The True Cost of a Free Lunch

free_lunchYou’ll be familiar with the expression “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”. And I am grateful to one of my clients for prompting me this week to think about what is free and what comes with a price tag attached, whether or not you can see it yet.

Last week, in my newsletter, I offered readers a chance to experience their first month in Small Business Big Magic for free. My job when marketing my coaching and mentoring services is to constantly try to find new ways to get people to try it, so that they can work out how valuable it can be for them. If you missed last week’s offer and would like some of that, just use the Contact form to email me and I’ll fill you in. The irony of that is not lost on me, given what I am about to share with you!

I was happy that a handful of wonderful women took me up on my offer. The first woman I spoke to said she had been looking for a reason to work with me for ages and she immediately started making enquiries about how to pay me at the end of her free month. Perfect. An intention on the part of us both to give and receive.

Obviously, my dearest wish is that those taking up the first month for free will see the value and want to stay on as paying clients. But I do not have any expectation that that outcome will happen with everyone.

  • The timings of the group calls may not fit with your life, or they may
  • You may not like working in a group where everyone knows your business, or you may
  • You may find the relatively busy Facebook group a distraction or you might love it, who knows?
  • You may just not want to shell out fifty quid a month right now.

My thoughts when offering something for free are to be absolutely abundant and aligned with the outcome, whatever it is. Even if you decide not to become a paying client at the end of the month, you at least know about me and me about you in a way which is useful to us both either now or in the future. You might return at a later date when you are ready to invest in yourself, or recommend me to a friend. Either way, it’s all good. And it’s abundant too, which I love, as you know already.

So then… what am I on about?

What’s the dark side of free?

What’s the truth behind some things which look free to the unitiated?

What’s the true cost of a free lunch?

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Oscar Wilde

What’s the Price of Free?

My client forwarded to me an email from a woman we both like and admire. This woman has a combined tribe on Facebook and Twitter of 280,000. I’m a big fan. I have a couple of her books, one of which I am reading every day right now and throughout 2015, and have heard her speak live and enjoyed it very much indeed. That’s enough for me. I don’t need any more information or inspiration right now from this woman, although she’s absolutely great in every way. So I am not on her list and you’ll see why below.

Woman number one was introducing her online tribe to the opportunity to listen to another woman for free, a woman who again I like and admire and respect. She has an online combined tribe of nearly 400,000, the second woman that is.

Both women have fabulous online marketing machines, highly persuasive professional sales copy and a team who look after their online marketing employing tried and tested sales methods to invite us to join their tribe and consume their offerings. So far so fair. It’s my game too, after all.

And it all starts with free. We know this already, don’t we? We spend much time in my groups debating what we will give away to our prospects for free. Although I am famously not much of a one for a bargain, I do like free… but mainly as a giver. I don’t need any more free information incoming thank you very much. I’m full up.

However, what it is really important to know is that once you opt in from the first woman’s list via the free offering she was recommending from her online marketing friend, you are then joining the second woman’s list and this will mean you will be put through a set of slick marketing messages which will result in you being emailed frequently until you end up definitely wanting to pay money. I say definitely because I know the power of hypnotic sales copy. If I were on that second list, I’d want it! That’s why I’m not on that list either.

There’s a sense in which we surrender… if I buy this, will the marketing STOP? Another way to achieve that, of course, is by unsubscribing the moment you are in overwhelm and feeling bombarded with multiple marketing messages from anyone’s list. Have the confidence to do that. Yesterday a colleague shared with me a lovely tip – any information you are meant to have will find you. Yes, it will.

The potential cost of free is that it leads you inexorably to wanting to buy something. If you’ve had a taster for free and you like it and want more, then fair enough. But please know it’s coming, please know how susceptible you will be (it’s not just you, it’s all of us) and please know that someday soon you will be reaching for your credit card and spending thousands of dollars because that’s where this all leads if you don’t keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.

What’s the Value of Free?

So, what’s the value of free then? There is SO much value in free, if you keep it mostly at free.

Here’s what I recommend:

1. Go to lots of things for free (both online and in real life) but leave your credit cards at home or out of reach. If you decide later that you do want to buy, there’ll be a way. Trust me, sure as eggs is eggs, there’ll be a way for you to buy later if you want. There’s no risk of FOMO here – fear of missing out – though that, along with scarcity and various deadlines will be part of the marketing plan for sure. Again, no problem with that, just be aware. Be a responsible grown up.

2. Know that you will want to buy. This is how top notch marketing works. It creates an irresistible desire to buy which is only satiated (very briefly) when we Buy Now. We know what we are supposed to do when we see a splendid sales page with all the features, benefits and testimonials. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we are trained to hit that Buy Now button. If you have all your wits about you and you are prepared to take full responsibility for your spending, then by all means do that thing, but promise me you’ll never do it in a trance and that you’ll never do it without knowing that whatever the offer, it’ll still be down to you to do most, if not all, of the work. There are no guarantees that spending money will bring you any result at all. There is no free lunch.

This is an uncharacteristically cynical message from me, Miss Pink Bubble 2015. I think online marketing may the only thing in this life about which I am cynical, in fact.

3. Still go. There are lots of benefits to free if you stop there. You will learn a great deal of valuable information from free webinars, videos, talks, seminars. Leave your credit cards at home, then you are safe from your own desires. Understand that marketers must give away their best stuff for free if they are to tempt us into making an eventual purchase. It turns out that the best things in life are often free. Cool!

4. This is perhaps the most important bit of this whole thing… observe how they create your very strong desire to buy. Because this is what we all have to learn to do in the end. We learn marketing and sales from women like these so that we can make a living ourselves. But, in this context, observe first and foremost.

5. Watch how desire is created from the first freebie onwards and enjoy (as an outsider) their gorgeous marketing machines in action because you will want to borrow bits of that for your own marketing, the bits which fit authentically into your own brand.

6. When you are a newbie you don’t know the good guys from the bad, who’s peddling good stuff and who’s not. Let me repeat that both of these women are good, what they are doing is perfectly legitimate business practice. But it is designed to lead up to a sale of thousands of dollars, half of which will go to the introducer which, again, is perfectly legitimate business practice. Hands up, no argument from me so long as you can see what’s really going on and keep that in sight and in mind at all times.

7. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN. Know how this all works. Watch it, borrow the best bits but leave your credit cards at home or in the freezer so that you have time to evaluate the sales offering and allow the desire to fade so that you can look at it in the cold light of day and work out if it’s right for you, right now, or if you are just being swept along on the hype. Give yourself time to email me and ask “Is this right for me, do you think, Judith?” I will give you my honest opinion for FREE. I know, I know. I know. Today it seems that irony is my middle name.

8. You will want it. You will want it. You will want it. You will want it like you want everything else in your life from a new breakfast cereal, to a handbag and shoes, to a car, to a film, book, iPhone and chocolate cake well marketed. But do you need it? No. Do you need the information, the calories, the debt? No.

9. How do I know that? Because, before you, I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on all this stuff.

10. Do I regret that? No. It’s past, I never regret anything I can’t do something about. It’s gone. Let it go.

11. Would I do that again? NO!

12. Why not? Because I understand how it all works now. And because most of us already know enough and are good enough to do the work without any more “free” stuff, especially that which turns out clones of the principal or disappointed spenders who haven’t done the work, for whatever reason, nor derived the benefit.

Gentle Reader, I am so sorry this sounds like a rant. My goal is to protect and inform. Observe your desire for chocolate cake, but try to let the majority of it avoid your mouth. Watch who’s advertising the cake and how genius they are at creating luscious cake desire, and borrow the best bits of their cake-marketing machine, the bits you love, the yummy bits, the bits they model well, the bits that work and which fit deliciously and authentically into your own business marketing. And work with me when it comes to implementing all of that in your own business. That’s your job. That’s mine. Learn from the best.

And then ignore the rest. You don’t need it, it fattens your debt. You are enough. You know enough. I will support you putting it all into action. Resist 90% of what is marketed to you. The best way to do this is not to be on the lists in the first place. Unsubscribe from most of it then desire can never be created and won’t need to be resisted. An easy way to unsubscribe from everything and then be more selective in future is called Unroll.me. Check it out.

I get emails all the time from lovely people who’ve bought stuff they regret and are birching themselves repeatedly with buyer’s remorse. And from people asking me over and over should they buy this one? No. This one? No. This one? NO – JUST UNSUBSCRIBE then you won’t know what you are “missing” and you can use the time and energy thus released to put into practice what you already know, following your own good sense. YOU ARE ENOUGH ALREADY. Trust me. I know you. I’ve seen you. You’re fab.

Be careful online. There is great value in free so long as you avoid most of the (hidden) cost of free. Go into everything with your eyes open, after all most of us are shoppers at heart and we just love to buy.

When the time is right and the offer is right, you’ll know.

If in doubt, don’t.

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