Free is never really free.
While we’re all reasonably aware that free things are free only in the sense that you don’t exchange money for them, and there’s always an associated cost somewhere down the road, a lot of us don’t realize that free things aren’t free on either side of the fence – they’re not free for the person who gets them, and they’re not free for the person giving them either.
This is easy to see when you’re talking about something like a free gift in exchange for goods or services. Obviously, the gift cost something; it wasn’t free for the person giving it out. Someone paid for it. And since it’s free “with purchase,” it’s not really free at all – you still have to buy or pay for something. Obviously, the cost of what is being given out “free” actually comes out of the profits on your investment.
But what a lot of people miss is the associated cost in positioning – a critical element of any small business. When you come right down to it, you get paid whatever you get paid because that’s what your work is worth, and when you give away work for free… well, obviously at least that part of the work isn’t worth very much at all.
How much is free, really worth?
We’re taught from an early age that anything you can have for free isn’t worth very much, and that anyone who says they’re giving you something free is probably trying to trick you. So when you add free offers or discounts to your products or services, many people view this as you bribing them to buy that product or service.
Another common reason people think you might give something away for free is because, well, you can’t seem to sell it. When a company’s bacon-scented neckties aren’t exactly jumping off the shelves, a good way to get them off of your increasingly bacon-scented shelves is to have a “free bacon-scented necktie with purchase” special.
With information, of course, this isn’t normally because it’s taking up space in a warehouse (or making it reek). It’s more likely because it’s unpopular, outdated, or just plain wrong. In the SEO world, every time Google rolls out a new algorithm change, the price of the old and outdated strategies drops… sometimes all the way to nothing.
The price is right.
This makes it pretty clear that you shouldn’t be trying to hand out free information too much, but there’s another side – the client, or prospective client, who asks for a certain amount of free information or work that you’re not actually handing out.
The idea is that if you give them something they like, they’ll hire you and pay for more of the same. They may call this a sample, or a test, or working “on spec,” but they all have one thing in common: they are tremendously unlikely to ever pay for anything.
What you’ll find, when you do free work, is that people are very happy for you to do work for free and have all kinds of additional work you could do for free. And if you hand out free information, people will take it from you all day long… then walk away and throw it out.
Have you ever been to one of the big conventions for an industry or profession? They have these huge halls full of displays and demonstrations, and whenever people go to one, they pick up an absolute stack of free information about various companies and their products. Then they go back to the office and set it aside until they have time to read it… but they never do, so it just sits there until they eventually throw it away.
But every year, they’ll go back to that same convention and take the same stack of "free stuff" from pretty much the same companies.
Now, there’s one place that you should have free information and services, and that’s when it’s a gateway to something paid. But the key element of this is that your expenses – both money and time – have to be very, very small.
This is much easier today than it used to be. You can easily provide your prospective client with perhaps an audit of their site, or perform some low level keyword research. The key is to be careful about clearly defining the line between “giving away too much,” so your customer doesn’t have to spend anything at all, and giving away nothing at all – which provides no proof of quality.
An excellent way to accomplish this is by providing something near the beginning, but not at the beginning. The customer then needs to make an investment or commitment towards the service being provided, not only to get the most benefit from it, but also to cover the introduction to the free offers.
So be careful, in your SEO consulting business, about the temptation to give away too much for free - or to provide free samples of your work. While it might seem like the best way to get new clients, it can rapidly become a supply of people who don’t want to pay for anything.
Free now, should mean money later.
Instead, explain some of the things you’ll do for the client, in detail, so they can confirm you know your business… and maybe even provide some examples of the work that will be performed. The benefits of doing this is twofold.
On the one hand, they get to see that it works because you've openly demonstrated it with other clients; and on the other, they get to see just how much works involved… and how much they would rather not do it themselves.
This is a solid, winning strategy for obtaining clients that can both see your expertise and appreciate the amount of work you do, which is often, the best kind of client to have.