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One of the top questions I receive from people is something along the lines of – I have this knowledge/passion and I give a lot of content away but how can I turn this into income? Since the original launch of my “Converting Free to Paid” training program,  I’ve had dozens of people approach me with that question. Today I’m going to spill the beans on the simplest money-making formula that I know of and show you how to give and get paid.

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Many people create content – much of it very good – and give it away. Social media has made it relatively easy to get eyeballs viewing this content. Creating content and getting traffic isn’t the problem; the problem is transitioning from free to paid.

Before I give you the formula, let’s take a look at the difference between paid and free work.

Paid Work Solves a Problem

  • You provide specific detail about a problem and offer a framework to solve it
  • It is longer and more detailed than free
  • It provides opportunity to back-end one-on-one assistance by either actually implementing the solution or offering coaching/consulting on how to implement

Contrast this with free work…

Free Work Gives a Taste

  • It identifies problems and offers general solutions
  • It gives a taste of a solution but not all of the details
  • The best free work offers enough guidance for at least some people to take action immediately
  • Builds credibility
  • Leads some people to want to know more about a topic and preferably more from you
  • Most important: it attracts the right people who can be converted into paying customers

Not every piece of free you create needs to directly relate to something you sell. Sometimes to expand your reach and fan base, creating free content that will reach your target buying base makes sense. You can also use free to create awareness of problems people may not even know they have.

Turning Free into Paid

Now that I’ve laid out the distinguishing factors between free and paid, let me go through the steps of turning free into paid.

1. Build up your fan base first

You don’t need to have a large social media presence, but you should have a core group of solid fans who can get the word out quickly for you

  • When you create new free content, are people sharing your content and are they leaving comments?
  • Do you have an email list and RSS feed so that your most rabid fans can get your free content soon after it is published?
2.  Character: Be consistent, pay it forward and focus on quality

You don’t necessarily need to write a new blog post each day or be active in social media every day, but having a consistent presence is important. It goes towards credibility and building trust.

Another aspect of demonstrating character is paying it forward. If you want to get traffic and have people sharing, share the content of others. Make sure to only share quality and don’t just share because someone shares your content. The quality aspect has been a huge one for me. Trust me – if I share a blog post that is crap, someone will call me on it.

Not every post you write is worth publishing. For every post I publish on this blog, there is probably one I’ve at least half-written that I didn’t publish because it didn’t meet my own quality standards.

3. Monitor Responsiveness
  • What topics are getting the most social sharing, the most traffic, the most comments?
  • Follow comments people leave and attach to their social shares to see the direction you should be taking both free and paid in
  • Be wary about why people respond. Pushing hot buttons and covering controversial subject matter can generate response and traffic, but this is not necessarily something you can convert to paid. It takes a combination of skill and experience to be able to use this without potentially causing damage.
4. Create a product that solves a problem

Based on the comments you receive and the direction you go, generally products seem to just “pop up.”  Problems you’ve identified in your ‘free’ and given light solutions for where you can dig deeper through offering a paid product.

Bonus tip: A handful of my clients on B2B service side have actually created products almost exclusively composed of repackaging their “free” into another format. Examples: let’s say you have 100 posts on your blog. Putting these into ebook format for the Kindle might be an option. Regrouping and restructuring your content can add additional value.

5. Incentivize purchasing

Give your rabid fans a first crack at access to the product and any combination of bonuses, preferential pricing or other things.  This can help you get the word out even more.

Since I’ve been doing this for a while now myself and with clients, I have a pretty good handle on knowing what to expect conversion-wise at each stage. I try to use incentivized offers to make sure that the odds are in my favor of breaking even on the time/expenses for creating a product.  That makes any additional sales – and back-end sales – gravy.

6. Offer more free

You’ll want to generate continued interest for your product by offering more free.

Once you put a product there, chances are that you’re going to have people ask you questions about it. Some of those questions are going to be about whether or not the product is suitable for their situation and does the product cover x, y or z. Creating more free around these questions (and also updating your sales page to link to this additional free content, preferably via your FAQ) can help you get a nice boost to sales. Why? Simply – people who take the time to contact you with questions are already showing keen interest in what you have to offer. But they aren’t completely sold yet.

Consider this – let’s say your product has a price point of $100. You have 5 people who each ask you almost the same question. It takes you maybe an hour to craft this into a post (which shouldn’t be a pitch for your product but instead offer value on it’s own!). You follow up with those 5 people with a link to the post. You’ll likely find that at least 1 of the 5 will purchase the product

Keep in mind that not everyone who has a question will take the time or make the effort to ask you. So by creating more free around questions you receive, you’ll be helping a lot more than just those who have already asked you.

Another source for more free is to look at the material you cover in your product. What topics can you extract some information from to create content without giving it all way?  You can pinpoint specific problems that your material solves, outline the solution for it and then refer people to your paid product if they need more guidance.

Mini-Case Study: Converting Free to Paid

If you didn’t figure this out already, this post you are reading is an example of how you can give and get paid.

I wrote a post “7 Reasons Why I Can’t Do Free” in June, 2012.  The post received a lot of comments, social shares and more importantly a lot of people contacted me privately about it.

I actually didn’t intend on creating a program related directly on this subject.  But from the questions I received and the comments left, I was able to create a framework for a training program I called “Converting Free to Paid.”  Every topic covered on the program came directly as a result of feedback/questions I received from those who read the original post. I did not include everything people mentioned; I chose to focus on those items which I know I have solid expertise in and can deliver high quality training on. Based on feedback from the original run of the program, I’ve made some tweaks to the content.

It took me less than 24 hours from the time I published the original post until the training program went live.

I offered discounted pricing for those who signed up first. The first 10 spots were taken within 8 hours or so – all but 1 to people who subscribe to my email newsletter. Within 24 hours, my time and expenses were pretty well covered for the entire project.

I set the start date of the training program 3 weeks forward. This was to give me time to create more “free” to generate more interest in the paid program, create more confidence in those who are on the fence about it and to provide more assistance to those who may not have the money for the paid training right now. The post you are reading was an example of the “more free” and there are several other posts I shared leading up to the program start date. All of these posts deal with questions people have asked or will provide a sampling of what will be covered in more depth in the training program.

Wrapping Up

In this post, I’ve shared the difference between positioning for free versus paid, gave you a step-by-step plan for transitioning and shared one of my own experiences that’s unfolded on this blog.  All of this is about doing things in a non-sleazy manner where you’re actually offering valuable solutions to problems people may have.

If you need more guidance on putting the pieces together, make sure to check out my training program “Converting Free to Paid” which is re-open now for registration and starts March 1st, 2016.

Have you used this formula? Any thoughts to share?


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