What Grocery Stores Teach You About Free Content

I’m easy, but I’m not cheap. I’m certainly not free. It seems I’m a bit of a loner, in that respect. I see so many bloggers who are quite happy to be cheap, easy and free. Then they complain they’re trying to earn a living and having a hard time of it.

Well, geez, I guess so.

Everything is free these days, to the point that people turn up their noses at anything with a dollar sign. When we mentioned that our forum would one day become a paid-membership site, people were aghast.

Pay money? Compensate us for our expertise, advice, time and effort? What a ridiculous idea! How dare we!

The Internet makes it way too easy to give away tons of expertise and teach people everything they need to know, from frog farming to eye surgery. Alright, well, maybe not eye surgery, but you can still learn a great deal about the procedure.

All this free stuff is creating a massive problem. If everything can be had for free, how can we justify charging? How can we sell our knowledge and earn a living? How do we make money?

Stop giving it away. Period.

Free Content Gets Customers

The experts will tell you to give away a ton. Free downloads, free reports, free blog posts, free forums, free newsletters, free advice… They have a point, too. To be able to sell, people need to establish credibility, authority and expertise. Free helps.

But there are limits.

My local grocery store gives food away. They set up kiosks with tasty morsels here and there, offering me a bite in passing. It’s nice. I get to try new food, see if I like it and all at no risk. I don’t have to pay a thing.

If I like, I buy. If I don’t, I don’t.

Free content is like that. Blog posts and free articles are a chance for readers to see whether they like the expertise or if the advice makes sense. Free ebooks and reports give a little more, packing a bunch of how-to information or encouraging awareness, all further establishing credibility.

Free content is the risk-free taste, the morsels that encourage a sale.

Free Meals

I visited a blog recently that had one new post every day of the week. There was a free newsletter opt-in. There were free resource articles. I found a downloadable ebook – yup, free. There was a forum, too, and that was – you guessed it – free.

Then there was a page promoting paid services.

Well, hell. I wasn’t even tempted to hire the individual. Who needs to pay? I had everything I needed. Free.

All this free information defeats the purpose of earning a living. It’s as if the grocery store decided to start offering full course meals instead of bites no bigger than my thumb. Why bother spending money on ingredients for a meal? Just walk on over to that kiosk and tuck in.


Grocery stores don’t offer a full dining experience. They don’t have you taste a morsel and then hand you a whole box if you liked what you tried. They don’t give everything away. They tempt, they encourage, they offer you samples, but they don’t undercut their own ability to earn a living.

Interestingly, there seems to be a difference in the virtual world. You’re supposed to give away samples, people, not open a food bank.

… that is, unless you don’t need to earn a living.

There is nothing wrong with limiting how much free you’re giving away, and deciding to be compensated for other content you create. Your time is worth money, after all. Your advice, your knowledge, your expertise has a price.

And if we all realized that we shouldn’t be so cheap and easy, then maybe we could stop giving it away for free.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. I’ve got a strong, insightful comment about your post, but it’s really worth $1.50. My ebook of insightful MWP comments (not the dregs I’ve posted, but the really good ones I’ve held back) will be out soon once I get my paywall set up. 🙂

    Mark Dyck´s last blog post…Who is your strategy document for?

  2. Shane Harris says:

    Unsubscribing from your rss feed. Now you will never get money from me. No way, no how. Now compete with the ‘sage advice’ that *is* free. Go make a widget; you never owned words anyway. You certainly can not sell them. This article is a joke. And you are pretty much just a prostitute.

  3. @ Shane – I’m beyond confused. Instead of slinging around insults, why not clearly say why you didn’t like the post and what you don’t agree with – politely?

    @ Mark – Heheh, I’ll be the first to buy.

  4. Shane Harris says:

    No, thanks! Someone with your expertise can figure it out. You might run some good SEO scams while you are at it. Fuck polite. Oh wait, here is polite: Have a nice life!

  5. Okay, that’s the most bizarre situation ever, and I’m honestly perplexed. It’s fine to have an opinion and disagree, but be mature enough to discuss whatever that opinion is. Cryptic messages and mysteries don’t help, and regardless of my expertise or knowledge, I’m still confused at why you’re upset. Not responding doesn’t help anything.

    Shane, I’m not trying to sell you a damned thing. I’m not *planning* to try to sell you a damned thing. Upset about the forum? Hell, we don’t even know when we’re making that switch. It could be five *years* from today! I haven’t pitched an ebook, I haven’t asked anyone to pay for blog posts and I didn’t say anything was changing around here.

    I’m seriously puzzled at your ire and the strength of it.

  6. Wow Shane – Why all the anger? Just because you disagree with James, doesn’t mean you have to behave like an asshole on his website.

    Hi James – this is a really good point. If we give away everything for free – nobody will buy stuff from us. I’ve been getting a lot of emails from folk wanting free business advice. But I’ve got to the point where I can’t afford the time anymore, so the logical thing is to start charging for it.

    As you say though, if I don’t stop giving it free – folk won’t pay.

    Cath Lawson´s last blog post…Does Your Business Really Understand People?

  7. I found this article interesting and a good point. It is hard to decide where to draw your line in the sand between free and paid.

    Loretta´s last blog post…Helping a Good Cause to Stop Violence, UNIFEM

  8. @ James – *Your time is worth money* – spot on! I sometimes find it difficult to convince customers of that though.

    The trouble is they want to know what they’re getting in advance. Quite often they’ll tell me their problem and expect me to present a solution before they agree to pay me to write or produce the said solution. The question is – how do I convince them to pay for my ‘thinking’ time ahead of the actual work?

    Oh look I’m doing it myself now – asking you for free advice!

    Rachael´s last blog post…Ten complementary proofreading tips

  9. Bam! As always James you write an article just when I’m struggling with the various things that I you talk about.

    How much to give away free? How much time to spend on activities that build reputation and credibility but don’t bring in money? How much is a sample and how much is a full meal?

    One thing about free stuff that completely turns me off is when people tell me that they are going to give me concrete tips and actions in their free stuff and then don’t actually give me anything that a trip to Wikipedia can’t. I’m fine with a sample, but don’t tell me it’s a full meal. It makes me wonder what (if any) real content I’ll find in the for-pay stuff – or will it be another tease for a yet more expensive product/service?

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog post…Breaking Free of Fear-Inspired Paralysis: Amy Derby Interview

  10. Giving something away of value always brings a mob – and unfortunately mobs aren’t always composed of nice rational people (see above).

    In the “real” world, as you’ve so wisely pointed out, the freebie is called a SAMPLE – and then if you like it you pay to get the package.

    There are plenty of ‘”jokers” out there who are giving away free advice. Some of the advice is good and some of it is just plain awful.

    What you’re “selling” is your expertise. The good news is, it’s not available anywhere else but here!

    Kathy – Virtual Impax´s last blog post…When You Hear Hemp, Do you Think “Rope” or “Dope”?

  11. Is Shane for real? No website link..

    Anyway, this is a subject I’ve been thinking more and more about, so it “caught me walking”, as we used to say.

    I have a LOT of free content. The purpose of all that has been to get me consulting work and it has done that and still does do it. That’s great, but I’m getting older and don’t really want to do the work any more. I’m moving toward converting the knowledge into direct money rather than the advertising venue (advertising my services) it is now.

    I will disagree slightly (very slightly) with one thing. You say “You’re supposed to give away samples, people, not open a food bank”. In the specific area of the type of consulting I do, that’s not necessarily the case. If I publish an article on “How to do X” and you still have trouble getting X to work, you are far more willing to pay me a tall rate to help if my article was obviously thorough than if it was a teaser. A teaser may even make you angry.

    There’s another side too. If you and I were competitors, and I’m giving away a lot, you really don’t have much choice, do you? It’s the “Peacock’s Tail” theory. Evolution guesses that peacocks have these bright displays to advertise how “fit” they are – that only a strong, worthy bird could afford all this useless advertising. If I’m giving away a lot, I’m saying “I’m so good that I can afford to give you all this for free”. If you are up against me, you can’t be “weak” and hold back information.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  12. @ Anthony – Hm, good point on the competition. However, I think that to compete with someone giving it all away for free, creating the sense that your service is special *because* it’s not easily accessed may provide the advantage.

    After all, we want what we can’t have, right?

    Then, too, there’s the issue of those who give so much away for free that eventually, the quality begins to suffer. Facing a lack of income because so much is given away, the competition has to shave costs and expenses, and what’s being tossed to everyone is usually where the first quality cuts are made.

    @ Kathy – Yeah, it’s finding the right balance to draw the mobs without compromising on feeding the masses. Tough stuff!

    @ Alex – There you go, that’s exactly what I was saying to Tony. People end up cutting quality information out of the picture, and then there’s really very little else. They drew the mobs – but can they keep them?

    @ Rachel – The overview is your friend. “Here’s your problem. Here’s what I propose to do, in a lovely bullet point list. Sound good? Great. Let me get to work for you.”

    I think the difficulty comes because people are reluctant to pay for thinking. They don’t want your thoughts. They want results for their needs. So the trick is to convey that you will give them the results they want – and yes, sometimes these things take time.

    @ Cath – “I can’t afford the time.” That, right there. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I think starting businesses have to factor that time into their costs to get known, but I also think that they eventually have to start making choices about how much time they can invest in ‘free’ and how much now needs to be compensated. Otherwise, they just go broke whoring it all out for nothing.

  13. Brett Legree says:

    Nice cow.

    I guess it is a balancing act. Some folks are apt to be upset when we charge a fair price for things they *think* they can get for free.

    People have to figure out if the trade-off for their time is worth the effort to find the “free” info.

    I do some computer work for money. I know all kinds of people who would balk at my rates because they “know some kid who can do it for 20 bucks – or for free”.

    (Tony, you ever have anyone say this to you?)

    The choice is always there for the folks who are cheap, I guess.

    I think I agree with you – we give away a bit, a taster, but sell the rest. That only makes sense.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 1 – report card.

  14. I had to read Shane’s comment like three times to figure out if he was for real. Whatever, dude.

    Great post James. You’re totally right – free milk, no cow. Everyone is entitled to make a living, and if you have a family it’s more than an entitlement, it’s a responsibility.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post…Happy Birthday, Pop

  15. I believe the issue of free content is a question that all of us grapple with now more than ever before. I think it’s due to the switch from a mostly manufacturing economy to the information age. A product produced on the manufacturing line could be costed out fairly easily by the labor, materials, etc. Creative output produced by relatively low cost office equipment is more plentiful than ever and many more people are capable of doing it. As a consequence, the information products are plentiful. The creative output, however, is not equal on many levels so the free model is used to demonstrate a person’s level of competence and quality level that can be expected. The amount of free content will most likely be determined by trial and error as more experience is attained. Your new web site design and forum are good examples of your capabilities. I also want to go on record here that the Pen Men have never tried to sell me anything. However I read, comment, continue to come back, and will endorse their product regardless of whether or not I myself buy and pay for their services.

  16. @Brett
    I would get people like that with my organizing business and I learned to run away from them because if they couldn’t see the value from the beginning, then they were never going to see the value and no matter how hard I worked it wouldn’t be enough.

    Running a business is stressful enough – no one needs that extra level.

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog post…Breaking Free of Fear-Inspired Paralysis: Amy Derby Interview

  17. @brett

    Yes, I hear that now and then. Often they are quite correct: I do things at $150 an hour that plenty of other people will do for $35 or less. I can usually do it faster, and I usually know far more about all the things that might go wrong and what to do if it does. But realistically, yes, there are people who do what I do and charge far less. There are other people who charge more..

    I still have reservations about the “teaser” stuff. I think it depends on what you mean. For example, if you do X and tease me by almost telling me how to do that, you are just going to tick me off. If you do X and Y and you tell me all about X, I could feel pretty good about hiring you for Y.

    It’s all in the approach. Teasing can backfire if not applied very carefully.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  18. Brett Legree says:


    I hear you… it became worse when a Staples opened up locally, because then folks would say “why should I pay you $100 when Staples will do the same thing for $75?”

    Of course the answer was “it isn’t the same thing, all they do is completely wipe your machine or try and sell you a new one”.

    But like you, I learned to just send those people away – later on, they might come crying back because Staples erased all of their data… oh well! Take it up with the ‘big guys’…

    I imagine James & Co. run into the same problems too “you guys want how much for this??? I know this kid who can do it for $20!!!”

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 1 – report card.

  19. Brett Legree says:


    Exactly what I was thinking you would say, because I’ve experienced that too. I charge more but I can do it very quickly, and probably better, so in the end…

    You’re totally right about the teaser stuff and I don’t think I could explain it better myself.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 1 – report card.

  20. @ Brett – Oh, it happens, yes. Most people, though, understand before they approach us that we’re likely not to be rock-bottom bargain because we’re experts. (They’re also often relieved when we do quote and they realize we’re cheaper than most arTEESTes.)

    I think there’s a place for everything, though. There’s a time for Staples, there’s a time for the boutique office place. There’s a time for factory production and there’s a time for an artist’s workshop. I think the circumstances and needs define which professional is best for the job more than the price tag attached to the item.

    Then of course, there’s just overinflated arTEESTe rates. But that’s a different story.

    @ Writer Dad – Right on, dude. It’s an obligation. Not an option.

    @ Mark W – You made me laugh, lol – I have a loyal champion! Gotta love that!

  21. Brett Legree says:


    Definitely – both on your rate point, and on the big box store thing.

    I can’t beat Staples or whoever on a basic use computer build and still sleep at night – or if I did, I’d be working for free. So if someone needs a machine for general purpose, I send them to an OEM. If they want something really special, I can do it.

    And I can do it better and for less than some of the overinflated arTEESTe computer shops out there too 😉

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 1 – report card.

  22. There is a time and place for specialty shops. For example, there are times I’ll go to Home Depot or Costco, and times I’ll still go to the mom and pop hardware store or the convenience store (depanneaur for you Canucks) around the corner. Sometimes you need that specialized attention a smaller business can give you.

  23. James,

    When I go to a site that is loaded with freebies, I have a tendency to not take advantage too much. Kind of along the lines of getting what I’m paying for I guess.

    With that said, I do believe balance is the key. There are some things I don’t really mind giving away for free but if it is something I’ve worked my keyster off putting together, sorry but I gotta charge. This is why I’ve not taken the time to put together an almighty E-Book to give away, even though the “Gurus” tell me this needs to be done.



    Tumblemoose´s last blog post…10 “Must Have” books for writers

  24. Graham Strong says:

    Just this weekend I heard about a book on the subject, to be published next year. It’s called: “Free” and apparently it is causing a buzz. The author is Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson — this post prompted me to look into it a bit further. I found one of his articles about the subject here:


    I think that information should be given away for free — and that can benefit us. Widget makers should give away brochures, white papers, industry reports, case studies, and whatever information people need to make the decision to buy their widget. People are expecting to be educated today, and they are expecting the vendors to do the educating. So there is a huge market for free information.

    Of course, you still need someone to write it, and that’s not free. It can prove to be very lucrative for some of us writers…


    Graham Strong´s last blog post…A Few Words of Thanks…

  25. Great post…
    … a little late for some
    I mean just the other day a fantastic site announced they were closing… they just couldn’t justify keeping the site updated daily with multiple posts that took so much time away from their loved ones and that the little amount the site made from advertising and donations just wasn’t worth the effort. This is happening more and more. But what caught my eye was comments – left by loyal readers who had gained so much from the site for FREE, they simply said bye, will miss you but looks like we will have to find a new place to hang.

    All that time, effort for a pat on the back, I’m outa here speach… NO THANKS, FREE ISN’T MY CUP OF TEA.

    Besides it lets in people like Shane Harris who should be charged triple if you decide to go ahead with the forums – and that’s if you’re feeling charitable 😉 I mean with a mouth like that you will have to hire a full time nanny to wash his posts out with soap.


  26. Continued… (just thought I’d add this)

    Another site, (sorry I can’t give addresses to either) also came under financial troubles because he was charging too little for his content – anyways, lets call him John Smith wrote his paying members and told them the situation and would you believe they all agreed, but one that he must increase the monthly subscription.
    Now, it is important to note that what he provides is quality A grade stuff, he over delivers on everything he promises and his paying group feel as much a part of his business as he is.

    Moral of the story – People are not afraid to pay… provided it meets or exceeds their expectations, and they will pay more if they cannot find its equal anywhere.


  27. I’ve been thinking about this more (see, James, you made another thought provoking post!) and my final feeling is that you have to be very careful with holding back. As Alex Fayle noted, “teaser” content can turn against you.

    I brought up the idea of the “Peacock Tail”. In the world of the web, if you give away a lot, you are saying the same thing: I’m strong. I have a lot to offer. I can afford to give you all this for free BECAUSE I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO OFFER.

    If you are going to be competing against a big, flashy peacock, you can’t really afford not to put your own feathers out there. If you try to hide behind a tree saying “They are really beautiful, but you have to pay”, you probably won’t get much action unless there are no other peacocks around.

    So, for example, if you are going to charge membership fees to a forum, that will be a tough sell if there are high quality free forums in the same area. If there aren’t, you may get away with it for a while, but someone else may step in and do it for free – either because their model is advertising income or because they are doing the peacock thing and plan to beat you with bigger and brighter feathers.

    Back in February I had read that Wired article that Graham referred to – I think it makes a lot of sense. The future is more for less. How you make a living in such a world is another question entirely, but I don’t think you do it by trying to fight the tide.

    By the way, I’m glad you updated your CommentLuv code but why is it always so far behind? That’s a rhetorical question – I know it’s not your code.. oh, I see: it tells me to go register my site. By gosh, I should do that!

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  28. I largely disagree with this post.

    Many people blog to show their expertise, and their business model is a service business. I think that these businesses should never give their *services* away, but information? The more free information the better.

    Withholding any kind of general information is just silly in this day and age, where anything can be found by another source. If I don’t tell you the “top 10 DIY SEO tactics” you can just find it somewhere else, I haven’t gained anything by not sharing.

    There will always be a market that wants to do it themselves based on free information – those people are NOT prospects, there’s no need to waste time attempting to turn them into prospects. For many service businesses it comes down to saying – hey, if you wanted to you could spend a year attempting to learn all this yourself or you could just hire me to do it well the first time. You want to go after the people that can clearly see that paying a premium for someone else to do it right is a smart investment.

  29. @ Laura –

    If I don’t tell you the “top 10 DIY SEO tactics” you can just find it somewhere else, I haven’t gained anything by not sharing.

    You haven’t gained anything by not sharing – but you certainly have lost by sharing. You’ve lost time and effort that could have been better spent elsewhere.

    Also, do you need to give 10 tactics posts every single day to reach the same benefits of showing people that you’re an expert? No. A sample, a post a week, an article every so often… that’s plenty.

    Do you think you could maybe achieve the same results with a “taste test” method versus a wide free buffet?

  30. @ Anthony – Nice analogy with the peacocks. Here’s how I see it.

    Let’s say I’m friggin’ famous. I mean, REALLY famous.

    Let’s say you see me everywhere you go. My face on the billboards, I walk through stores you shop at, you see me in the newspapers, you hear about me on the radio and you see me every time you turn on the television. One day, you open your case of beer and they’ve added my face to the label.

    How would you feel? Would you still want to buy my t-shirt?

    Now let’s say that I make special presentations only. Every month, I honor an event and show up for a brief viewing. I answer some questions. I wave. I toss out a few t-shirts to the crowd. And then… Ah, busy famous James. Must go!

    I’m gone.

    Ooooh but you missed it. Did you see James? When’s he showing up again? Wasn’t he great?! You didn’t catch that show? He’s coming next month… Oh wow, check it out, he has T-shirts! I’m getting one for everyone in my family…

    *wanders off to enjoy delusions of grandeur…*

  31. On the other hand:

    The subject of charging too little always reminds me of a little gym I belonged to years ago. The owner has since died, but back then it was a small, no frills place located in an old warehouse. He was doing pretty well and then Gold’s Gym opened up down the street with $99.00 yearly memberships.

    He felt he had to compete. I told him that he didn’t, but he was sure he’d lose all his clients so he cut prices to match Gold’s.

    All this did was tick off all of his middle aged, decent income clients by attracting a bunch of people we didn’t want to be with. Worse, $99.00 wasn’t enough to cover his overhead, so he had to cut back on little things like heat and hot water.. we stuck with him out of friendship for a while but eventually we moved to another small gym on the other side of town who realized that their clientele didn’t care about $99 specials, we cared about equipment and atmosphere.

    That doesn’t change my mind about Web businesses though. I think you have to be very, very careful about how you monetize information on today’s web.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  32. @james

    I thought you were friggin’ famous.. oh, FAMOUS. I thought you said “fabulous” 🙂

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  33. @james: “. You’ve lost time and effort that could have been better spent elsewhere.”

    I disagree. It’s YOUR take on the “Top Ten Tactics” that is important. You and I make the same basic post on some aspect of SEO. If you distill it down to the Cliff’s Notes version, maybe we said exactly the same thing. But you said it with your style and I said it with mine. Some folks will prefer to read you, some will read me and others would much rather go read it at ProBlogger.

    I encourage guest posts at my site. I tell prospeciive authors that they can feel free to write about subjects I’ve already covered because some of my readers may enjoy their style more than they enjoy mine. Sometimes just the way something is said makes it easier for a particular reader to understand, while a different explanation works best for someone else. We’re all different; we all have different needs.

    So no, I don’t believe you are wasting your time or your readers time if you rehash a subject.

    Especially not when you or I rehash it 🙂

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  34. @ Tony – Ah, you mistook my sentence out of context 🙂

    Rehashing a subject isn’t a waste of time.

    What is a waste of time is spending every day rehashing a new subject and giving all your expertise away at a frantic pace when all you needed to do was offer less free expertise and make it really good when you do speak up.

    There’s your free food bank, in this case: Daily posts that cover every subject you know, each one giving away free advice.

    The taste test: One good post a week that gives away just as high-quality advice.

  35. @james: I did not mistake your context out of a sentence. I merely tried to un-obfuscate the differential of our understanding. Sheesh!

    No, I see what you mean, but I’m still not convinced. I agree with the “no frantic” part (look, here I am relaxing with you instead of tending to business!) but I go back to the peacock: by making that big display, I’m advertising strength.

    I’m not necessarily talking about my own habits of course. My website is a scattering of stuff on quite a few different subjects, some of which I don’t monetize in any way. I write about SEO, for example, but don’t consult in that area and can guarantee that I’ll never write an SEO ebook or offer a SEO course. So that’s a “waste”, in a sense, but maybe again it’s just part of the peacock thing: I can afford to give you this even though there’s nothing at all in it for me.

    I dunno. It will be interesting to see what effect (if any) a good stiff recession has on free web stuff. It could turn things more to a pay-per-view or subscription model, but I really don’t think that it will. I think we’re going to remain information-rich and free.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  36. Very interesting post. First I admire your courage for writing this, James, because you knew there would be harsh criticism.

    I read an article on Copyblogger awhile ago about a guy who published white paper, pretty much disclosing the “secret of his trade” (Can’t remember his name nor his service — I think it was technical) He swore that his sales skyrocketed because people realized it is too much work to do it according to the instructions in the white paper. It’s better to hire a pro! And he established himself as the pro by writing the white paper.

    That’s the ideal way to use “free” to boost sales, I think. There are services that I can probably do myself but don’t want to nor have the time to learn and do it. I’d hire a pro, and when I do so, I want someone who knows what they are talking about.

    Akemi “spiritual entrepreneur” @ Yes to aMe´s last blog post…Reading And Receiving The Reconnection

  37. I think Akemi’s point is important, and it’s something to consider when you are selling supossed expertise: if you really are giving away the secrets to your business, if it really is so easy that a person can learn all they need to know from reading a single post, are you really selling anything of value?

    To go back to Jame’s analogy of samples vs. full meals, we aren’t really oing either: we’re posting instructions on how to produce that full course meal. As anyone who has ever done a dinner party knows, it ain’t all that easy: everytime we’ve had more than a handful of people to entertain, we’ve hired a caterer. Not because we can’t do everything they do, but because we really can’t do it as well and still get to enjoy the party.

    I could give a complete brain dump of everything I know about troubleshooting Unix computers (and I have – that’s my website!) and you might be able to fix a problem or two from that. But you will not have the 30 years of experience that I have, so I’ll aways be able to do more.

    I understand what you are saying, James, but I just can’t agree. Too many peacocks out there; I have to strut my feathers.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  38. @Anthony: Your caterer analogy made me think of my quest for the perfect rack of ribs. I’ve watched numerous cooking programs on barbecue and have more notes and bookmarks on the subject than you can shake a spare rib at. I have recipes and all the ingredients. Can I replicate what the pro chefs do?

    Not by a long shot. There’s always something that’s not quite right. In the end it’s much easier to hop on the bike and ride down to Tony Roma’s or Memphis Barbecue.

  39. Right you are, Harry, and that’s why I don’t think anyone has to fear giving away free content.

    On the other hand.. I do agree with James that we have to monetize something or what’s the point? I suspect it is particularly hard for those just starting out: they are going to have to give a way a LOT to catch up with those of us who have been at this for many years.

    But again: if you are really good at what you do, you have nothing to fear from competition, even if you create that competition yourself with free content.

    Cream floats. The brown stuff sinks.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  40. James,

    This post really hits home. How much to give away is constantly an issue for all of us, I think. (Or at least it should be, to an extent.)

    I’m frequently amazed on Twitter at all the folks who auto-follow, then auto-DM me their “free ebook” — why? Forget for a moment that it’s spam + misdirected marketing — eg I don’t need to learn how to lose weight while flipping real estate — but why are so many spending so much effort giving things away?

    Free samples are great. Pizza bits in the grocery store keep me fed some days. And hey, if the pizza is good, yeah … I’ll buy one. That’s good marketing. Offer me free pizza at the coffee shop, and don’t even bother bringing along any for me to buy, and that’s just stupid.

    But I think way too many folks have lost sight of why they’re giving things away. They seem to think this is what they’re supposed to be doing, because everyone else seems to be doing it, but they lose sight of the fact that giving something away to get business is the key. Give too much away, and they don’t need to hire you. Give away the wrong stuff, you make yourself look like an idiot.

    [/end tangent] 🙂

    Amy Derby´s last blog post…Twitter for Lawyers: Using TweetDeck

  41. “Your time is worth money, after all. Your advice, your knowledge, your expertise has a price.”

    I think there’s two culprits for the widespread confusion on this nowadays.

    One, a lot of us bloggers are (at least a little) ego-driven and narcissistic and we enjoy expressing ourselves to an audience, basking in the praise (and criticism) that comes from people reading us and interacting with our ideas.

    Two, many blog readers and web surfers are so conditioned to get so much free information that they’ve become spoiled and selfish while they ironically accuse bloggers of being selfish whenever they charge for anything. It’s like Brian Clark said to a commenter–after three years of tons of free content offering advice on copywriting and online marketing, you’re going to criticize him for trying to make money off that?

    LIke I’ve said elsewhere, if it’s selfish to profit off the content one provides, is it not twice as selfish to profit (by learning) off the content someone else provides to you for free and to expect them to continue to churn that content out regularly for your benefit–and never make any money from it? In essence, put in tons of work for free?

    Really, I think the narcissism of content providers and the spoiled selfishness of content consumers has come together to create this huge pile of neverending free information.

    Looks like that may be changing to an extent, given the perspective in this latest post, James.

    Jesse Hines´s last blog post…Use Everyday Words to Create Vivid Images in Your Writing

  42. @ Jesse – You said it. Yes. *applause* That’s exactly it.

  43. I think the best business is such that people line up for the products or services because there is so much value in it — far more than the monetary value they pay. This does NOT mean to charge less.

    I’ve had that kind of experience. I was thinking, “Gee, she must be so busy — I’m lucky if I can get in the line!”

    Thanks. The word “Unix” itself freezes me more than the cold air outside. I guess you are really good at what you do. I’ll think about the peacock theory.

    Akemi “spiritual entrepreneur” @ Yes to aMe´s last blog post…Dreams As Spiritual Messages

  44. Brett Legree says:

    What Tony says is true.

    A total brain dump cannot capture the intuition that years of experience give.

    It would be like the Men writing a “how to be the Men” book and then me trying to build a business to compete. There’s no way it would fly.

    At the same time, there’s no one who can do exactly what I do as well as I do it, no matter how much I give away.

    Perhaps the trick is knowing that which only I can do and selling that.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 1 – report card.

  45. Brett Legree says:


    LOL at mere mention of the word Unix freezing you solid…

    (I used to fear it too. Now it is in me.)

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 1 – report card.

  46. “It would be like the Men writing a “how to be the Men” book and then me trying to build a business to compete. There’s no way it would fly.”

    Well, there certainly are people who could. There are no unique businesses in the world, after all. Somebody with the right background could read the “Pen” book and put what they learned to work.

    People read my website, thank me kindly, and go off and make money from their customers. That doesn’t bother me at all (in fact, I even help them advertise their businesses) because there is plenty of work for all of us. I have always, always, always had more business than I wanted, so why worry about it?

    I guess that’s my point: MOST people can’t do anything with our brain dumps. If you are a lousy troubleshooter, I can’t make you a good one.. maybe I can make you better at it than you were, but I’ll never make you good. There will always be some people who CAN benefit, but they aren’t our customers, they are (or will be) our competitors.

    There’s nothing that they can learn from me that they can’t learn themselves. After all, where do you think *I* learned it? If I’m good at what I do, I have nothing to fear from competition.

    Likewise, nobody is never going to make me a great writer or a great copy-writer. But if they try – by giving away their “secrets”, I might hire them for such things.

    Where James and I agree here is that yes, you have to monetize something. If there’s nothing you are selling, well, that’s not a business, is it? But I really don’t think there is anything to fear in handing out information.

    Hey, I see my Gravatar is finally working. Cool 🙂

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  47. Brett Legree says:


    That’s true – certain people could. And you know what, that’s okay. It is a really big world, and there’s room for everyone. Even the biggest company in the world can’t tie up the whole world market, so we should be okay.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 1 – report card.

  48. @ Brett – Yeah? Watch me go, bro. 😉

  49. Brett Legree says:


    (Waiting for the Men to tie up the whole world market…)

    🙂 I watch you, I pick and choose what will help me, and I add it to the mix… that seems to be working, slowly but surely…

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 1 – report card.

  50. James,

    Glad my rant made sense.

    Jesse Hines´s last blog post…Use Everyday Words to Create Vivid Images in Your Writing

  51. James, you sound like my mom, what with cows and free milk. She’s always right, though, so that bodes well. 🙂 For both of us, now that I think about it. Great post.

    Kristen King´s last blog post…Narrative Magazine Announces the 30 Below Winners and Finalists

  52. This reminds me of that speech that grandmothers give granddaughters about the birds and the bees. “Why should he buy the cow when he gets the milk for free?” 😀

    A few sneak peaks are good to let ’em know you’ve got what they need/want, but you’re right. If you let it all hang out, why in the world would anyone pay for what they can get elsewhere? Because they’re really nice people deep down and want to help you out because you need to pay your mortgage? Not likely.

    Jamie Simmerman´s last blog post…OBS Tips: Tackling the Impossible Task

  53. Anne Wayman says:


    Darn… that may be me, at least in part… rats, another rethinking required… always happens.

    Thanks, I think.

    Anne Wayman, now blogging at http://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com

    Anne Wayman´s last blog post…No Jobs Today

  54. Urban Panther says:

    YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Writing is a business. Repeat after me, everyone, writing is a business. It takes time, training, resources (material and otherwise), expertise to write. This is WORTH something. Why are people giving away free manuals? Free workshops? Free e-books? It is next to impossible to put a fair market price on anything because the next guy just gave his stuff away. The worst offenders for undervaluing ourselves as writers and artists are ourselves. STOP IT!!!! What we do has value!

    /end of Panther rant … for now

    Urban Panther´s last blog post…Are sweatpants disrespectful?

  55. @Urban Panther

    We give it away because we’re monetizing something else. I “give away” technical info because it helps me sell consulting and because it gives me healthy Adsense income.

    We have a genuine political difference of opinion here. On the one side are the “peacocks” like me and on the other are the “dairy owners”. We can argue about this forever, but one thing is true: there are a lot of “peacocks” on the web today and you “dairy owners” need to figure out how you’ll compete with your approach.

    I don’t think you can. As you said, “it is next to impossible to put a fair market price on anything because the next guy just gave his stuff away”. That says it all, doesn’t it?

    We “peacocks” already know what we need to do. You “dairy owners” seem confused and worried. That might tell you something too.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  56. Urban Panther says:

    @Anthony – OUCH! LOL We seem to butt heads, eh? Mind you, you would think that my bovine head should be able to plow through your peacock head. Go figure! Okay, your approach makes sense because you are marketing technical information. I totally get ‘giving away’ info to monetize and promote your services. I am refering more to the arts. The very first time Writer Dad sold a short story on his blogsite, I think the reaction was generally one of horror. And I’ll be honest, my initial reaction was that too. But good on him. He should be selling his short stories! I plan on selling mine. But I find that artists in general under value themselves, making it hard for artists who want (and should!) value themselves.

    Urban Panther´s last blog post…Are sweatpants disrespectful?

  57. @Urban Panther

    Actually, I think artists and writers tend to over value their worth.

    The biggest obstacle for most artists and writers in the past was to get their stuff in front of an audience. That used to be very hard because it was expensive to do.

    Now it’s dirt cheap. Everybody can publish; all you need is an internet connection. We also have word processing now, digital cameras, a lot of free or inexpensive tools that make writing and art more accessible to ordinary people. It’s very hard to write 50,000 words in long hand, a little easier with a typewriter, and very easy with a computer (trust me, I’ve done that all three ways).

    So we get a lot of artists and writers now and we quicly learned something interesting: while there may be very few truly great writers and artists, there are plenty who are “good enough”. Too many, if you hope to make money in this area.

    Go look at http://authonomy.com/ for example. A lot of hopeful folk there and maybe a few will get published, but most won’t. “Decent” writing and artistic skills are NOT rare commodities – the supply is far greater than the demand.

    I know, I know: everybody thinks they are “special”. A very few are. Most are not. I don’t mean “bad” – in yesterday’s world, their stuff might have been good enough. But there’s too much of it now and definitely not under-valued.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  58. I’m with Anthony on this one. There’s art, and then there are arTEESTes.

    No one is Rembrant or Monet. No one is Michelangelo or DaVinci. No one is Mozart or Beethoven. These people, to me, were artists.

    Now, I write well. I write fiction, novels, copy, sales jam… you name it. But I don’t consider myself an artist in the least.

    I am a craftsman, yes. To me, writing is a trade. It’s not art. Far be it for me to elevate myself to “artist” status. And I sure as shit don’t want anyone to hand me that label either.

  59. Urban Panther says:

    @James @Anthony – semantics 🙂

    Urban Panther´s last blog post…Are sweatpants disrespectful?

  60. I haven’t read all the comments on this one (bad Steve, go to your room), but there’s a big element of self-value here.

    When I’m working with new business owners (especially new coaches) the biggest leap they have to make is from training and starting up their business to actually charging real money for real work.

    The gap between not placing monetary value on your work and your time and placing a value on those things is a surprisingly big one, and is tied up with a whole bunch of stuff about how you perceive yourself and how good you think you are at what you do.

    It can get pretty complex and messy if you’re not careful.

    I feel an article coming on…

    Steve Errey´s last blog post…How my Confidence is Regularly Pushed and Tested

  61. “I feel an article coming on…”

    I think a lot of us had that feeling. I certainly did (though CommentLuv is still seeing something much older). You really should read all the comments though: I think both sides of this issue (the peacocks and the dairy owners) made good points.

    I also think we all agree that Internet businesses are very different from the more traditional forms. We are really pioneers, learning our way. I don’t think any of us are yet in a position to say “this is the one way to do it”.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  62. Brett Legree says:

    I also think it is a lot more complicated than it used to be – now there is a lot of competition from folks who are “good enough” – and sometimes being “the best” author/painter/musician isn’t enough.

    You’ve got to get your media or whatever in front of someone who will buy it. You need other skills besides the artistic ones. You need connections. And you need luck.

    Take my local bookstore. There are a lot of great books there by damned fine authors, and maybe my skill doesn’t approach theirs – no problem. Then, I’d say there are a lot of other books I wouldn’t even use to wipe my butt.

    People buy them anyway, because they might not have high standards for what they read, or just because they can’t find anything better. I mean, once you’ve read all the good books, what then? You read the not so good books.

    Or watch the “B” movies. How many bad movies make money when they go to video, because people are bored and try it anyway?

    Music is the same. How many artists are at the level of a Beethoven today?

    Not many. But I’ll bet you 50 cents that 50 Cent sells more CD’s.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 2 – check up.

  63. “once you’ve read all the good books, what then? You read the not so good books.”

    True. But also there’s the matter of sophistication and readiness. A particular person may not be ready to read the “good” books. I’ve been yelled at before for asserting that Steven King, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were atrociously bad fiction writers with the major argument being “they must be good: they are so darn popular”. Well no, they aren’t: their characters are shallow, juvenile and clumsily drawn. It’s NOT good writing, but I’d be the first to admit that a lot of people just don’t care. For those people, those ARE good books. It’s probably safe to say that the books I enjoy would get a cold reception from that same audience. So what really is “good”?

    I say good writing is writing that accomplishes its purpose, whether that’s to entertain (Heinlein fails to entertain me but certainly hits the mark for others) or to sell an ebook. My 9th grade English teacher was a martinet about grammar and sentence structure she’d never agree with my judgment of “good”, but that’s OK: she needed certain rules to be observed for her to enjoy the experience. She wasn’t “wrong”, just different.

    I just finished reviewing “The E-Myth Revisited”. That’s a very popular book which obviously resonated with many readers. I hated it. Is it “good”?
    Sure.. but not for me.

    Oh well, I’m rambling..

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  64. Brett Legree says:

    Tony, you’re not rambling, I almost went on to say something very similar to what you said. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that.

    Some books/movies/music that I think are “good” are considered to be “crap” by most other people, and I may think that what they like is garbage.

    So you’re right – if it accomplishes the purpose set out by the creator of the work, perhaps it is “good”. Now, is it “good enough” to sell?

    That might be a bit more difficult to answer.

    Brett Legree´s last blog post…week 2 – check up.

  65. Just a quick note that I thought the E-Myth was *horribly* written.

    BUT! It is excellent in its concepts for business.

  66. It was horribly written. I think we all could have done without Sarah and her pies.

  67. Yes, we could have done without her pies and fawning admiration. Entire chapters could have been condensed into single paragraphs. But the whole insistence that sole proprietors cannot survive and franchising is the best path for any business is silly.

    There’s nothing in there that can’t be had for less pain elsewhere.

    Anthony Lawrence´s last blog post…What I want in my next GPS by Anthony Lawrence

  68. There’s nothing wrong with giving and helping to add value to the blogosphere, however, you don’t get to selling or charging for services if you haven’t left your mark… Another thing to consider, as you all know, the blogosphere is vast, as well as competitive- tons of bloggers and writers are pouring out free material like e-books or how to videos or tutorials. People deserve to be rewarded for their labor… if you’re unwilling to give back- go somewhere else, period. I’ve paid for a few e-books myself, because it’s worth it, and the writer should be rewarded.

    I understand your point, Darren from problogger offers tons of resources posts, and helps others to reach their blogging goals and so on. But, he charges for his personal, detailed training because it helps to pay the bills, he like others need to make a living. PERIOD!

    I take issue with people who haven’t given anything to the blogging community but expect everyone to give to them! They expect people to buy their services, ads and so forth. They won’t succeed, why because they never paid their dues; they never took the time to build relationships or to help others. Eventually, after we do the time, after we built trust, after we reached an audience, then we may be able to successful offer services people will want to buy without complaint, why? Trust, you’re authentic, genuine and of course, proven!

    Excellent work, 🙂 Cheers,


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