At a local networking event a few weeks ago, I overheard a somewhat heated discussion on the subject of using free content to build a business that makes part or all of its income from consulting or professional services. One said that giving away free content related to the problems that his consulting services solved for paying customers was silly – who would pay for his consulting services if he gave his hard-earned and expensive knowledge away for free?
The other – a consultant with a best-selling book, over 100,000 Twitter followers, and over 90,000 subscribers to her email newsletter – said that she understood why he felt that way, but that she could link nearly 60% of her business growth directly to free content, with the rest from referrals or growth within existing clients. The gentleman she was talking to shrugged and said, “Well, if you’re giving it away, how valuable can it be anyway?” Then he walked away leaving behind a flabbergasted woman convinced she’d just had an encounter with a man totally devoid of good manners as well as marketing sense.
His manners are definitely suspect, and he may understand the kind of marketing they taught back when I was in grad school. But it’s a fact that in today’s information-driven economy, the more content you give away, the better.
Educated prospects who understand your products and services before you make your initial sales contact tend to be very receptive to your sales pitch. This not only results in more leads, but I’ve found that it can shorten sales cycles, too.
Blogs, webinars, videos, white papers, surveys, infographics, and other free content build trust. Trust in you (as a professional), in your company (as a thought leader that knows what it’s talking about), and in your brand (as one built on quality, by knowledgeable people).
But all those people who DON’T buy directly from you are valuable, too. Not merely as Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or blog readers, but as the source of more prospective content consumers. When someone finds value in your content, they’ll often share or promote it on your behalf, extending your reach beyond your direct contacts.
It’s no secret that the search engines love websites with free content. Making sure that your content is optimized with your best keywords dramatically increases your chances of being found in search engines, and boosts organic traffic dramatically. When you combine paid marketing efforts (pay-per-click, email, and banner ads), social media, and PR with optimized content, it’s even more powerful.
While we’re on the subject of educated prospects, let’s not forget that your existing customers get value from your content, too. Blogs, newsletters, You Tube, and social media are a great way to help keep existing customers happy, which reduces costly churn.
There are some lovely spin-off benefits to great content, too. One of them is that reporters, bloggers, and writers often look for story ideas on other people’s blogs, or in content offered by a company. I started a new job in February, 2011, and a new educational blog for my company in late March. Since then, with no other outreach on my part, the blog has gotten me or my boss invited to speak at six conferences, interviewed for several dozen TV, radio, or print outlets, and resulted in several hundred mentions in the media. For example, one blog post was picked up by PC World, BNet, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal – and drew 117,000 readers to the blog, which usually has about 1,200 readers a week.
Our other content-based marketing efforts are doing well, too. So well in fact that we can track 24% of the visitors to our website directly to free content offers. And they not only come to the site, they stick around longer than first-time visitors from any other source – over five times as long as visitors from organic search or PPC.
I can track at least two significant deals directly to webinars or white papers we’ve published, and there are several hundred leads in our sales pipeline that wouldn’t have been there without the content-based marketing we’ve added to our mix.
So from my vantage point, I can’t track the majority of customers to content — yet. But I will have to respectfully disagree with the gentleman who said that giving content away is “silly”. From here, it looks like NOT giving away content is pretty silly!