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The Big Problem With Writing For Free

Published 8 days ago • 2 min read

Hi Reader,

Here’s some terrible advice creators often get: give away your best stuff for free.

The idea here?

Give away your best stuff, and people will think:

If their free stuff is this good, their paid stuff must be amazing. I better pay up!

That’s good advice for entrepreneurs building SaaS companies. The more eyeballs they can get on their content, the more likely they will attract product users or VC investors.

That approach doesn’t work as well for creators.

Giving away your best stuff is a good recipe for going viral. It’ll earn you some nice social kudos on X.

But you can’t eat out on views, likes, and shares.

The lofty goal of building a brand with free content doesn’t help much with building a profitable writing business.

If you give away all your best stuff, readers will take your ideas and try for themselves.

Then, if your content works, they don’t need to pay you.

I joined a CrossFit gym a few years ago.

CrossFit is more expensive than a regular gym.

I was worried about signing a monthly contract.

So, the owner let me try three workouts at a discount before signing a contract.

But she didn’t turn up for months and swing kettlebells and barbells around the gym for free.

She was running a business, not a charity.

She wanted customers and clients, not tirekickers.

And she wasn’t hoping free footfall would earn her a big payout from a VC fund.

I signed up after I’d sampled a few CrossFit workouts.

Then, the owner created a personalized training plan based on my fitness goals.

She only did this after I paid her.

Think about your writing business the same way.

By all means, do some spec work if it helps you land a great testimonial or a paying client.

But don’t write or create content for free in the vague hope of some nebulous future deposit to your bank account.

Give away one free book if it gets readers into your funnel.

But save your best ideas and pieces of content for customers.

Create a free lead magnet if it grows your newsletter.

But ensure that the lead magnet forms a single piece of a jigsaw that clients or customers need your help assembling.

I’ve given a lot away for free over the years, perhaps too much. If you’re doing the same, consider what you can charge for.

You might earn less kudos on X, but you’ll have a healthier bank account.

If you’re interested in building a writing business rather than a show business, I have two coaching spots open this week.

Write on,
Bryan Collins

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My name is Bryan Collins. I'm a content strategist, copywriter and USA-Today best-selling author.

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