043: The Power of Free: How You Can Profit from Giving Away Your Work [Podcast]

Since the dawn of time, human beings have felt the need to share — from food to art. Sharing is part of the human condition. A person who does not share is not only selfish, but bitter and alone.
–Paulo Coelho

You have something to say, but the world just won’t listen. What’re you doing wrong? Maybe you’re being too stingy. If you have a message to share and no one’s listening, the best thing you could do is give some of it away for free.

043: The Power of Free [Podcast]

The best way to get someone’s attention is to be generous. Giving your work away for free is something I’ve talked about for years. But it also comes with its share of challenges.

In this week’s episode of The Portfolio Life my co-host Andy Traub and I talk about the obstacles of “free” and offer practical tips on how to overcome them.

To distill the entire episode down to a single takeaway, it would be this: Being generous is a great way to get attention. But when everything’s free, nobody values what you do. [Tweet]

Listen to the podcast

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You can also download it at iTunes or on Stitcher.

How free can lead to more sales

Being surprisingly generous is a great way to engage your audience and build trust with a tribe. In fact, I’m modeling this right now with giving paperback copies of my book for a limited time. I believe in this stuff.

People often ask me if being too generous will water down what you do or undermine the value of your offering. Honestly, that’s the wrong question. The biggest enemy of getting your work to spread isn’t people ripping you off. It’s people not knowing who you are.

For example, take Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, one of the best-selling books of all time. The book wasn’t an instant success. In fact, the publisher told him it wouldn’t amount to much. So how did he end up selling over 65 million copies?

When his publisher dropped him, Coelho decided to forgo traditional marketing and began promoting his book in less conventional ways. Taking efforts into his own hands, he began “knocking on doors”  and within a few years, the book went from selling a few thousand copies a year to millions.

So what made the difference?

According to the author, it was giving his book away for free on the Internet — first by publishing a Russian translation on his own website and allowing people to download it for free, then by sharing it on other file-sharing sites.

And guess what? It worked.

Coelho is a big proponent of radical generosity, especially with books, music, and art. He thinks all works of art ought to be shared, and if you do this enough, the work will spread and people will want to pay for it. I agree.

Tips on being strategically generous

  • Give somebody something short, shareable, and easy to consume in one or two sittings. For writers, I recommend crafting a manifesto.
  • If you want attention, you are going to have to create a “WOW product.” But creating “wow” isn’t just giving somebody something that’s great. It means going above what’s expected.
  • Don’t give everything away for free or it waters down the offering. Offer something that’s valuable by making it rare.

Resources mentioned

If this episode was helpful to you, please share it (it is free, after all) with others who may benefit from it. Also, I’d appreciate an honest review on iTunes.

How can you apply the concept of giving something for free to helping your work spread? Share in the comments.