On Monday, James of Men With Pens, challenged the idea that bloggers ‘must’ post their content for free. He asked, “Are Bloggers Creating Their Own Sweatshop?” Well? Are we devaluing ourselves? Why aren’t we charging readers to read our blog posts?
I left a detailed comment expressing my thoughts in the moment, but there is so much more to this topic than surface opinion. James isn’t the first or the last to question “Free” as a business model. Let’s face it, as a statement toward the financial viability of a business it doesn’t seem particularly sound.
Why “Free” Works
Over hundreds of years, society has been opening the door to free thought. Now, more than ever before, every person is invited to express their opinion, to have their say, to participate in an expanding global community. This exchange of thought has always been free. Every man, woman, and child is allowed to share openly. The only bar to communication is an unwillingness to “give”.
Freelance writers, and professional bloggers, put a new slant on the freedom of self expression. The difference, primarily, is motive. Everyone could blog, that is hobby blogging. Professional writers/bloggers write with an intent to earn. They may still write because they love to write, in fact, it is almost a pre-requisite in this industry, but they don’t write to be heard.
Professional writers write for the dollar. Freelance writing is a business. (If you don’t acknowledge that you’re in for a hard haul toward profit just like in any other business.)
So, why does “free” still work for freelancers? Because…
Blogs are a platform, not a product.
Let me stress that again, blogs are a “platform“, NOT a product. Your blog is a showcase, a portfolio. It is your business card, the company logo on your car, the mass mail campaign fliers, the t.v. commercial, the full page newspaper ad, the press release, etc. Your blog is your advert, the quarter inch of niche you’ve carved out where you can say whatever you want.
How are you using your Ad space?
The real question is, “How are you using your ad space?” Choosing to blog is not the only way you could fill your ad space, but it is one of the most effective. Each post puts your ad into a fresh print run with a potential circulation in the millions. What is more, many of your readers WANT to read your ad. They’ve subscribed or searched specifically for you or the information you’re offering.
You have the opportunity to run as many ads as you have time to write, or funds to outsource. But you must make good use of your content. Remember, each post is an ad space; an opportunity to reach your target audience with an offer they truly want or need.
Consumers like to be informed, they like to be educated, they like to be entertained. Your readers also love to be engaged which is why blogs have grown to incorporate more interactivity.
Your content is free because it is not your product. Your blog is your commercial and blogging is one of the most cost-effective ways to advertise. The great thing about your blog, from a business perspective, is that it is a jumping off point for your products and services.
The Blog As A Marketing Funnel
Have you ever heard of the term upsell? It’s a marketing term. Let me describe it with a story.
One day, you decide to go to your local bedding store to buy a new quilt set for the master bedroom. The store has a broad range of products that seem daunting so you approach a salesman for assistance. The salesman is a friendly bloke (man to the non-Aussies), he is happy to help you find what you need, but to get there you have to walk past the king and queen bed frames. He ignores those, you asked about linens not frames and that need is his focus.
As you walk to a far wall where the bed linens are arrayed, this salesman, lets call him Bob, talks with you about the linens you’ve had in the past. Bob asks how you have been recently, he asks you about your favorite materials and fabrics, he asks you about the colors you love and the other decor in your home. He asks you about the bed, it’s size, etc.
When you reach the bed linens, Bob knows exactly which quilt sets to recommend, that you suffer heart-burn and back ache, that your mattress is sagging to the left, your queen-sized bed is several years old, you prefer 100% cotton sheets in shades of purple, your bedroom has apricot tones, twin bedside tables, a large recliner in one corner, and that your name is Jill. But, you came looking for linens so that is what he pitches you. He knows what to show you because he’s canvased your preferences so what he shows you on the shelf is exactly what you’re after. You’ve had a pleasant experience and found exactly what you wanted so you grab the quilt set and head for the counter.
Then comes the first upsell. “You know,” Bob says, “from time to time beautiful 100% cotton sheets in a range of purple colors and patterns are marked down. I could send you an email/letter or give you a call when we have something you’ll love if you leave your contact details with me.” Snag, ‘the list’, the right to contact you in the future.
Next month, you get an email, “Special deal, today only, purple 100% cotton bed sheets for your queen mattress. Buy two and get one free.” Upsell! Now you’re interested in paying for two bed linen sets to get one free.
A month later, “Did you know, aged mattresses can cause heartburn and backache?” (Remember, you mentioned suffering those symptoms to Bob.) “Improve your health and get a better night’s sleep with any of our wide range of circulation support queen-sized mattresses.” Upsell! Now, instead of linens you’re considering buying a new mattress.
This upsell action is one of the true powers of blogging. You’re blog is that first salesman. Blog Bob greets your potential customer, finds out why they came to you, and gives them exactly what they want, regardless of the depth of their pocket. That initial salesperson offers to give the customer more of what they want by leaving contact details (subscribing). It is then the platform for an upsell and can be combined with other promotional tools for maximum effect.
The most important thing is to provide the service that discovers what the customer initially wanted, delivers that, convinces them to subscribe, and continues to target their individual needs over time.
Is your blog your sweatshop or your sales representative? How could your blog more effectively showcase your products or services? Do you think this method is effective or could blogs be used in other ways to return a profit?