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Portioning Your Content: For Sale or For Free?

November 15, 2010

I’m thinking about what we, as business creators, decide to sell versus what we decide to share for free.

How do business owners decide what content to sell and what to give away for free? Free content versus paid content. How do entrepreneurs decide which is which?

You’re probably familiar with the recommended formula for wooing prospects on your email list with free content:

1. Create a valuable piece of content that visitors receive when they opt-in to your e-newsletter. Your piece of content could be a report, an e-course, a downloadable Mp3, a workbook, or anything else that you think would get your right people inspired and moving in the right direction. Key: your content should be closely related to the service you provide or the goods you sell. Design it as a taste of what it would be like to work with you. Brian Clark from Copyblogger says in the first episode of Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio that “the fundamental rule of content marketing is to give away what people want in terms of information in order to sell them something related.” And make it really good. But don’t spend ten hours on it. Maybe five. Maybe two.

2. Once someone has opted in to receive your free content, he’s also opted in to receive ongoing email communications from you. You can call this your e-newsletter or something else more rockstar. It’s your job to keep in touch with your list and give them reasons to stay opted in. Meanwhile, promote your free Thing {see No. 1 above} here and there as a way to market your e-newsletter to new subscribers. Tweet the link to your sign-up every once in a while. Weave it into a blog post every now and then. Definitely make sure your sign-up box is prominent on every page of your site, attractive, and user friendly.

3. Keep your list fed and they’ll keep you fed. You share great resources with them, they come to see you as an expert or a great editor, you help them solve their problems, they keep you posted on how their business grows, you make them offers, some of your list takes you up on some of those offers, your business grows, you share with your list how they helped you grow your business, they get new information and inspiration out of what you’ve learned. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

But one of the bigger questions that gets lost in the oh-my-god-I-have-to-create-something-free-for-my-list shuffle is

How do I decide what expertise I sell, and what I give away for free?

When you’re a knowledge worker, a coach, a consultant, a healer, or anyone else who delivers a somewhat amorphous product with widely variable outcomes, this can be especially hard to pin down. It’s all your knowledge, it’s all your wisdom, it’s all your understanding and experience — and therefore it’s all equally valuable in your eyes, so how do you arbitrarily segment out pieces you give away rather than charge money for?

Here’s how I divvy up the stuff I sell and the stuff I give away.

By “sell,” I mean charge good money for, either in the form of a service or a product.

And by “give away,” I mean explore in a blog post, share in regular e-newsletter communications, make a video or audio about, mention in an interview, Tweet as a tip, divulge in a casual email to a prospect.

Stuff I Sell: knowledge stemming from anything I spent lots of time, money, or energy learning; understandings that are not easily accessible through surface research; stuff I’m über-talented at, way more so than the average person; stuff I teach that aligns with a perspective that very few others are teaching, or teaching well; advanced learning that extends from my evergreen content.

Stuff I Give Away: knowledge about anything that’s not one of my core competencies; knowledge about stuff that’s better handled by another creative professional than by me; knowledge that I know people can easily find by Googling; other knowledge that is widely accessible; entry level evergreen content, such as my fabulous {if I do say so myself} free e- course on Creating a Truly Irresistible Niche. I put a lot of time, thought, and passion into my e-course because A} like a manifesto, it helps spread my message and enhance my brand platform, and B} it’s good, grounding stuff that I wish all my clients could understand coming into a project with me.

Keep in mind that your thoughts about what is worth selling and what is more effective when given away will evolve over time, the more clients you work with and the more you recognize where the true value in your business proposition lies. Watch your Inbox. What do prospects, fans, and clients email you about most often? Is it what you’re currently selling, or what they want to buy from you? Remember those right people? They know a thing or two.

How do you decide what to sell versus what to give away?

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