“I am fiercely loyal to those willing to put their money where my mouth is.” ~Paul Harvey

Free Beer Tomorrow Neon Sign“Watch my free video.”

“Join our free webinar.”

“Download for free!”

If you didn’t know better, you would think the whole world has caught the generosity bug. I have great hopes for this being a reality one day but it’s not here just yet. So what is going on with all this free stuff? Why do we keep going for it and why do we keep offering it ourselves?

Buying “Free”

We go for free because it is a value proposition within a transaction. We humans are transaction-seeking animals after all — foraging, hungry and rapacious. Maybe you are among those who are collecting all the freebies you can, even stuff you can’t use or don’t even like. But dang it, it’s free!

The problem is that free isn’t usually free. It costs you time. It costs you attention and effort. It also creates a debt that in all likelihood will be called in at some point.

How many purchases have you made as a result of feeling an underlying tug of obligation after receiving something that was “free”? It wasn’t really free then, was it?

Selling “Free”

So one day you woke up and thought, “Two can play at this game. If ‘free’ works on me, it’ll work on everybody else too.” And it does, for a while anyway.

But people are starting to get “free” fatigue. They have been waking up with the same thought as you, except they don’t have anything to sell so they just feel played.

Feeling played, they no longer give any power to that tug of obligation they may feel. In fact, that tug may now offend them.

Others actually start experiencing freedom and so they feel entirely free to just take your free stuff and keep on walking.

A third group just can’t get past the obligation that they can now see coming a mile away. So they don’t even take what you offer for free. It’s a marketer’s nightmare!

What Is Better Than Free?

If your answer is “nothing”, listen up. Free creates suspicion. It creates doubts. It creates a nagging feeling that it isn’t really and truly free.

So let’s create an environment with no suspicion, no doubts, and no nagging. Here’s how:

  1. Offer something of value, not free but at no cost
  2. Tell them it will take their time or effort or whatever you truly expect from them in return
  3. Point out how good this deal is for them (and it better be)

On either side of the transaction be value conscious, even frugal; but don’t be cheap. Cheap is not the same as frugal. Cheap is when you focus solely on price with no regard for value. Being cheap is what got us into trouble surrounding free in the first place.

“When did free stop being free?” click to tweet

You have to be coming from a really saintly place to give something away completely for free. Don’t expect yourself to be a saint all the time. In fact, be very clear when it is you are not acting out of complete altruism. There is no moral requirement that our every interaction be altruistic. But if you focus on value, it will all work out for everyone. And when a bunch of little things work out, you will find you have more room to be the saintly version of you.

Are you free of free? Tell us about it by commenting below.

Photo credit: Lori Spindler

When Did Free Stop Being Free?
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One thought on “When Did Free Stop Being Free?

  • Permalink

    Excellent take on the true cost of free, Ken…

    I liked the twist you revealed with the
    “#1 Offer something of value, not free but at no cost” bullet up there…

    When something is offered as purely ‘free’, indeed, people jump in droves to get it, but they don’t place much value on the item, they rather act out of fear… the fear they ‘might’ lose something otherwise, a something OTHER people already took advantage of.

    Once the impulse is satisfied, they simply store the item in a dark place, with the thought
    “I will use this someday”… and it gets forgotten.

    The “at no cost” approach, on the other hand, is different. The cost is not always a general accepted objective value – it is rather a subjective perspective of it.
    One person may value say… their time, less than what it is really worth – and as such, just perceive the offer as more appealing simply because it implies spending time rather than money to achieve a specific goal, etc…

    Very, very good post – kudos, Ken!

    Steve ✉ Master eMailSmith ✉ Lorenzo
    Chief Editor, eMail Tips Daily Newsletter


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