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Is Generosity Killing Your Business?

I always tell clients and customers they need to be generous first before taking anything. Sometimes though it can seem challenging keeping up the generosity in the face of bills and expenses.

We don’t want to go too far the other way either – who wants to be seen as someone who takes, takes and takes?

How can we strike the right balance? What do we need to do in order to be generous but still build a profitable business?

I Was the Free Guy

A few years ago I had a real problem.

My list was growing but I would get hate back in my inbox any time my articles contained a link to an offer.

Essentially I had trained my audience to only expect free stuff from me. All the time.

That is cool … for the audience … but no way to run a business that pays the mortgage.

Now, I did ok. I had regular consulting and coaching work and I had my flagship course, Authority Blogger, so it was not like I was going to cry buckets at those unsubscribes.

Train Your List

What I needed to do was train my list as to what to expect from me.

One of the key things you need to do right now is show that you are in business.

Being generous is not about being a charity or being a doormat.

You are in business. Your time has a value. The stuff you put out has a value. If they don’t like it then be happy they are parting company, let them find someone else who is a better fit.

There is a trade that you are making, your free stuff leads to being given offers. They don’t have to take them but if they want the free stuff they have to accept that offers will be made.

It’s a fair trade and if you do it right then people should be ok.

We might not like to be sold but we do like to buy … if the offer is valuable and relevant.

In theory, everyone should be happy … right?

Don’t Always be Selling

When people get upset though is when the balance swings the other way.

Don’t pound your audience with constant offers.

Value first, then the offer.

You can do that in one article, or over a series of articles, but give people who are not ready to buy a lot of value because they need to be rewarded for paying attention.

Create Content that Leads to a Next Step

Your content can naturally lead to your core offers and your launches as a next step.

Check out the stepping stones diagram in this critique for more about free content that naturally leads to your offers in a non-sleazy way.

Have Core Offers and Flagship Offers

It is much easier if you don’t HAVE to be selling all the time in order to pay the bills.

So have stuff on sale all the time and income streams that don’t need to be pushed hard. Don’t always be obviously launching.

And when you DO launch, launch to the segmented list that is interested in that subject – don’t pound your main audience about something they don’t have an interest in.

Now, clearly, you will always annoy a portion of your audience, this is just a fact of life, but you can limit the damage.

Bottom Line

  1. Work out how you help people
  2. Determine the target audience who is right for you and who you can get best results for
  3. Give content that solves problems and demonstrates your ability to help further
  4. Provide relevant offers at the right time
  5. Keep building relationships based on mutual respect and generosity

If you are giving everything away then you are going to just burn out, but you must still be generous. It is about being strategically generous, and about attracting the kind of people you can most help and most want to work with.

What is your experience with this? Please share in the comments …


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  1. Yeah, pretty much.

    Never found the balance myself. Coming out of academia and having put up web pages off and on since 1994, “monetizing” the web has been profoundly ambivalent for me. From where I came from, even advertising on a web site is out of bounds. Because I’m still tangentially connected to that community, makes it tough.

    On the other hand, times are changing, and I’m seeing affiliate links for Amazon and even Clickbank pop up on sites I would never expect to see affiliate links on.

    Currently, I’m refocusing on local, in-real-life business now. People are much more circumspect demanding free stuff when you are looking them in the eye.

    Strangely, having a successful blog – for certain values of success – is a value-add in real life. I should just suck it up and go get another 1500 comments on my blog, then I’ll have over 10k comments brag brag brag. Unseemly to be sure, but it makes for good marketing copy.

  2. Chris,

    Great article! Balancing the “sales” with content is really one of the most difficult things to do. Do you have a “rule of thumb” ratio that would be a good starting point for those getting started? Also, if you’re involved in any affiliate programs and/or collaborative marketing partnerships, how do those offers fit into your “balance”?

    I coach people to use a similar approach when it comes to promoting themselves on LinkedIn. As long as you are providing interesting status updates of a non-sales nature and regularly “liking” and commenting on your connections’ status updates, then the promotional status updates will be more acceptable because they are only a portion of the information you’re sharing. Those people who only make status updates when they have something to sell or promote without “giving first” to their network will find their promos fall on deaf ears (if they haven’t already been hidden in their networks LinkedIn stream because they are tired of the strong sales messages).


  3. Great post. Ironically enough, I was just about to write about this. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    There is nothing worse than devaluing yourself by constantly giving away free service, something all consultants have probably experienced at one point or another. As well, for the client, it makes it difficult to tie a value to your work.


  4. I’d honestly rather die a generous business than be one of the bloodsuckers we continue to see everywhere. We simply look at the potential of the client and set expectations with them that once they grow (with our help) that our engagement grows with them. So far, so good. Sure we’ve had some that fell through, but I’m not going to stop being a generous person because of a few bad eggs.


  5. Great points. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with being ‘strategically generous’. I am a firm believer in gracious information sharing, but at some point I’ve got to eat!

  6. True, true, true.

    The funny thing is that when you use FREE too much, you are attracting a target market that wants FREE stuff NOT necessarily people that want to buy stuff.

    If you don’t know what you’ll offer from the very beginning, you’re probably attracting the wrong people to your website.

    As you said, let the “offended-by-charging-money” people go and focus on the ones that understand the value you offer.

    Well said.

  7. In the craft-blogging world, the question of free has become a crucial one. People have gotten very used to “free” from craft blogs, and for the craft blogger, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep free sustainable. Keeping a delicate balance and operating with a strategy is important, but in the long run, I think the success of the “soft sale” depends on the ground work you’ve done to establish a good reputation with your readers as someone who offers something of value. It takes a long time to build that reputation (or “authority”) but it does eventually pay off, as long as good content is still offered regularly, along with the sales pitch.

    Great post, and very timely! Thanks!

  8. This is a great point, Chris. You see so many bloggers with really excellent content and a real will to help, they get no readers and give up. It’s kind of heart-breaking.

    I think you’re spot-on to give first, then ask.

  9. Chris, definitely a thought provoking article.

    I hope it gets online businesses thinking more about their communications strategy and managing the expectations of followers.

    Let me add that when you do offer your service or product, clearly differentiate it from the free content you offer on your blog. Make sure that followers understand the benefits of the offer and how the service will take them to the next level (a place the free content alone won’t take them).

    Would love to see more posts about this in the future:)

  10. I really appreciate this article. I’ve seen lots of folks out there writing about how to use free content to attract potential clients (myself included). I’ve also read lots of advice about how to “make the sale”, price, launch, etc. But you don’t see many articles about the balance between the two. It’s extremely important and yet we don’t talk about it enough.

    I wish many marketers out there would read just this one sentence from above: “Don’t always be obviously launching.” Totally agree!!

  11. Hey Chris,

    I needed to read this. I have been struggling online with the generosity problem for a while. I love what I’m doing, and I actually don’t like to sell or ask for money. So, I don’t. And that’s why I don’t earn a lot of money online either. My list is like the list you’re describing. They expect nothing but free, and that’s because they never get anything other than free.

    I have been thinking of doing some affiliate marketing, and a little more aggressive than right now. All I do now is have a banner on my blog, and that doesn’t generate a lot of cash 🙂

    Thanks a lot.


  12. I’ve been guilty of this for years and years and years. I had to break out of it. Still have to to this day. On the flip side of it, I’ve built quite the reputation and brand off of it. So indirectly it paid off big time.

    But yeah, you nailed it.

  13. I’ve made the conscious choice not to be bothered by people unsubscribing and to be consistent in my newsletters to thank them for purchasing my products. I’m having much more contact with people who I can help and sales are increasing.

  14. Thanks for putting things into perspective, Chris. My own business has taught me the importance of setting and managing customer expectations. I’ve found that clients who are satisfied with my offerings really want to pay for them. But there are a few people who come along looking for everything they can get for free.

  15. Such wise words Chris. I believe most `bloggers’ or those in the online world give away 90% of their content and value for free and you have to make sure that the other 10% is pure profit in return for all the value you provide.

    I like the ratio of 3/4 in my newsletter that I send out every Sunday. 3 x out of 4 it’s just pointing back to valuable content, tips and tricks for running your business from anywhere. 1 out of 4 times I will actively promote something of value I’m working on that they join, buy or spread the news about.

    As you say my tribe have come to expect offers and news of product launches from me as they enjoy what I have to offer.

    Still it’s a fine line and one I walk every day and am constantly seeking to improve on.


  16. Chris,

    Thank you for covering this topic. I think when you are new to content marketing you either try to sell too soon or never attempt to.

    I really like, and am most comfortable with, your approach about building value and then offering solutions – people will be more willing to pay for something if they are familiar with and respect the person recommending the solution. And if the solution solves an issue they have.

    Your “Bottom Line” 5 points sum everything up very succinctly!

    Thank you – Theresa

  17. Chris,

    My first time here and I want to thank you for your excellent points and generous information.

    As an IM newbie I will give my perspective as the consumer.

    I have been learning so much but to be honest my learning really took off when I began investing in my education.

    Granted it all started with a freebie that was very relevant to me.

    I have come across other “online marketers” (I put that in quotes for a reason and I will explain) These “marketers” who have excellent FREE content which I am thankful for receiving but they are not willing to sell, not even in tactful ways, where they naturally lead me to buy.

    In fact they make it real evident upfront with, “I won’t be bombarding you like other marketers with a bunch of sales or affiliate links.”

    But Chris’s point number four is excellent! “Provide relevant offers at the right time.”

    To this day I have yet to see these “marketers” sell me anything! I am still on their list plus their previous comments mentally blocked any interest to buy from them. Just think, I was in the buying mode and would have gladly made the investment because I was so grateful for the tremendous FREE value they had offered me!

    Well, I certainly do not want to pattern myself after their “business” model. Thus, I went to their competitors and purchased from them.

    LOL, they might of made a little something had they at least given me an affiliate link.

    Great site and I am so glad to have been lead here by some cool people.

  18. What if FREE isn’t cheap enough?

    In my niche, there is so much FREE stuff that everyone expects free. What I am learning is that I have to build the relationship first, establish my view point as valuable … and then the FREE stuff have more meaning.

    my two cents.


  19. Everybody wants “free.” When some people find out that I do web work they assume I’m a tech genius [I’m not]; they ask for free advice; they ask if I could them how to build a successful website; try to get me to commit to building a website for them for free. It’s like being a doctor or lawyer at a cocktail party, always getting asked for free advice or services. My response is to ask them what they do, then quickly start asking them for freebies! Works like a charm.

  20. This is a great article and a great reminder to many of us who are in business for ourselves. All too often we want to please everyone but cheat ourselves in the long run. I appreciate the balance you offer and look forward to using this as a reminder. Thank you.