A Freelance Web Designer’s Guide to Offering Freebies to Generate Leads

by Laura Spencer

September 3, 2013 in Business/Freelance

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Many experts and gurus recommend giving away a product or service to attract leads. Offering freebies is a marketing strategy that has really taken off to the point where most of us are now inundated with free offers. In fact, not a day goes by when I don’t find a free offer in my email inbox or through a popup window on a site I’m visiting.

I used to get really excited about free offers, but now that it seems like everyone is giving something away it’s gotten so that I mostly just ignore over 90% of the free offers that I run across. Free doesn’t mean as much as it used to.

Many web designers have jumped on board the giveaway bandwagon. This is especially true for those designers who have a side gig that involves selling WordPress themes or apps.

In this post, I’ll examine the strategy of using free offers to attract business. We’ll look at what works, what doesn’t work, and I’ll explain how you can make sure that your free offer reaches your target audience.

How Free Offers Fall Short

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Sadly, one of the reasons free offers are not as successful as they used to be is because there are so many of them. Unless I’m already familiar with the product or the source of the free item, I don’t have time to research every free offer that I see. So, unless the offer grabs my attention or it’s for something I already want, my first tendency is to ignore it.

It’s hard to believe that the market for giving something away would be so competitive, but it actually is. If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ll notice that many of the posts shared are about giveaways. It’s not at all unusual to find posts with titles like “X Free Smart Phone Apps” or “X Free Themes.”

Freebies may be popular, but does giving something away lead to a paying client?

Here are some other problems with freebies as lead generators:

  • Doesn’t reach target market. So many free offers are made to everyone who happens across a website. There’s no attempt to try to reach those who might actually be potential clients.
  • Attracts bargain hunters. Sadly, there are people who are just looking to get as much as they possibly can without paying for it. They have no intention of buying anything from you. Ever.
  • Freebie isn’t representative of what you normally offer. If you something that has no relevance or value to your prospects, it’s unlikely that you will leave them with a positive impression.
  • Freebies need to be promoted. It’s no good having a free offer that no one knows about. You will have to share it on your website and through social media. This takes time.
  • It can be costly to produce something to give away. It costs money and takes time to create something of value. If you’re creating something to give away, you won’t get paid for it (at least not directly).
  • People place less value on something they didn’t pay for. There’s a little psychological truth that people perceive value based on cost. If something is free, it may be perceived as being less valuable.

Those are the downsides of giving something away. Now let’s look at the positives.

Free Offers Can Still Work

In front of Brandenberg Gate. Berlin, Germany.

With all the negatives associated with giving away freebies to generate leads, you might think that you should stop doing it. In my opinion, you’d be wrong.

Giveaways can still generate leads. In fact, a free offer can be a very effective strategy. You just have to be careful about how you do it.

In a way, offering something for free is a sort of gamble. Fortunately, there are ways to stack the odds in your favor.

Here are some tips to make the most of your free offers:

  • Target your offer to those most likely to become clients. If you have a targeted email marketing list or a newsletter for prospects, that might be a good place to offer your freebie.
  • Place a limit on your offer. When something is perceived as being scarce or limited, it is often looked at as having more value. Rather just putting a free offer on your website forever, consider offering your item free for a limited time and then charging for it.
  • Consider a free trial. If you sell apps or have a subscription service, a free trial can be a good way to generate interest. This is especially true if the prospect must enter payment information in order to activate the trial.
  • Make sure that your offer has genuine value. Many free offers fail because they are for things that most people would likely never want. For example, who would want pens or a mug with your company name on it? These items are best saved to use as thank-you gifts for existing clients.
  • Consider your brand when choosing a freebie. Many freelancers forget to think about their brand when they choose a free premium offer. However, whatever you offer will likely be associated with your business and therefore become part of your brand.
  • Look for endorsement from influencers. You want your free offer to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Influencers and thought leaders can help. If you offer your freebie to an influencer or thought leader in your field to review, they may endorse it.

After looking at the positives and negatives of offering a free premium, you may find that you are seriously considering it.

Learn More

Are you preparing to dive into a marketing campaign that involves giving something away? Here are three more resources to help you make sure that your marketing efforts are successful:

  1. From Peter Caputa on HubSpot, How to Write a Whitepaper That Will Capture Leads. One popular freebie that many marketers give away is a white paper or eBook related to their field. This well-written article explains exactly what sort of content you should put in a free white paper and how you should write it. Although the post is written about white papers, I feel the tips would also work for a free eBook.
  2. From Stacy Karacostas on StartupNation, From Free to Fee…The Right Way to Use Freebies to Make More Sales. This thoughtful post gives five rules for offering freebies. It also explains why each rule is important. This is worth a read if you are trying to use a giveaway to generate leads for your business.
  3. From the AppsGeyser Blog, Give Away Your Android App For Free – 8 Reasons Why You Should Not Charge For Your App. Another popular freebie is smart phone apps. This post is very pro-freebie (it’s from a company that converts web content to an app), but makes some valid points. I suggest looking at the points and deciding whether the benefits are important for your freelancing business.

Your Turn

Giving away free items has always been somewhat of a controversial marketing strategy.

What’s your take on freebies?

Have you given something away in order to attract clients? How did that work for you? Share your answers in the comments.

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About Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy Laura’s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.

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