If you have been hanging out online, you’ve probably noticed the copious amounts of free stuff that entrepreneurial practitioners like myself — teachers, coaches, artists, writers, etc. — have to offer.*
To begin with, there are blogs and articles that showcase skills, philosophies and advice — information you used to have to purchase via book, magazine or other publications. Blog posts and other online written materials enable you to get to know a practitioner’s voice. The idea is that if you resonate, you’ll want to hear more — so you’ll stick around. But with so much free information available these days, practitioners have had to offer way more free to get people’s attention.
So they also offer e-books and mini-courses, called “Opt-ins,” that you download all for the price of your e-mail address (ahem, if you haven’t already, my e-book can be found in the footer of this page) so that the practitioner can stay connected to you via newsletter updates which share specialized free advice and information about offerings.
But now that everyone’s inbox looks like a New York City subway at rush hour, practitioners also offer free courses and webinars that showcase a live experience and a generous taste of their offerings, in the hopes that participants will connect with them and buy more.
I offer all three. And maybe you, Dear Reader, are an online entrepreneur who does as well, or you’re considering it.
But I’ve made a decision. This summer will be the last of the free webinars.
I like being generous. I enjoy teaching people how to live and love with a greater sense of mastery and satisfaction, and I am happy to be of service. I’ll do this forever on my blog. But there are a lot of problems with the more intensive free offerings that no one’s talking about. And these dynamics can knock your average online entrepreneur out of his or her own sense of authority in regards to their marketing strategies and offerings.
So what’s the problem with free?
1) Audience is Everything: If you are teaching online entrepreneurs how to make money, a free offering is a perfect marketing tool. You’ve got an audience that has time during the day. They have literal hunger for useful information, and what you sell after your free advice will probably be a high cost ticket. But for other service practitioners without huge audiences, free can signal to a potential participant that it isn’t really worth their time, especially if what’s being offered has to do with personal transformation. Personal transformation is equally as appealing as it is threatening to a person’s sense of self, and that’s what makes it harder to sell.
2) Reciprocity, Generosity & Manipulation: The Law of Reciprocity is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in healthy people. When someone does something nice for you, you are compelled to do something nice back. The idea behind free courses is connected to this law — you give so much useful information for free that people will want to work with you not only because they liked what you had to say, but also as a way to give back. It’s been a strong marketing principle for years.
But instead of giving freely, people overuse this law to their sales advantage, and it reeks of manipulation: they bombard your screen with hackneyed advice and encyclopedic free offerings. A few things happen as a result: participants may purchase an offer made at the end of a free course from a place of feeling elated and obligated, but they end up asking for a refund or don’t participate fully; or the webinars attracts takers who go from one free webinar to another, collecting free advice but never committing to anything. And then, there’s this:
3) The Gratitude Hangover: I spoke with a woman who recently completed a month long free mini-course with a coach, and she was feeling guilty. She had received so much, but she didn’t want to work with the coach one-on-one, and it left her with this feeling of gratitude that she didn’t really know how to express. It actually felt mildly burdensome. Who knew?
4) Not All Free Offerings are Created Equalfree: — A good free webinar can leave you enriched, with a sense that your hour was well spent, and you’ll consider paying to work with the practitioner in the future. But for most of them, you get what you pay for. You’ll notice there’s a formula. The hosts will say “hi” to all the people pouring in — as a way to welcome them, but also to show others that they have large audiences. When this goes on for ten minutes, it becomes tedious. Then, they introduce themselves, sometimes offering their entire CV, followed by a few tidbits of mildly useful information, maybe with questions and answers. Then comes THE SALES PITCH. These sales pitches can go on and on to the point that you feel slimed.
5) Entrepreneurial Burnout: Finally, when people are pouring their hearts and souls into their free offerings, without much return, they become tired and discouraged. Furthermore, if you’re like me, you’re lucky to have 30 people sign up for a free webinar, and since in general between 10 and 20 percent of those sign-ups will actually show up, it’s hard to give your all to copious promotion that results in a small turnout.
Why don’t they show up? It’s not your offer. It’s that people have little respect for free. And once you really see that, if you give too much of it, it means you’re not respecting yourself. You’ll start to feel burned out.
I deeply respect my work and my offerings. They have been crafted with love and the utmost care to offer an experience of transformation in regards to the way you think about relationships. They’re sophisticated. Participants have called them “game changers.” Simply put: They’re worth more.
This is why I am offering for the last time, my two “free” webinars, before I turn them into mini-courses.
You can take the two remaining free offerings, each with two dates to choose from:
For singles, couples, or people confused about intimacy:
How to Be in a Relationship Without Losing Yourself — Wednesday, July 29th, 8pm EDT; and Monday, Aug.3, 12:30pm EDT
For coaches, therapists, consultants and wise folk who struggle in relationship:
How Not to Be Your Partner’s Therapist (or business consultant, life coach, healer, etc.): The “Right Roles” Webinar — Thursday, July 30, 12:30pm EDT and Wednesday, August 5, 8pm EDT.
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And do let me know your thoughts about “free” in the comments below.
*This article was conceived through several conversations with CEO mentor and wise woman Ande Lyons.