As part of my work on Leading the Learning Revolution in 2012, I researched and interviewed a range of people who have had significant success in building high impact, profitable education businesses. If there was one lesson that came across loud and clear in these efforts it was that the more you give away, the more you stand to gain.
Michael Stelzner, founder of Social Media Examiner, perhaps put it most bluntly:
“I believe you should give absolutely everything away for free. I’m not kidding: give it all away.”
To be clear, Mike doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sell anything. He has, after all, built a multimillion dollar virtual conference business that is the core of Social Media Examiner’s business model. (Interview with Mike Stelzner re: virtual conferences, “free,” and other topics.) What he does mean, though, is not to keep your best ideas and information under lock and key (or behind the membership pay wall). Put them out there in a form that people can access easily – blog posts, videos, white papers, Webinars, networking groups, etc.
And don’t just put a watered down version out there. John Jantsch over at Duct Tape Marketing makes the point that these days “You have to offer free that is better than most paid.” (This is just one of the excellent points he makes in the must-read post What Internet Marketers Know That You Don’t.)
Give like you mean it. Give because you want to provide as much value as you can to the people you serve.
But, then, what will people pay for? More intimate access to you and your ideas. Opportunities to go deep, to apply, to gain credentials, to be part of a compelling, evolving story. This the core of Alan Weiss’ Accelerant Curve approach that I have written about here before. You build momentum with your prospective customers by offering them easy access to high value content early in your relationship with them.
Of course, to be really effective, you don’t just do this early – you also do it often, throughout the life of your relationship with your members and customers. You have to keep giving.
If that sounds like a lot of work, well, it is. But if what you are giving away is of high value, then the work you do to create is of at least equally high value. There is no better way, in my opinion, to stay closely connected to your market and to continue developing you own skills, knowledge, and yes, value, that to be consistently engaged in creating new things to offer freely to your audience.
In many ways, this is an area in which individual, entrepreneurial subject matter experts (eSMEs) and small organizations have an advantage over larger organizations. It’s usually easier to stay agile and keep overhead low – both of which are important to this type of marketing and engagement – when fewer people are involved. But larger organizations have the potential advantage of greater resources, if they can tightly coordinate and manage their resources.
Whatever your situation, as the first real business day of the new year kicks off, it is a great time to sit down with the right people, look at your full portfolio of offerings, and ask: What will we give away this year?
P.S. – Speaking of giving things away:
- Until January 5 you can download 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner for free at Amazon
- Because I went with a commercial publisher (Amacom), I’m not really in a position to give away many copies of Leading the Learning Revolution for free, but the Learning Revolution podcast is free and I think the people who have agreed to be on it so far are pretty amazing.
- One of our projects at Tagoras this year is to get all of the free stuff we offer organized a bit better, but you can already find quite a lot in our Resource Center.