and I was invested, not only financially, but also mentally.

Paying that money really helps me to take myself seriously, and in MANY cases, it helps your audience take themselves seriously too. I didn't want that money to go to waste, so I had to step up my game.

Yes, I know that there are some people who will pay for something and still do NOTHING about it. But hey, your job is to make sure you are providing value. It's their job to Take Action. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

Build Something Bigger Than Yourself

blog effectiveAs I look at the kind of impact I would like to have on the world, I've started to realize that in order to have that kind of impact, I need to do more than what I can do on my own. It needs to involve other people, and resources will be needed to do big things (like changing the world).

In order to accomplish that, I know that my business will need LOTS of resources. I will need to have the right people in place to take care of the business and help it to grow.

The fact is, I'm NOT a good designer, I HATE dealing with financial records, I can't code to save my life and the list goes on and on. I haven't revealed all of my plans for Become A Blogger as yet, but lets just say that they're big. I also haven't revealed all of my plans for Interactive Biology as yet, but lets say the same thing there πŸ˜‰

If you have HUGE dreams, it will take money, and for your business to make money, you've gotta charge for SOMETHING!

When Should I Start Monetizing

Before I get into this, I want to emphasize something. Just because I say something, it doesn't mean that you have to do it. You need to find what works best for you and then do THAT. In some cases, that will be exactly what I recommend. In other cases, it can be a modified version of what I recommend. And in other cases, it can be the complete opposite of what I recommend.

When I first start a blog, I try not to monetize. Why? Mostly because I want to focus SOLELY on content and providing the highest amount of value. Let me give you an example of how I've done this recently. Well, it's how my partner has done it with my guidance.

In June of last year, I helped Cassandre Beccai start a Natural hair blog. I believed in her mission and decided to come to a partnership agreement. This is how we've built it to the stage where we are now going to be monetizing:

  • We started the blog with the focus of delivering high quality, short videos on the topic of natural hair.
  • She started reaching out to other bloggers in her niche, and as a result got a considerable amount of exposure.
  • We set a goal of building her list to 1,000 subscribers and then monetizing with digital products
  • She met that goal last month (January).
  • She sent out a survey to her audience asking them what they were struggling with and got some GREAT feedback.
  • Now that she knows EXACTLY what her audience is struggling with, we're going to start creating that product and selling it from her blog

value2I predict that it's gonna be awesomeness!

Now, there's one thing I never mentioned about her blog before, and I'm not sure why. One of the things she does is that she creates hair products and sells them, and it only makes sense to sell them from her blog. And that's exactly what she did, from the very beginning.

Guess what? She sells about $500/month now without significant promotion. Why? Because her audience is growing and the products are VERY relevant to them.

So when did we start monetizing? Day one. However, there was a HUGE FOCUS on providing value up front, while still having a business!

What Should You Hold Back?

Ahh man, the magic question. Ok, lets say you believe that you should charge for something even while living in this “everything should be free online” age. How do you decide what to charge for.

DecisionsWell, that's something that you have to decide for yourself, but here's my philosophy. Yes, I give away a lot for free. However, I do have some set structured courses that help you get from point A to point B, with Video training that's arranged in a sequence, audio lessons, an PDF downloads. In other words, it's a fully thought out course that helps you accomplish a specific goal – to set up a blog, build it into an authority in your niche by driving relevant traffic, and then monetizing your blog in a number of different ways.

There's a target destination and the course will take you through the steps to be able to reach that point.

However, on the blog, I talk about ANYTHING related to my niche. It doesn't have to be as structured or as well laid out, but it's still tremendously valuable.

In fact, if you want, you could actually go through ALLLLLLL the content here and get most, if not all of what's in the course 100% free of charge. However, that would be a tremendous amount of digging. I'm not even sure what all you'll find.

But there's a balance to where someone could pay absolutely nothing, follow what I do here at the blog (which is what I want you to do either way) and get tremendous value. And if they want to take it one step further, they can choose to purchase my premium course – it's a convenient option for MANY.

And what about my biology blog? I provide ALL of my videos 100% free of charge. However, I've decided to leverage the traffic I get there to be able to monetize using Adsense and will eventually look into advertising agencies with higher payouts.

I also created a study guide from the very same videos I give away for free. However, it organizes the content in a way that's convenient for my audience.

Eventually, I will also add more products and services to my offerings, which will also include some level of private coaching.

The key lesson – People Will Pay For Convenience, whether that's from a course that helps them reach their target destination, a repackaged, easy to consume guide to help them accomplish their goal or guidance from someone who is more experienced to help them do what they want to do.

So What About You?

What's your perspective on Free vs. Paid. Should you give everything away, hold things back, or something in between?

Let me know in the comments below.

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  • mira says:

    many thanks for this very detailed and helpful article
    I agree that it is so difficult to go through all the data in some big blogs that possibly the value of an infoproduct is the organisation…
    Today as I speak I am unable to remember all the articles I’ve published on my blog…
    I tend to create content pages where I link to some articles on a topic and then have a complete ebook with say 3x more conent on the same topic for sale. don’t know if that’s a good strategy… what do you think?

  • First let me ask who are you and what have you done with my friend Leslie?

    Ok I get where your coming from Leslie but it is HARD to not give away. When I think of building an audience I think of helping folks and that usually means giving away great content.

    Recently I interviewed the creative team behind Project London. This is a feature length science fiction movie that was created completely with volunteers. It is an amazing movie and I think it will help everyone that was involved to take the next step in their career.

    With all of this said I know you have to keep the lights on and somewhere you have to decide if your involved in a hobby or a vocation.

    As always I will be thinking about this post for a long time.

    • Chris says:

      I’m with Robert, where is Leslie? This has to be a ghost writer making this post πŸ™‚

      I feel you should always have a monetization strategy being your free content. Giving away quality free content is great way to build your authority, generate leads, and generate income.

      Leslie, you do a great job at this.

    • Haha Chris, no ghost here besides the ghost in my mind πŸ˜‰

      And thanks for the compliment. Now pay me. Jk.

    • Haha, yep Robert it’s me, and I’m still the same person.

      And reminder – I’m not saying to to give things away. I give A LOT away and that won’t change, but you have to have a business model, and if you’re using the strategy I teach, you need to hold something back, while still giving away tons of value.

      If you’re purpose is to just build a blog as a hobby and not turn it into a business, that’s 100% fine. If however, you are building a business, you have to decide on how you’re going to make money and then work that plan.

      Glad to be able to give you something to think about. That’s what I’m here for πŸ™‚

  • Yep, I believe I am the true inspiration behind this post πŸ™‚ Okay, maybe not, but I was just talking about this in the last 2 weeks because I met with a good friend of mine who is a Management Consultant for his own company, and he 1) scolded me for giving away TOO MUCH information because my posts are “almost too thorough, and 2) gave me a pep-rally for believing in myself that I’m a BUSINESS and not just a BLOG. Because of it insight, I scored some awesome connections with businesses that I wouldn’t have otherwise done. All because I decided not to give EVERYTHING away for free. Keep some things to yourself, because once you have a following, people trust you and will buy your secrets πŸ™‚

    Thrift Diving

    • Haha, Serena you are my inspiration. Is that what you want to hear? πŸ˜‰

      Just want to emphasize that I DO believe in giving LOTS of value for free. I don’t think your posts are too thorough. I think they’re perfect. You want to give a ton of value away for free.

      What I’m suggesting is that you want to make sure you have a business model behind your blog, and that you’re clear about what you will be holding for those who pay for your products/services.

    • Yep–just what I wanted to hear! πŸ™‚

      I totally agree with you about giving away lots of value for free. I think in the blogosphere you HAVE to. Plus, you want to inspire and help people, so it’s naturally what we do. But you’re right–the business model is so important. I think that is what I lacked for so long (heck, do I even have one now???). I just know that I have, at several times, offered to people/companies that SHOULD have paid, free advertising (i.e. videos, for example), when I should have demanded sufficient compensation for my time and effort, BECAUSE I am so thorough. And when I started to do so (just recently!), compensation has been following. Feels nice!

    • Congratulations Serena. You make me so proud. You shall continue to be the inspiration behind more posts in the future πŸ˜‰

  • Ryan James says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment about people taking the content more seriously if they have paid for it. Part of every blogger’s brand building is to develop a following based on a common interest, but at the end of the day, if the blog is not sustainable then it will not survive. This is a business characterized by long hours – if we are simply volunteering our time for others to dismiss our products, then we have not accomplished very much at all. In building a brand that people will respect, pricing must enter the equation.

    • You hit the nail right on the head Ryan. It DOES take a lot of work to build a blog, so if you’re gonna build it as a business, you need to bring pricing into the equation, and balance that with the free value you are providing.

  • Wolfgang says:

    Hi Leslie,
    a very interesting post today.

    1.) Very interesting for me to see, how (if) you are try to make a seamless move to paid model of interactive biology,

    2.) How you deal with the “time for money model”, aka private private coaching.
    I personally have requests from my visitors in that direction, too. Giving private coaching for an hourly fee.

    But: Is this really the right model dealing with students, considering the ROI.
    What could you charge for an hour?

    Let’s say, you work 2 hours in making a biology video with corresponding article and publish it on your blog.

    This article will have appr. 3.000 views a year. Within 3 years this article will get appr. 10k views. With an adsense eCPM of 10$ will you get 100$ for this article.
    So: You invested 2 hours for 100$. This wil make 50$ an hour.

    Can you charge 50$/hour (+travel expenses!) from your students for private coaching?

    I do not doubt that you’re worth 50 Bucks/hour, but are the students are able to pay it?

    • Excellent point and excellent question Wolfgang. This is why it comes down to knowing and understanding your audience. I don’t think I would ever offer private coaching on the biology blog. I do plan on offering private coaching for Become A Blogger though.

      My target audience over there are students and teachers, and you’re correct, it would be MUCH harder to get students to pay $50/hr. That’s why I monetize that blog with Ads, and why I plan on creating products (courses, study guides, etc). I already have one study guide that sells there every month, and will continue to add more to my offerings.

      So yes, you ned to know your audience and come up with a monetization model that works for them.

  • Mario says:

    Hello: First, I would like to Thank you, for all the free information videos, you had given me.
    I have been going through them and putting in to practice. they are awesome and the best of all courses I had seen so far. I want to thank you for the opportunity

    I do want to go all the way, but I’m also a Realtor and a Fine Jewelry sales Rep. and I want to be able to build and probably use my own web sites, Actually I have ” http://www.mariocastroytucasa,com.. and building myself, http://www.goldanddiamonds info.com. all thanks to you awesome information.
    Mario CastroytuCasa.com was build by someone else four years ago.But the other website is being build by myself.


    Mario Castro

    • Hi Mario,

      It’s great to hear that even the Free stuff is helping you so much. That’s just awesome. I wish you nothing but the best as you build your blog. My biggest recommendation would be to simplify and focus on ONE blog. Build that into something significant before trying to build another.

      Take care!

  • Wolfgang says:

    Hi Leslie,
    as you know, my business model is very similiar to yours.
    Producing educational videos (video tutorials) and monetizing them with advertising and the affiliate marketing model.
    This business model works fine for me, similiar to yours.

    Currently I have requests from companies, who want to put my videos after their paywall, and want me to shut down my site.

    As I want to continue with my site, I am considering offering them exclusive videos, with enhanced video quality (better than on my site, where I often use a graphic tablet to explain thinks, which sometimes have an “amateurish look”.)

    I think about hosting the videos on Amazon S3 and licensing the videos on a monthly basis, so that the videos still remain in my property when they decide not to license the videos any longer.

    Do you have experience with this kind of model?

    What do you think? Can this an addiotional business model for us producer of video tutorials?

    If this topic is to special for becomeablogger, we can also continue via E-Mail, if you are interested in sharing business ideas in our business area.



    • What? They want you to shut down your site? Yeah, I wouldn’t accept that at all. It’s your content. Now, if you want to make some videos exclusively for them, that’s ok. However, you want to make sure that you are getting paid what you deserve for that.

      I would be very hesitant to be creating videos that I can’t use myself unless I’m being paid enough. That part is up to you to decide.

      Don’t know if that helps, but hope it does.

    • Wolfgang says:

      Yes, You are definity right. I won’t shut down my site.

    • You better not πŸ˜‰

  • Vanessa says:

    Leslie this article is perfect timing for me. I have had a blog for over 2 years now and I am at the point of reviewing what I have been doing and creating my first income stream through advertising or an e-book. I have a blog about the island where I live, which is largely unknown compared to other mediterranean islands. There are lots of websites about the island but none deliver comprehenisve information to the visitor about the island as a destination, or highlight the best aspect which is the local lifestyle.

    I want to help visitors, local businesses and myself and think the best way to do that is deliver most tourist info for free, then repurpose the best for an e-guidebook to start generating income. Although the e-book market has changed so much now most guide books are low priced anyway. Its not easy to draw the line between free and paid and decipher what people will pay for either. Thanks for this article and all the posts/podcasts you provide to your community. Much appreciated!!

    • I’m so glad to hear that the article was helpful. Wishing you all the best as you try to monetize your blog. It’s actually an interesting idea. I also plan on creating a similar blog for my island (St. Maarten) eventually.

  • Very valid points. If you give everything for free people will thing you have no professional skills. If you give something for free people will think that thing must be less useful. Simply as you have pointed people will not take you seriously if you give everything for free.

  • Giving away free stuff is incredibly useful and get people to listen to you, also if you are giving top-notch information out for free, people are more likely to buy from you in the future and will see you as an expert. But obviously don’t give out everything for free.

    Thanks for the great tips, cheers.

  • April says:

    Hello Leslie,

    I have some questions to ask you…hopefully the responses are free πŸ™‚ I can’t wait to speak to you!

  • April says:

    Hello Leslie,

    I have a few questions for you. Please respond via my e-mail address. Thanks!

  • rodlie says:

    I’ve been excited to hear about the growth of Cassandra’s blog. So excited, but I admit kind jealous that she already has 1,000 subscribers!! I’ve been doing this for a few years and don’t have that. But….and here’s some good news, Leslie, I just implemented some of your recommendations and i’m seeing a change. I just put up a free ebook on my blog as a free gift when people subscribe. In the whole of last year I think I had 15 new subs. Just in the past 6 days since I put the ebook up I’ve had about 15 subs!! #booya!! So thanks for the great coaching and mentoring. Ok, so here’s one more little question. I’ve noticed that people are starting to share the ebook. So, should I just leave it be and figure that it will help to build my platform anyway, or should I call people out and remind them that it’s for those that subscribe to my blog? Also, do you think I should add in a note on the copyright page of my ebook to let them know that this is a free gift for subscribers and not to be shared out right? Or should I leave it be? What do you think? Thanks again for all the awesome, and free, coaching on here.

    • Hey bro,

      Actually – this is kind of an old post. She’s almost at 5,000 subscribers πŸ™‚

      Great to hear that you’re subscriptions are increasing. That’s what’s up. Glad to help out.

      Ton answer you’re question – Make sure you have links to your site prominently in your eBook. The fact is – people will give it away. Even if you were selling it, people will still give it away. You just focus on building your platform and being as helpful as possible. People will see that, and will be drawn to that.

      So, in summary – just let it be. If you put great stuff out there, great stuff will come back to you.

    • rodlie says:

      Oh wow…how did I miss that? I can’t believe she’s at 5k right now!! Wow! That’s awesome. Thanks for the perspective. Thankfully I did have my blog url on several prominent pages, including the cover. I confess that I feel a little cheated, though, to hear that someone did that. Cause I spent lots of time and money on creating it for the purpose of people subscribing to the blog….so when they just share it like that, it bypass my whole process. But you’re right….gotta trust that it’s still doing it’s work….

    • Bro, if your site grow the way we hope it will, it will happen a whole lot.If you think it’s bad, just wait until you have a premium product for sale. I’ve seen many people give away stuff that I sell for $497 and spend a ton of time and money to develop. But hey – the people that care about what I do will respect me enough to do the right thing. Be warned, it’ll happen like crazy.

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