Paid subscription formats where, as a content creator, you’re paid for the content you produce, looks tempting but in fact, the work that you share for free, can indirectly lead to income while giving your reputation a boost at the same time.
In many cases ‘free’ is what leads to ‘paid’. Producing work and giving it away for free doesn’t mean that you become trapped in the expectation that you will do everything for free.
Let’s champion the work you share for free and recognise that it’s this content which helps people become attached to you and your view of the world. Once they come alongside you and understand how you can help them, they may well become paying customers.
Why Free Content Can More Than Earn Its Place
Free has worked for me as it’s allowed me to tune into my audience with an emphasis on creating a relationship, rather than just effectuating a transaction.
Not everything has to be a revenue generator in its own right. Creating connected experiences means that your content can feed into other elements of your business. For instance, with You Are The Media, the mix of events and learning creates the income stream.
Free is very often an indirect path towards being paid. It all starts with the ask – getting people to sign up to hear your way of seeing things. (for me it all starts with the subscribe page). Make it too complicated and people won’t want to play with you.
The Drive To Paid Subscriptions
The ‘monetise’ carrot is being dangled in front of many creators and businesses.
For instance, Apple has recently announced their intention to introduce paid podcast subscriptions, and newsletter services from providers such as Substack and Ghost are inviting people to scale-up by encouraging paid subscriptions from their audience.
Substack is making notable inroads in this area with 500,000 paid subscribers across an audience of 1 million users. It’s perfectly natural that people would want to be rewarded financially for the time and effort invested in writing and creating. However, to make money in this way, you need to have an audience in the first place. If you don’t have an audience and think you can make money, then think again. For many people using places such as Substack is a case of sharing work for free until they have built a sizeable audience, then either extending what they do to create special paying subscriber iterations of their work or putting their newsletters behind a paywall.
In an article called, Here’s why Substack’s scam worked so well, Annalee Newitz writes, “They claim to offer writers a level playing field for making a living, and instead they pay an elite group of writers to be on the platform and make newsletter writing appear to be more lucrative than it is.”
If you frame things another way, the work you share might not need to make an immediate return but might be a way of feeding into the broader scope of what you do.
Just because you can make a podcast or create an email, doesn’t mean that people will pay for it. And yet people become impatient if what they start doesn’t result in an immediate and direct return. Donald Trump decided to shut down his ‘From the Desk of Donald J. Trump’ blog after less than a month post-launch. Perhaps if he’d given it time to build and invited people to subscribe he could have built his own addressable audience, one he couldn’t lose, as happened when he was banned from his social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
So, as even Trump proved – you can’t start something new and expect it to be huge. This is why there’s a place for doing this sort of thing for free, where ‘free’ helps your business. The thing is to not to be swayed by the platforms that tell you you can create income but where you only find yourself competing with everyone else.
The Case For Free
Here are the reasons why free can indirectly lead to something that benefits you both personally and financially:
Your unique perspective gets out there.
In truth, few people are saying anything totally new. The difference lies in how you package things up and share them. It could start with sharing a worldview that you have which, over time, captures others’ attention and you’re able to find a way to ask people to leave their email with you.
People can see how you work.
Over the years, I found that being clear on the value I offer, as well as on what I don’t provide, has reduced the number of tyre kickers. In this way, free work acts as a filter to identify your ideal customers or clients. Having a bank of work to direct people to, also saves you time and helps persuade people that you’re right for them.
You continually tee people up.
The more readily available your work is, the more value you can demonstrate via topics and themes that resonate with others. This can become a conversation starter that not only leads to paid work but also to introductions and extending your network. No one wants to live in a vacuum with a website that provides no insight or stamp on the world. The work you share does have an impact on others.
You establish yourself and your business as a voice in your sector.
The process of creation becomes far more important than the pursuit of monetisation. Let me explain – when you start, your message can be fairly generic (mine certainly was) but over time you start to recognise areas that are untapped where you can offer a unique perspective. This then starts to sharpen that perspective and the route you need to follow becomes clear. This in turn, helps you to be seen as a trusted person in your field.
You show what you care about.
If there is something that you strongly believe in, or where you see change or an opportunity that others can take on board, why should there be a barrier between you and someone else (beyond getting someone’s email address)? If you have something you want to say, say it and let as many people as possible see, read and watch it. This will help you in the long term as you’ll end up delivering products and services related to your overall business goals.
The more you give away, the more you get back
Having a ‘free’ mindset doesn’t devalue your work, it gives you the freedom to grow. For instance, if I stopped sending the weekly You Are The Media email, it would present less opportunity for the little nudges that help people to book on the events. Without the Thursday email, my means of promotion would be paying for ads and posts that could get lost in a stream of others. Creating and sharing work weekly for nearly eight years has provided me with so much opportunity to travel, to make friends, to test new ideas and to become happier in my business. There is also a great sense of satisfaction that what you produce and share can come back to you.
A miserly mindset centres on what you can immediately take from someone else whereas the ‘sharing for free’ mindset can help you do better in the long run. What might start as a worry that you’re just giving everything away for free, can turn into recognising that this is the very magnet that draws people closer to you.
With companies such as Apple, Spotify and Substack encouraging you to scale up and put up paywalls for people to access your content, when you focus on the audience you want to build and then direct them to the products and services that can help them, you start to look at your content as the place from which you welcome people in.
Why close the door when you can put out a welcome mat? It’s this free content that paves the way for people who are waiting to pay for your work.