Is Free Shit Killing Your Online Business?

  • June 28, 2011 by Corbett Barr
  • 32 Comments

Guest post by Moon Hussain of Experiments In Passive Income

Like anyone else, I love free stuff. Even better, I love free quality, epic shit like Corbett provides us with. However, as much as I love free shit, (did I get away with writing ‘shit’ twice within the first paragraph?) I have to admit: it has also held me back plenty.

I suspect it may be holding you back too.

As students, whenever we needed to write a research paper or hold a presentation in front of our classmates, we would head on over to the library or the bookstore. Every month, I would eagerly await the new Sweet Valley Twins book (don’t judge me ;) and couldn’t wait to plop down part of my allowance and run home to start reading my new books.

Then came the internet. I couldn’t get my favourite books on the internet but it sure did make me a lazy student. I could look up things online and list a real book as a source… not that I’d do that these days.

But fast forward to now, and you can use Google to find almost anything! The coolest stuff you can find is all over the internet like effective marketing, how to go viral on everyone’s ass, how to create and monetize your business blog, details about affiliate marketing and niche marketing… need I go on?

But what also comes with all this so-called free information is…

Information Overload!

There is so much free information out there that “free” holds less and less real value. Before you start opposing my point of view, how many of you read 10 or more blogs posts daily? You consume all this information, feel overloaded and the end result is… nothing!

The ratio of implementing helpful information to reading helpful information is pretty damn low.

In fact, when bloggers give everything away for free, we are effectively lowering the value of our content. People are quick to dismiss free content even if it could generate them hundreds and thousands of dollars. Why? Because it’s free shit.

Why is it we are more than happy to buy a latte and a magazine for fun but when it comes to our internet business needs, we want to “save” money as much as possible?

Here are a few reasons it’s better to pay for a resource than to seek free information:

  • A paid resource will give you more motivation to achieve your mission (not always the case but if you love your money, you’ll do it!)
  • A paid resource is usually a complete resource in one place
  • Free information can lead you to waste hours and days compiling it into anything comprehensible
  • With a paid resource, you are saving yourself time and money by learning what did and didn’t work for the author

In fact, here are five things I wish I had paid for right off the bat when I started off blogging and creating niche sites:

  • A paid WordPress theme like WooThemes: This could have saved me hours of tweaking a free theme and realizing that it was no longer being supported!
  • Paid for link building for my affiliate sites using Fiverr: From my experience, there are quite a few quality connections to be made here.
  • Purchased consultation from someone who is successfully doing what I’m trying to do (saving me a lot of time with useful and strong advice).
  • Paid for Aweber right from the start & build my e-mail list in stages
  • Joined a mastermind group lead by successful people

That’s not to say that I haven’t invested in these things over time. Sadly, I have done that over the period of one and a half years which slowed down my progress far too much.

On the other hand, there’s no need to go credit card happy and buy everything you come across. But please, don’t hesitate to invest in your online businesses if you expect them to generate a real income!

This is not where we end today. I’m going to provide you with a list of five things you can invest in today that can greatly help your business. In fact, even if you purchase one or two of the following resources today, you’ve helped your internet business tenfold:

  • Aweber. It’s so freakin’ easy to use. You can read why Corbett uses it and how it has helped his business grow tremendously. Every successful blogger has an e-mail list
  • Use professional expertise (coaching or consulting) to your advantage to find out what your internet business needs to be a money maker (or whoever is already doing what you’d like to accomplish!)
  • Build your freakin’ empire!
  • A blog critique by Chris Garrett that will not only give you a lot of direction but also expose your site to a new audience (Corbett did this for Free Pursuits)
  • Join me along with other internet entrepreneurs in The Hustle Project. We are keeping track of our goals, the accountability journal makes me take action, the potential of connecting with others is ridiculous and the amount of details (like how much Baker and Corbett earn from each aspect of their businesses in the most recent session) is awesome and encouraging

As I mentioned, by even purchasing one of these things, you’re taking positive action to grow your business.

There are no excuses left.

Anyone can earn an income online. But would you rather spend 4 years to finally earn a decent income online or set up a successful business within one year?

Being frugal is different from being cheap. Being cheap will kill your business.

Moon Hussain loves to experiment with niche sites and she blogs about it all at Experiments In Passive Income. Check out her free ebook, To the Moon & Back: Building Successful Passive Income Businesses, which details all that she has learned in her first year of niche site experiments.

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Tim Huntley June 28, 2011 at 6:02 am

“Being frugal is different from being cheap. Being cheap will kill your business.”

Absolutely!

One idea I used early on was to identify several folks in my local area that could mentor me. I bought them lunch and over the course of a meal and a few follow ups, found a smaller subset that would be active advisors to my company.

Moon Hussain June 28, 2011 at 9:16 am

Tim, that’s an excellent idea. So many people (focused online) are afraid to connect with people offline. By spending $100-$200 on lunch, you made powerful connections for your company.

Thanks for commenting!

Lifechitect June 28, 2011 at 10:12 am

Free information is great, but we must focus on one task at a time.
When you combine free information with what we watch on tv, read in the newspapers, hear from others…it can turn into overload.
Human beings are not designed to multitask although your current job will probably want you to.
The more you focus on one specific task the better the outcome will be.
Being cheap at times can be bad, but if can obtain something for free, by all means do so.

Sincerely,
Evelio P.
Lifechitect.com

Trent Dyrsmid June 29, 2011 at 8:59 am

Tim,

Before becoming a blogger and online marketer, I founded a technology startup (sold it in 2008) and I cannot tell you how valuable it was for me to find local mentors. Getting mind share from them saved me a HUGE amount of time.

I didn’t limit myself to just locals however, instead, I would Google for competitors in different cities and then just call them up. Rarely was I turned down when I suggested we mindshare our best ideas as we weren’t really competitors.

Re the free shit is bad concept; YES, I agree it can be. Back in the old biz, nothing was free and I never really felt info overload. Here in my IM biz, the first few months were awful. Everyday, I felt I had too much to read, and too much to do.

That is why I created my membership site: Niche Site Mastery (teaches how to build a portfolio of Adsense sites). I knew that people wanted a step, 1 – do this, step 2 – do this, step 3 – do this approach. The site has been a success right from its launch, so it would seem that many smart people are happy to pay a moderate amount of money to avoid info overload.

TrafficColeman June 28, 2011 at 6:22 am

Free stuff is good for certain things, i tell people to give away stuff you don’t charge for and you won’t loss income in the process.

“Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

Nick Stewart June 28, 2011 at 6:28 am

Great post. Too much free stuff is definitely bad for a business trying to sell stuff.

Kev Kaye June 28, 2011 at 6:30 am

It took me a while to figure it out too, but paid information from someone you trust is WAY better than free blog posts. Blog posts are like heroin, and complete resources are like broccoli. Once I realized this, I unsubscribed from a TON of lists, and now I only read a couple.

A thought I had during the beginning of your post. I agree with you that people go on info overload, and undervalue free info from people with a ton out there. Would that be a case for bloggers to actually post less? I think so.

-Kev

Moon Hussain June 28, 2011 at 9:20 am

Kev,

I didn’t think about it quite that way but that works ;) It’s easy to get lost in the cycle of information overload. I did it myself!

Someone who has been blogging for over a year, my point of view has changed. I no longer care to stick to a posting schedule and only want to post when I think I have something great to offer. I haven’t gotten the ‘schedule’ thing figure out yet but posting 3x a week for now isn’t in the cards for me anymore.

Thanks for the in-depth comment.

Graham Lutz June 28, 2011 at 7:04 am

Amen! Who was it who said “free” is not a business plan? One of my main goals on my site is to encourage people to look at spending money on info products differently.

If you are willing to blow money on video games, coffee, and all sorts of other junk, why not take a bit of that and invest in something that will give you a return?

Investing in your business from the start is a MUST!

Kevin Douglas June 28, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I’m with you, Graham. It’s all about redistributing and reinvesting your income. There are a lot of free products and services out there, but you will have to bow down and pay for the really good stuff. Especially, when you’re using said products and services to improve your own business.

Investing in yourself is the best investment and will yield the biggest return. I don’t thin you can REALLY make money online without buying premium products at some point!

Benny June 28, 2011 at 7:29 am

People have spent tens of thousands of dollars on a college education and didn’t think twice about spending it. Where has it got most of us? With a nice piece of paper?

Buying products or enrolling in courses is an investment in your future. It pertains to something you actually want to learn and get better at.

People don’t ever think about investing in themselves. Money is spent on going to bars and clubs or buying some they’ll get tired of in a month. But to pay for a $97 ebook is out of the question!

Enjoyed the post Moon!!

Nancy June 28, 2011 at 9:09 am

I disagree. There is a ton of great free information out there – the key is to filter the free information and focus on your key objectives. For example, you can map out your entire business using the Unbounce Noob Guide to Online Marketing.

It is so easy to get sucked into paid e-books, “mastermind” groups, subscriptions, etc. but if you spent that money on actual marketing endeavors (i.e. advertising, aweber, content development, etc.), you would be much better off.

Moon Hussain July 6, 2011 at 9:32 am

Nancy, there are both extremes. If you pay for every course under the sun but don’t apply anything learned to your internet business, it’s as bad as being too cheap to invest in yourself.

Both result in inaction for your business.

Daniel Roach | Blog to Business June 28, 2011 at 9:46 am

I think there’s two issue here. 1) paying for information and 2) paying for a service.

Number one is hit and miss. Some paid info products are worth their weight in gold – most aren’t worth the Google search it would take to find the same info for free. Make of those what you will.

Number two, paying for a service, I couldn’t agree more on. The one thing I wish I had done differently when I started out was admit my weaknesses and hire someone to do what I couldn’t. Things like managing PPC campaigns or copywriting a sales letter – shit I’m still no good at :) . Had I just invested in someone to do that I could’ve saved myself years of spinning my wheels.

We entrepreneurs like our independent ways, but being willing to spend a little money to spare a lot of effort often results in the biggest growth.

Dave Doolin June 28, 2011 at 10:14 am

Moon, awesome post, and I agree 100%.

For the record, I’m not around very much at the moment here in Blogistan because I’m doing some serious skill-building. And I don’t feel like writing about it until I have proof and product to show for it.

Blogistan has too much talk and not enough walk.

On a related note, there is a large chasm separating free from paid. I’ve tried to fill this gap with reasonably priced services. It’s a no go. Either people want to pay nothing, or they will pay $75/hr plus. There is no market in the $25- $65 per hour range that I have been able to find. Very curious.

marianney | CityVids.tv Denver June 28, 2011 at 10:16 am

I think there is a balance. I have paid for courses and stuff, but that doesn’t mean i have had the time (or made the time) to complete them. But that said, I do suffer from information overload. I am great at collecting it and then doing nothing with it!

I think the key (but what do i know?) is to take what’s truly applicable to your business from free and paid resources.

Alex June 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Good to see you here Moon. (damn you beat me LOL)
Nice post – and you hit it right on the head too, because I am slowly killing myself by giving everything free. Definitely comes a point where you need to leverage the brand you have built and start getting something for it.

On that note – would you say that an optin is free or would you consider that different? (referring for example to the Viper ‘share to get’ thing)

Moon Hussain June 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I see you made it here Alex!

Similar to you, I do wish I hadn’t been so easy going with setting up an internet business. I wish I had paid upfront for things that I can’t do that well and saved myself a lot of time.

Depends what “free” means to you. If it means “no-cost $$-wise”, absolutely it’s free. If people are upset about promoting your content with a tweet, FB or giving up their e-mail, then perhaps that’s not the best audience for you. It’s still costing them nothing other than some free promotion (or opting in).

Lastly, if for some reason a person doesn’t like opting in, you can always opt-out later on.

I don’t see any harm in opt-in “freebies”. It’s a win-win for both parties.

Brad June 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I personally think giving away free products or services for a limited time is a good marketing strategy. Of course you need to outline what’s free and for how long.

Other than that, “I want my two dollars!” (Anyone know the reference? )

Nathan Agin June 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm

In the interest of following the advice herein and not Googling until my eyes fall out, could some elaborate on the Fiverr/link building item mentioned? thanks!

Moon Hussain June 29, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Hi Nathan,

If you click on my website link (my name), it will take you to my website. I have a free report about link building posted and I think you’ll find it useful.

Shona Smith - The Blithe Effect June 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Hi Moon, (very cool name!)
My natural inclination is to go with an abundance mentality. To give free information to people, based on a deep desire within to help, using whatever skills and information I have that I think may be useful for them.
But then there does come a time when we need to value our work as well. That is when a fee for your expertise is appropriate and right.
Each of us will know when that time has come. It will be different for everyone.
Thanks, Shona.

Sergio Felix June 29, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Hey Moon,

I can relate to this because that’s the exact same path I’ve been following myself. Had the money from the beginning but kept digging myself for solutions, making mistakes all over and all because I was stubborn enough to understand it all myself right from the beginning and not wanting any kind of help.

I regret all that time I lost in the steep learning curve but hopefully most people will start realizing that paying a bit of money to save precious time it’s, well, precious.

I agree with other comments here that free info can be actually good (this blog post was!) but the problem is, there are way too much free info out there.

If we start following one thing, then another thing and we never get to do anything because we’re always finding new stuff, information overload is imminent.

We would normally expect that with a paid info product or service, you would normally follow it to the end because you paid for it! (something that is not happening much lately anyway)

I believe the most valuable part is when you start investing in the right tools without feeling guilty about it and start making some real progress.

The question for anyone on this, is when is that happening?

Tim July 1, 2011 at 2:08 am

Hi Moon,
I wholeheartedly agree with your point regarding information overload. It’s very easy to get sucked in to mailing lists, blog feeds, etc and get overwhelmed by the massive amount of anecdotal advice and guru information. I too have recently unsubscribed from a load of lists to make things more manageable.

But I do have to disagree with your inference that free = less value. Some of my best results have come from free resources, such as Pat Flynn’s Backlinking Guide on SPI for example. Same goes for a load of stuff here on Corbett’s site.

In most cases, the publishers of some of the best free content then also have premium content or courses of their own (like Corbett’s, naturally) or affiliate links to other products which expand on their free content. It’s up to you then whether you feel ready to part with your hard-earned cash. I had no problem with purchasing Corbett’s Affiliate Marketing for Beginners after being blown away by his free content, so it served as a perfect example of social proof as a pre-sales tool in that respect.

If chosen carefully, free content can be much more valuable than a lot of premium products and savvy marketers can certainly use it as a strong introduction to their services before offering premium products.

Cheers, Tim

Emile Monestime August 6, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Tim, I agree with you 100 Percent. What’s important is to know what would work for you and what would not and focus on what’s working and ignore the noise.

Tom July 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Hi,

I agree that being too frugal getting a internet operation going isn’t good, and I like your statement –

“Use professional expertise (coaching or consulting) to your advantage to find out what your internet business needs to be a money maker”.

The question is how do you choose that person, or what list of qualifications they need, any example people?

Regards,

Tom

Dan Lyons July 3, 2011 at 12:51 am

Hey Moon,

I agree with the information overload thing.

So why is everyone giving away valuable content online? I guess there’s an element of keeping up with the folks next door. For a new blogger or marketer it’s easy to fall into the trap of replicating what has worked for others, in the hope that it will work for you (hooking an audience by giving away free valuable content).

But in the case of bloggers, if they weren’t to give out this free information in the form of a blog post, then dare I say it, they wouldn’t really have a blog would they? So if we understand that giving out good free content often comes with the territory of being a blogger then it may be a little easier to accept.

I must say though if you are serious about your blog being a business then be prepared to pay for things like Aweber, a good Wordpress theme, SEO work etc. Invest in the things that will give you good results or that will help you build your business in the long term. Trying to cut corners only wastes time.

Thanks for the post and I’m glad it’s for free :)

Dan

Brett July 14, 2011 at 4:13 am

Wow, it’s good to see somebody say “spend some goddamned money on your business”!

I must admit I am terrible at investing in my business. My successful software business didn’t even have it’s own hosting account – I was so cheap that in 2002 I just set it up in a sub-folder of my personal website!

Just lately I’ve started outsourcing content writing. It burns to lose some control over my empire, but I realise that I need to scale things up.

Josh Kohlbach July 30, 2011 at 7:39 pm

As Brett said, it’s good to see someone saying “spend some goddamn money”.

From the other side of the coin, I do think there is some value in giving away content. I have a free eCourse that does quite well. But it’s free for a reason, it gives me leads.

Investing in your business is a good idea in general, but it pays dividends to make sure you’re investing in the right products.

Job Centre September 21, 2011 at 8:27 am

Totally agree Josh!You newer ever can go wrong with freebies as everyone shopping for the bargain now and if you offer something for free……they will say thanks and will keep comming back!

Nathan Agin June 30, 2011 at 3:08 pm

thanks Moon!

Alex July 1, 2011 at 1:25 am

well argued Moon – definitley agree with your point about the audience being wrong if they have an issue.
Thanks Moon

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