If you really want to create a brand that is well known and well respected around the globe, you are going to have to give away a lot of your content for free.
For how much?
“But TJ, I’ve worked hard to develop my expertise! If I give it away, I will devalue myself and no one will ever pay me anything!!! And everyone will steal my brilliant ideas and I will get nothing!!!”
Your point appears to make sense, but you are wrong. It may be paradoxical, but he more you give away in terms of your content and expertise, the more you will get back. If all of this seems too new-agey and touchy-feely, think of it this way, instead of you paying media outlets hundreds of millions of dollars for paid advertising, you are getting your fans, followers, users and readers to save you all of these millions by doing your advertising for you. Think of it as a joint venture between you and your followers where everyone saves more money and you also make more money than you otherwise would have.
Only the obscure and insecure guru worries about people stealing his or her ideas. Remember, if you are a true expert trying to help the world (and yourself) you want people to use and adopt your ideas—this is the only way you will gain influence. The #1 problem most aspiring gurus have is never that other people or other gurus stole their ideas. The #1 problem is obscurity: not enough people know or care about you to matter. Most of your energies as you begin your career and as you develop it have to deal with this fundamental problem you face of battling obscurity. So anything that helps you battle obscurity is to be considered fantastic, not a threat.
So when marketing guru Seth Godin gives away one million copies of a book on PDF without charging any money, he realizes he didn’t just lose $20 million in sales revenue. Instead, he gained millions of dollars with of pr; branding and promotion that helped that same book come out in traditional paper form and become a New York Times bestseller.
To use a widely cited example, when all of the other bands in the 60s (and some even today) were forbidding fans from recording their concerts and threatening them with legal action, the Grateful Dead encouraged their fans to record their concerts and to swap them around. The band created just a loyal tribe of followers that they went on to become one of the top grossing touring bands of all time, and their albums still sell too. So while it appeared that in the short term the band was harming their cash revenues from album sales by letting people “steal” their music at concerts, this really wasn’t the case. Just think of all the bands that have come and gone since the 60s that no one cares about and no one remembers, but who still have 100%% of their copyrights protected and no “stolen” albums. Many of these former musicians are now supporting themselves as clerks at K-mart and having to ring up CD sales for The Grateful Dead on a daily basis (how lousy must that feel?).
So what should you as an aspiring guru give away for “free?”
Before I give that list, let me point out that anything that you can ethically and honestly charge money for based on you expertise, please do so. If customers are already paying you money for a particular service or information product, then please continue to charge them and use that money as you see fit.
OK, here is what you should be giving away for free:
- An email newsletter, monthly, weekly or even daily. (This doesn’t not preclude you from having a newsletter that people pay for too, either in a paper or electronic format).
- A text-based blog.
- A website with useful content that isn’t merely a brochure for your services.
- Some audio podcasts on a regular basis.
- Some short video posted on YouTube, your blog and other file sharing sites.
- Occasional access to your books in PDF format.
- An occasional live speech (especially if you don’t have to travel to do it)
It is important to note that while I think it is great to be generous to the world and to the less fortunate, this strategy is not based upon a philosophical bias in favor of generosity, selflessness or anti-materialism (fine if you have some or all of those sentiments). Instead, this strategy of giving away stuff for free is based on hard-nosed business principles that will increase your odds of achieving sustained, profitable growth.
The reality is that there are a lot of potential customers and followers you will gain who are to going to buy a product or service from you until they feel comfortable with you and as thought they know you. Unless you are willing to call each one of them up once a week (an impossible task) then you need a way of getting in front of people and staying in their mindshare without spending much time or money. I’ve now gone on two lucrative and all expense paid (fees plus travel) speaking/training gigs to Paris and Milan in the last few years courtesy of a large European high tech company. But it took a full 5 years form the first time I met their executives till they hired me the first time. It was only because I sent my main contact at the company my newsletter every week for 5 years that I was able to stay in the loop as a vendor they might use. Sure, other times people have found me on the internet and hired me the same day; ideally you have a way of converting both kinds of prospects and you can’t do that without giving away free content on a regular basis.
Please remember the principle that if you give some, it’s OK to ask for some back. If I am giving away a three-minute video on how to speak like President Obama, I will likely spend 5 seconds at the end promoting my 1-hour DVD on who to speak like Obama that sells for $30. That’s OK. My viewers don’t mind because I already gave them something of great value for free, and the plus at the end doesn’t seem unfair. Furthermore, if they watched the whole 3-minute video on how to speak like Obama, there is a good chance they are interested in actually buying a DVD on Obama-everybody wins and nothing seems like a crass ad or product placement.
As you build your guru business, you constantly need to think about ideas you have that can take off with your crowd. Once you come up with great ideas, you need to thin k about how you can get that into the hands of as many people as possible for free. If you don that, there will be plenty of ways to then sell a higher end version or more targeted version or a different format of your version to people for money.