July 12, 2021
Free vs. Paid Content & The Dirty Truth About Marketing
"Sales" shouldn't be a dirty word.

man sitting at computer with dog in lap holding a credit card, blog post on free vs. paid content

Let’s get the dirty words out of the way upfront. I’m going to level with you: I see marketing as a way to sell stuff.

Ultimately, if you’re not selling stuff, your marketing isn’t working.

But so many people are scared of the word “sales” — they cringe when they’re asked to do it and they avoid talking about it any more than they have to.

While not every marketer on the planet will agree with me, I think marketing and sales should be very closely tied together. If your marketing isn’t eventually helping you make money, I think it’s probably not marketing worth doing.

The thing is, though, sometimes you have to give a little bit to get back even more.

That’s right: I’m talking about free vs. paid content.

We’ve all thought about it, especially as the world transitioned into online services during the pandemic. Lots of dog trainers struggled with making decisions around how to pivot — What services should be available online? What would their new pricing structures look like? Can you charge the same for an online class as an in-person one? Should you be offering things for free?

These are all valid questions. And even as things begin to open back up, the business world as we know it is changing permanently.

Lots of businesses are going to keep using online or hybrid structures, and with that comes reimagining what our services look like. So getting clear on your pricing structure — and determining what’s free vs. paid content — is key.

But before we get into the dirty details, let’s do a quick primer on what I’m talking about when I talk about marketing:

What is Marketing?

How to use the marketing funnel for improving your marketing resultsMarketing is the process by which we can take someone who has never heard of you or your business before and get them ready to buy.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are three important steps to think about here, also known as the Marketing Funnel:

  1. AWARENESS: How you get potential clients to know you exist
  2. CONSIDERATION: How you convince them to consider you as an option
  3. CONVERSION: What it takes to get them to make a purchase

When you’re thinking through and testing different marketing techniques, it’s important to know how these techniques tie back to getting you more customers or clients, what you’re selling those dog owners, and how to tell whether or not things are working.

Why Offer Things for Free

The question you’re probably asking yourself is: if marketing is all about making sales, why would you ever want to give things away for free?

This speaks closely to the consideration stage of the funnel, which is where you’re convincing potential clients to view you as a subject matter expert. Doing so lets them know that they can trust you to solve their problem, or create a better way of life for them.

Trust is important — It’s what ultimately leads to that dirty “s” word at the end of the funnel: making a sale.

If you don’t give people a reason to trust you, they’re not going to want to spend their hard-earned money on your services.

What’s the easiest way to build trust? By showing that you’re willing to give a little of your expertise away upfront.

Determining What’s Free vs. Paid Content

Online content comes in a lot of different formats. It can be a Facebook live, a blog post or a podcast. It can be a helpful graphic you share on social media or something you offer as a download incentive.

So what’s the difference between free vs. paid content?

When you offer something online for FREE, there is no barrier to access. This means you’re not asking for anything in exchange for this content.

When it’s PAID, the content earns you income (such as with online classes, ebooks, or other content people pay to access).

Things like download incentives fall into a middle category. You’re asking for the person’s contact information in exchange for the content. Technically this is still “free” in the sense that there’s no money exchanged. But personal information is valuable — It may take a little convincing to get folks to hand it over.

Some Strategies to Consider

Working with people in person, it can be much easier to figure out where the line is between what’s “marketing” and what’s a paid service. For example: your classes are paid, while anything you blog about is marketing.

But switching over to online services can blur those lines.

In order to think strategically, step back and take a big-picture look at what you offer. Can it be broken up into smaller chunks? Consider giving away some of those pieces for free. They can be an incentive for folks to pay to learn more.

Maybe you talk about why your services are important. Then you show some examples of clients you helped reach an end goal. If folks want to learn the “how,” they need to pay for it.

Maybe your strategy is to give it ALL away for free in different formats — But you don’t help connect the dots, or give it away in a logical order. Most people don’t want to do the work of figuring out how it all works together. Most people are happy to pay for someone to do the hard work of explaining it to them. Or they may want more personalized information tailored to their situation.

As you can see, there are a lot of ways to think about free vs. paid content. If you want to go deeper into these strategies, I wrote a post about them over on the Dog Trainer’s Umbrella blog. You can read it here.

Don’t Go Over to the Dark Side

Here’s my most important advice when it comes to free content:

Don’t be a jerk.

What do I mean by that?

Be kind to your potential clients. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver, or trick people into signing up for things.

There are some big names out there who do this kind of thing all the time. They’ll offer a “free webinar” that’s really just a pitch for a paid class — with no useful information offered at all. They only share content when they want things in return.

And while the ultimate goal of marketing is to sell, creating a free strategy that’s just one big ad isn’t kind. You will never be able to generate trust if people feel used or tricked by you — that’s a terrible strategy both for potential clients and for retaining existing clients.

And it’s not really an R+ way to run your business.

If you’re struggling to decide which category your strategy falls into, ask yourself this question:

“Do I think this is kind to someone who may want to work with me?”

This can go a long way in marketing… just like it does in dog training.

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