What kinds of content should be free versus paid/premium?
I’ll address that towards the second half of this blog post.
First, let’s talk about whether content should have a fee attached...
In 2014 I promoted the idea that all content should be free because it would (1) help humanity progress faster, (2) help you attract your ideal audience, and (3) make you more creative by easing the pressure to make your content perfect.
I've changed my stance since then. Here's what I believe now:
Free content does help humanity progress, but so does paid content, as long as it’s not too expensive. Free content helps you attract an audience, but paid content helps you to filter in your ideal clients, showing you who is able and willing to pay.
Teachers and Authors Deserve a Livelihood
If you give all your content for free, you will lose out on a substantial income source, which would have freed up your energy and time to create more and better content.
(You would also miss the opportunity to create transformation for many potential clients who trust paid content much more than free.)
Think about the writers and video creators that you really appreciate. Don’t you wish they had more energy and time to create content? That means they need an income source that allows them to do this.
So go to one of your favorite content creators today (not talking about me, find another creator you love!) and find out how you can pay them something. If they have an informational product (course or book), buy it so they will feel supported to create more and better content.
Relaxed vs. Studious
When people consume free content, they are usually in a “free time” mode… not looking to be a serious student at the moment. They are basically seeking something entertaining that also brings them some value.
Therefore, free content should be easy to consume, nothing complex or requiring much investment of energy from the reader.
Divide your content into two buckets -- easy for the reader versus challenging. If a piece of knowledge requires more energy to parse and understand, the reader should spend some money (doesn’t have to be a lot) to signal to themselves that they are ready to do the work, not only consume infotainment.
Still, I believe that paid content should be as affordable as possible, since it is a scalable (ever expandable) revenue source. Make it accessible. Students don’t have to invest a lot of money to show their willingness to invest energy in doing the work. They just have to pay something.
Will Free Content Cannibalize Paid Content?
I’ve discovered that even with lots of free content, our audience will still want to buy paid information products, because those are more thoughtfully organized than free stuff.
For example, almost all of the chapters of my books are freely available on my blog or social media profiles, if you were willing to go through years of my videos & posts. However, in my books, you get them in an organized, edited format.
I’m not the only one. Prolific content creators such as Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk all sell books that are essentially a curated collection of their best free content. And their books sell very well.
The more free, good content you create and distribute online, the more people discover you and will buy your book or course.
Now let’s think about what types of content should be free versus paid…
Keep your free content “white belt”
Think of a martial arts dojo. In any given beginner (white belt) class, you often see a few dedicated “black belt” students practicing the same basic moves… except that the black belts are practicing at a deeper, more nuanced level.
Advanced students know how important the basics are, and therefore they review them frequently.
Therefore, make most of your free content “white belt” because even “black belt” audience members will appreciate consuming beginner’s content. They will see the deeper nuances than what beginners see.
In regard to your “black belt” content -- the stuff that is more in-depth, complex, or difficult to implement -- keep them in your paid programs, workshops, courses, and books.
Once students have paid something, they are more ready to get serious and invest the required energy to parse and understand your more detailed or advanced material.
Zoomed-out Map or a Fun Small Section
Another way to think about your free content is that it’s either (1) a zoomed-out map, or a (2) fun detailed small popular section of town.
A zoomed out map gives them a quick overview of the landscape, compared to where they are (their current problems, issues, situation, challenges, yearnings) versus they want to go (their dreams achieved, their challenges overcome.)
Or sometimes you would give a fun small section of the map, a popular part of town, for example, with some detail but keeping it easy to consume.
Your premium content, however, is the comprehensive and detailed map that connects everything together and leaves no question about how to get from point A to B, the helpful detours they might take, what they need to prepare for the journey, the pitfalls to avoid, etc.
And your 1-1 services? It can be like the GPS that leads them in a customized way.
What and Why is Free. How is Premium.
Another way of saying it is that your free content gives the What (the definitions and the philosophies) and the Why (the reasons behind their problems as well as the background of your philosophies.)
Your premium content gives the detailed How to do it.
For example, in my free content I often talk about the importance of Facebook Ads, but it’s in my paid course on Facebook Ads that I go into detail of how to do it efficiently and effectively.
I might occasionally cover small, popular section of doing Facebook Ads, but the whole, comprehensive strategy and steps are in the paid course.
Infotainment vs. Education
Remember: when people are consuming free content, they are usually looking for some kind of picker-upper, something to entertain, inspire, uplift, give them energy and easy ideas. In other words, infotainment.
When they are ready to really solve a problem or achieve a dream or study something in a step-by-step way, then they are ready for premium content such as an online course. Now they’re looking for real education.
What about you? What might you offer for free versus paid content?
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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