Which of your content should be free versus paid?
This is an important question which I will address in the second half of this post.
First, we need to talk about whether content should have a fee attached. For example: online courses.
I used to promote 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 in creating your perfect content.
A few years later, I changed my stance. Here’s what I now believe:
Free content of course is beneficial. We’re all thankful for Wikipedia, as well as the billions of free blogs and Youtube videos! However, paid content is also important for societal humanity… as long as the payment is not too steep.
Teachers and Authors Deserve a Livelihood
If you give all your content for free, you lose out on a substantial income source. You would need a job, which would take away hours every day, some of which you could’ve spent creating more, and better content.
This is how I’m able to spend so much time every week writing articles and making videos to share freely — to benefit people no matter if they ever buy from me. My business also frees up several hours every week to keep improving my paid courses.
Think about the writers and video creators you admire. Don’t you wish they had more energy and time to create or improve their content? They need an income source that liberates them to do this.
That’s why I promote the idea of supporting small creators.
Now let’s talk about how the student of content relates to free versus paid…
Relaxed vs. Studious
Most of the time, when people consume free content, they are in a “free time” mode… not looking to be so serious at the moment. They are seeking something entertaining that also brings them some value.
Therefore, free content should be easy to consume, nothing complex. It shouldn’t require much investment of energy from the reader, just like it doesn’t require any investment of money.
Divide your content into two buckets — easy for the reader versus challenging.
If a piece of knowledge requires energy to parse and understand, then 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 thousands of dollars to show their willingness to do the work. They just have to pay something.
Will Free Content Cannibalize Paid Content?
I’ve discovered that even with lots of free content, my audience still buys paid information products, because it’s more thoughtfully organized than the free stuff.
For example, the chapters of all of my books are freely available on my blog and social media, if you were willing to go through years of my videos & posts.
However, in my books, you get them in an organized, edited format.
Many others also do this. Prolific content creators Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk sell books that are essentially a curated collection of their best free content. And their books sell very well.
There are people like Seth, Gary, and me in every industry, including yours.
The more free, good content you create and distribute online, the more people discover you and will buy your books or courses.
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 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 beginner’s content. They will notice the deeper nuances than what beginners see.
In regards to your “black belt” content — the more in-depth, complex, or difficult knowledge — keep them in your paid courses, workshops, 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.
And, you are more ready to support them to go deeper.
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 where they want to go (their dreams achieved, their challenges overcome.)
Sometimes, however, you may want to give, for free, 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, including 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.
Free = What and Why. Paid = How.
Another way of saying it is that your free content gives the What (the definitions and the philosophies) and the Why (the diagnosis of their problems, as well as the background of your philosophies.)
Your premium content gives the detailed step-by-step: How to solve their problems or reach their goals.
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.
Infotainment to Education to Transformation
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.
Sometimes they can apply the education on their own. Other Times they would really benefit in working personally with the teacher, in a coaching or mentoring program. That’s usually where the deepest transformation happens.
Now it’s your turn — What content might you offer for free, versus paid?
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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