When Napster launched in 1999, it was the first step of a movement that changed the music industry in ways that it has never fully recovered. For the first time, many people could easily download any music they wanted, for free.

How could record labels expect to make as much money going forward when consumers could get their products for free? They had two options. They could either find a creative way to get around this, or they could go down the legal route. The major record labels chose the legal route.

In Nicholas Lovell’s book The Curve, the author discusses ways that businesses can actually benefit from the widespread availability of free to create a stable, long term income from super fans. As the internet allows us to share digital products, this has changed many markets, but as 3D printing grows in popularity, this could potentially happen for physical products too!

There is a way around this though, and although many major record labels took the legal route, a number of artists themselves decided to use the power of free to create super fans. These super fans are more likely to spend high amounts of money on more expensive products. For example, a band would let its fans download their music for free, but would sell special editions (signed copies for example) for £500 each.

Digital products take money and time to produce once, but can then be distributed multiple times. So if you create an app, an MP3, a video, a guide or anything else digital, you can give it away to thousands of people at the same cost as giving it to just one person. Obviously, we are more likely to take something if it is free than if it costs something, so think of free as a way in.

The Change of Advertising
Since the early 2000s, advertising has been changing. Customers are more immune to it than ever. The previous model of buying TV adverts, selling products, using profits for more TV adverts just isn’t cost-effective these days. Customers have been bombarded by businesses telling them what to buy for too long, and now the most effective ways of reaching them are:

  • Be available when they need you: This can be done through SEO and PPC, making sure you are the first thing they see when they search for you.
  • Make a connection with them and work them through the funnel towards a sale.

Although there are those who want to purchase your products already, there are far more who aren’t willing to spend money. For those unwilling, give them something for free. This is a great way to make that connection with them, open up a conversation and eventually turn them into a super fan who will spend lots of money with you!

What Can You Give Away for Free?
This is where you have to think creatively. You don’t necessarily have to give your products away for free, but something that your potential customers would find useful. Free works much better than a discount, so 20% off all products won’t get as many connections as a free app or guide.

How Do I Turn them Into Paying Customers?
Once you have that connection, stay in contact with them by adding them to your email list, then give them ongoing free advice, guides or anything else they may find useful. This can take time, but if you already have the connection with them, you’re far more likely to be the first business they contact when they are willing to spend money on your products.

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