When you want to give something away for free

I was cruising on Twitter the other day and came across a mini rant by Andy Budd from Brighton company Clearleft.

Andy started by imploring people not to give their work away for free. Andy was making a very different point, about the tendency for designers to undervalue their work, take on jobs they don’t want to do and do what the client wants; rather than what the client needs.

Now, I agree with all of this and maybe I’ll steal Andy’s ideas and blog on this very point. But, being a contrarian by nature, I started to think – well maybe sometimes, it’s a good idea to give your work away for free. These are some of those times:

The free taster

Sometimes you want to give away a little bit to get people into the idea. This is what I do with my invitation to come out for a coffee and chat – it’s a free initial session where I’ll happily diagnose a potential client’s business issues and give them some starting advice. And they get to sniff me and see if I’m the right person to help their business.

Carlo at Albertoli’s deli in Hove has been introducing several new lines in his mix of Italian and Sussex food. Some of them are a little unusual, as Albertoli’s is not your standard deli. So Carlo gives away free samples of his food. He’ll encourage you to try all kinds of wonderful things.

But giving away free stuff costs money – I’ve seen Carlo give away a fiver’s worth of free samples at a time. Why? Firstly Carlo’s customers get to try out the artichokes, or what he calls “not Parma” ham and find out that they’re much better than your average deli artichokes or real Parma ham. And because the artichokes, frankly, are wizened, freaky looking black things, they might not have otherwise tried them. Once the customer has tried them, they’re hooked.

The reciprocity principle

Secondly, there’s the reciprocity principle. If Carlo gives you a taster artichoke, you’ll feel obliged to buy something. You won’t consciously know it, but something in your brain won’t rest until you have given Carlo something back.

Carlo adds to the reciprocity principle because he’s a lovely guy who genuinely wants people to eat his artichokes because they’re amazing. The freebie gets people to try things out and gives them the impulse under the reciprocity principle to buy.

The first bag is free

The free bit gets people hooked – I call this the “first bag is free”, from the Velvet Underground song I’m waiting for my man, but it can work well for your business even if you’re not a drug dealer*.

Other free ideas

I’ll be looking at some of the other times when it is a good idea to give your work away for free, and when it’s not. If you’d like to stay in touch and get these, and other ideas to help your business, then do sign up to the RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or get my email newsletter. And if you’d like an almost free business advice session about how I may be able to help your business, think about buying me a coffee.

* Please note that artichokes are neither addictive nor illegal.

Photo credit – artichokes by Jerry Rala