(Edited to add: Don’t stop if you don’t want to. I’m not saying you can’t offer free things or that you’re bad if you do. I’m saying, if it isn’t working for you, if you’ve found that you’re attracting people to your list who get mad when you ask for a sale, maybe the “free stuff” strategy isn’t working for you. This is why you should stop – because it’s not working for you and it doesn’t make you happy. Once you get through my rant, below, I’ll give you some strategies for stopping…if you want to…and, also, reasons why there may still be a time and a season for free things. You get to decide your business model…just be sure it’s working for and, preferrably, not negatively impacting the community around you.) ❤
The last few days, an idea has been simmering and it keeps returning to my thoughts…”Why don’t we just stop giving things away for free?” Why don’t we just say, “Screw it, I work hard and deserve to get paid!” I mean, why do crochet designers give things away for free, anyway?
Just a note…this is a rambly, stream-of-consciousness post. So, if you hate that kind of thing, you should probably stop here. 😉
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at this and see if we can make some headway on this whole issue of free stuff.
How did this ‘giving away free stuff’ trend start anyway?
Honestly, I don’t know how it started. I’m guessing it is just the natural offshoot of a common strategy in the blogging world…give something away for free in order to drive traffic to your blog and encourage email signups.
OK, fine. That’s great. But what’s next?
What happens after you’ve trained everyone on your email list or everyone who visits your blog that you’re the place to go to get free stuff? How is a new designer/blogger supposed to make money? (ETA: bloggers who are monetized so great with this strategy because they can generate significant ad revenue from free patterns.)
Well, you’re supposed to sell to your list! Right? You’re supposed to try to sell patterns to the very list you just gave free patterns to….
How’s that working?
Here’s the trouble with giving away free stuff…
You teach people how to treat you. Plain and simple. You teach people how to treat you.
If a prospective customer’s first encounter with your blog or business is that you give them something for free without any indication that you (a) worked hard to create this thing, (b) will be charging them for this thing in the future, and (c) need to pay the bills, feed the fam, and buy nice things just like everyone else who runs a business…you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and an empty bank account.
If you’ve been designing or blogging for long and you’ve given away free things, you have, undoubtedly, encountered Entitled Elizabeth. She’s the one who asks you to create a video for your written pattern (for free). She complains when you charge more than $1 for future patterns. And she is furious if you send her a free pattern on a day when she can’t get to the yarn store. Oh, yes, Elizabeth is a gem.
The trouble is…you created Elizabeth…or Jeanne…or Helen…whatever her name is.
If we are to take 100% responsibility for everything that happens in our business, we need to own the fact that we (designer/bloggers) created the problem of a giant email list filled with Entitled Elizabeths.
I’m going to be proposing a solution, below, but let’s dig a little deeper into the benefits of offering freebies and why you might want to utilize this strategy in your business.
Why Crochet Designers Give Away Freebies
On any blog, freebies can look a number of ways – they might be free patterns, free resources, free vaults, traditional giveaways, or collabs with several designers. Wherever your imagination takes you, I’m sure it’s been done.
So…why? There may be any number of reasons but it usually comes down to some combination of getting traffic to an obscure blog, getting email signups, and/or networking with other designers (in the case of blog hops).
And it works…which is why so many people do it.
And as your blog grows, driving traffic becomes a sort of addiction…”Well, as long as I sign up for an ad network, I can still make money from ads, drive traffic, and it’ll all be cool.” For sure, it is cool…until Elizabeth complains that she can’t get her free pattern for all the ads!
A similar thing happens with email signups. “If I give away free things, I’ll get more email signups. Then, I can drive more traffic to my ads…I mean, my blog.”
This works, too. But in the end, the message starts to build “patterns are things we get for free”…kind of like the free dinner, I mean snacks, you get at Costco. All those freebies are training your email subscribers and blog visitors that patterns don’t hold value.
And, for sure, this is not the message we want to send.
Finally, blog hops. You know I love blog hops…but I always monetize them. In the past, I have had my participating designers contribute a pattern for free on the first day and then offer a bundle of patterns for sale for a reduced price. Again, though, I’m feeling more and more uncomfortable with this strategy. I’m not even sure about bundle sales anymore….don’t we deserve to be paid full-price for our designs?
It seems that we’ve gotten ourselves all tangled in a web that needs to be detangled and turned into yarn. LOL Always with the yarn. 🙂
So, what do we do now?
If you’re a designer who has found herself on the losing end of a freebie strategy, what should you do? (There are some who love this strategy and are thriving with it. If that’s you, this is not for you.)
Here’s my recommendation…stop with the freebies.
Even just for a season. See, “There is a Season for Everything,” below.
But for now, this is what I’m suggesting:
For email lists:
- Don’t have a free pattern be your email list opt-in.
- Create an opt-in that attracts your ideal customer but is not a pattern.
- Add a tripwire to immediately follow your opt-in (train them to see you as a business).
- If you can, tag all subscribers who purchased your opt-in. These are your people.
- Also, tag all subscribers with a “freebie” tag when they have never purchased from you and delete this tag when they do make a purchase. This is typically possible with any email service provider’s automations.
- Do what you will with this information but I think it’s useful to know who is paying to stay on your list and who is a dead fish that you just happened to catch in your net.
For free patterns:
- Stop relying on free patterns to drive traffic.
- Learn about SEO. Learn to use Pinterest. Work on your photography. All of these will help you drive traffic to designs that you can, then, charge for.
- Start retraining your readers.
- Work on your copywriting…write posts that make your paid patterns irresistable.
- Learn how to use brand ambassadors to help you market your designs.
- Have a strategy for upselling your premium designs with photo tutorials, multiple sizes, charts, video tutorials – all the bonuses for premium PDFs and just have the pared down version for free.
- Look at ad revenue as an additional source of income, not THE source of income (if you want to). I understand some people set up their blogs to be only free patterns and their ad revenue sustains them. This is a valid business model but these are not who this post is addressing.
For blog hops:
- Start participating in blog hops that are highlighting paid designs rather than offering free patterns as a way to drive traffic.
- Participate in blog hops that also drive revenue rather than only traffic.
- Recognize that blog hops are more of a networking opportunity than a traffic-driving opportunity. They benefit the organizer the most – consider hosting one yourself for a specific reason like trying to reach a traffic goal in order to apply to an ad network.
- Don’t rely on blog hops as a regular strategy. Focus on your own blog and take on 2-3 blog hops a year.
- Start saying no.
There is a Season for Everything
You might be thinking, “Hey, Pam, I thought you told me that blog hops are great, opt-ins are awesome, and giving away free patterns is a valid strategy for getting my name out there!”
And I did tell you those things. But, here’s the rub…these strategies have a time, a season, and a reason. In my mind, they are meant to be tools used to reach a particular, specific goal all within a larger strategy of growing a profitable business. Profitable means you get paid.
So, what is the season?
For email opt-in freebies:
This is the only thing that is always in season, when it is monetized with a tripwire. Your tripwire does the job of moving a subscriber from window-shopper to customer. Keep opt-ins.
For free patterns:
Free patterns are a beneficial strategy for driving traffic to a new, unmonetized blog. Say, for a blog launch or rebrand.
They’re also great for a celebration, holiday, or other time that you just want to get some eyes on your business. Then, be sure to get those visitors to subscribe to your list and buy your tripwire.
Once a blog is monetized, free patterns are a helpful way of creating passive income through ad revenue. However, keep an eye on giving away too much. This is totally subjective. For me, if I were starting my blog again, I would either go with a 50:50 ratio or 75:25 with 75% of posts being for premium patterns. In this way, free patterns will be seen as more of a gift than an expectation.
For hosting a blog hop:
Hosting a blog hop is a great way to bolster traffic when you’re working toward meeting a pageview or sessions goal. If you’re trying to qualify for an ad network or meet a particular ad-income goal, blog hops are really helpful for this…but they are a heck of a lot of work. Monetizing your blog hop with a bundle makes the work much more worth it…but also ads yet more work.
I wouldn’t suggest hosting more than 1 or 2 blog hops a year for fear of burning out your subscribers and creating an expectation of free things and deep discounts. Also, blog hops are not for the faint of heart. Please be a seasoned blogger before taking on this leadership task.
For participating in a blog hop:
Participating in a blog hop is a great way to get your name out there when you’re just starting to blog. However, be aware of what you’re committing to and be sure you can meet those commitments including a tech edited, tested pattern, good photography, social media marketing, and meeting deadlines. I suggest participating in no more than 2-3 high-quality blog hops per year.
There it is. This is what’s been on my mind.
What do you think? How are you feeling about the whole “giving things away for free” thing?
Has this impacted your business at all? What has worked for you in trying to retrain your audience? I’d love to hear your thoughts, below!
PS Don’t think the irony of this subscribe form is lost on me. 😊
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