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NOTABLE! Unpopular Opinion: "Give Value for Free" is Bullshit More Often Than Not

Johnny boy

Gold Contributor
Speedway Pass
May 9, 2017
Washington State
My lawn care company:

In the winter I offered free lawn care for people.

Most of them signed up for our premium plan in the spring.

Average profit per contract: $1000 a year + lifetime value if they stay with us.

My web design and marketing company:

Talked to people over the phone in long conversations and gave away all of my best advice for them to grow their business. I’d tell them most of what they were asking me to do wouldn’t actually help and would just be a waste of money to pay anyone for.

They’d send me $1000 for a two hour conversation.

What is content marketing?

How do people become celebrities in the first place?

Why is Gary vaynerchuck bigger than all of the social media “gurus” out there?

Giving for free works. Ask Facebook.

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Bronze Contributor
Speedway Pass
May 18, 2019
A little late to the party.

As a freelancer who is always on the fence on this issue, I think its important to distinguish one fact.

Giving value and demostrating value aren’t the same thing.

Using the cookie store example. Instead of giving away free samples to passerbys, demostrating value can be holding community baking classes for local families.

At the end of the day it’s about identifying what qualifies as value, extracting maximum benefits for both you and your prospects, without reducing your business into a charity.

Also, what makes something valuable can come from the opinion of those that surround us.

Instead of focusing on delivering value to just your prospects (free cookie samples), think about how you can offer collective value to a market (teach families how to bake).
Last edited:


Bronze Contributor
Jun 1, 2019
At one point I taught social dance (Argentine Tango) for a new studio. The studio used promotions on living social heavily and attracted lots of bargain-hunters. On the surface it was successful, as the owner was able to keep renting three huge studios at a prime location in New York City. However, the model was not sustainable as he had to keep offering promotions.

We would sell 30 passes for a series of classes, and maybe 1 person would stay long-term; more often than not, nobody would. Instead we'd see those people who didn't care about learning as much as they cared about bargains. They would take Salsa-1 at one studio, Salsa-2 at another studio, and if there was no deal for Salsa-3, they would take Swing-1 or whatever else was on sale.

At some point we wanted to do a student performance group that would rehearse once a week. We wanted them to pay about $40/month... and that was a deal-breaker! I believe that not a single one of the ten or so interested people was prepared to pay. The going rate for regular classes was like $14; our charge was completely symbolic, yet those people weren't prepared to pay. They wanted to pay $100 for a year of unlimited classes and then they would come and really take whatever there was, indiscriminately, without much regard for learning.

In the end the whole thing collapsed. The owner made other mistakes, but that was a part of the problem: we had effectively selected a very cheap group of people that was immune to any attempts at upselling. It was not just that we were giving value away; we were attracting the wrong kind of people who absorbed the value much like people take free cookies. It did work in the sense of filling the studio with people, but dance studios don't survive on this kind of clientele; we had to transition not to charging those people more money, which was impossible, but to attracting a different kind of people.

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