If you are an online teacher, you will already know the importance of giving things away for free.
This includes articles/ebooks you have written, videos you have made, trial lessons, and your time.
But how much should you offer for free? How much time should you spend helping others without payment? And what content should you reserve for paying clients?
This post lays out some guidelines on how to strike the right balance between free vs paid content/lessons. But first, I explain the importance of helping learners for free.
Why Offer Content and Your Time for Free?
The reason behind creating free content and helping learners is simple: it helps you grow your teaching business.
For example, my YouTube channel has nearly 50 videos now. A percentage of those who come across one of my videos will take further action by either signing up to my email list or by purchasing my course.
This is called content marketing and if you do it right, it can be very powerful.
Although the content you create is free, it still has to be high quality. Creating things that are valuable will help you reach more people, show your value to prospective clients, and ultimately result in more sign-ups.
In addition to free content, you can also help learners directly.
One of my earliest posts on this blog talked about charging for a trial lesson. If you are just starting out, you will most likely offer this for free. You can also help learners directly by answering questions on social media and through email.
Again, this is showing that you’re a real person, that you’re there to help, and it offers a glimpse into the value you offer.
Starting conversations with learners in your niche is one of the most powerful ways to sell something. That is why I have systems in place so that I can start as many conversations as possible (more on this later).
A good example to highlight all of this is the free samples on offer at Farmers Markets. These samples attract you to the stall, let you know how good the product tastes, and you soon enter a conversation with the seller.
And as you’ve been given something for free, you feel guilty about walking away without buying something. This is the reciprocity principle and it applies in the ESL/EFL industry too.
I hope you can see how important it is to help learners for free. But….
Nobody Wants to Be Taken Advantage Of
There are learners who will take a trial lesson without any intention to pay for future lessons.
There are learners who will ask you a thousand questions but will never buy anything from you.
There are learners who will read every article you have but will never send money your way.
And when the above happens, it can be discouraging, especially when you’re first starting out. You’ve just given your time to help someone and you get nothing in return.
Another concern is finding the balance between free and paid content. If you give away too much, won’t learners just take the free over the paid?
If you struggle in this area, the following will help…
Filtering learners helps you spend most of your time on those who are able and willing to pay for what you offer.
This starts with your niche. For example, if you advertise in countries where credit card ownership is non-existent, you won’t get anything back in return. Therefore, targeting learners who are able and willing to pay is the first step.
You can also filter after the fact. For instance, you don’t have to administer all trial lesson requests – you can filter out those who you know won’t be able to pay for lessons.
There is a limit to how much you can filter – search engines, for example, will show your site in different countries – and the filters that you put in place will ultimately come down to you and where you currently are with your teaching business.
I receive so many emails and messages from learners who want to chat on Skype or elsewhere. If you have an online presence, I’m sure you get this too.
What I do in these situations is reply stating that I don’t have conversations with learners on Skype and send them a link to my landing page to get a free ebook. I let them know that they can ask me questions through email after signing up.
(Note: I use TextExpander to make this process much quicker.)
Think about rules that you can apply for the different situations you face.
Find the Balance Between Free and Paid
If you offer one-to-one or group lessons, you don’t need to worry too much about how much content you give away – live lessons involve much more than what content offers alone.
In fact, the two can supplement each other: you can take the lessons plans you used with your learners in class and repackage them as articles, videos etc. It’s what I did for a long time on my old teaching site.
If you sell products, then you will no doubt have thought about exactly what you should give away for free and what you should reserve for your paid product.
You will probably have thought, “If I give away too much, nobody will buy my course.” But you also know that you need to create valuable content specific to your niche to grow your business.
One thing to note is that people buy for convenience and structure. For example, I came across a really useful video on photography and decided to buy the book they offered straight away. I did this knowing that I could have found most of the information on their YouTube channel for free. The book was laid out in a logical way, gave me exactly what I wanted to know, and saved me a lot of time.
This also shows how important it is to create valuable content: I bought the book because I was really impressed with the initial video.
Additionally, the course/product you offer can include support and feedback just for those who sign up. There is so much that you can add to a product than what you can include in an article on your blog.
Finding the balance between free and paid can be difficult, but don’t be scared of putting out free content that will help those in your niche. In my experience, the more you give, the more you receive.
Two Types of Learners and Finding Your Balance
There are two types of learners: those who will potentially buy your lessons/courses and those who won’t. And as I talked about earlier, you can filter learners in various ways so that you are spending your time more efficiently.
However, there is a lot to be gained from helping learners who will never buy anything from you.
Giving away free content and responding to emails from those who can’t afford what you offer just seems like the right thing to do.
And when you do this, those who you help are more likely to share your stuff which, in turn, helps build your brand.
Providing free content and interacting with your learners is vital if you want to build your brand. How much free stuff you put out there depends on you and what you’re trying to build.
My own take on this, as I have talked about before, is to give as much as you can. This not only helps you sell more of what you have to offer, but it also helps you learn more about those who are in your niche. However, I do this on my own terms and think about ways that I can scale the free content and advice that I put out there.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so please leave any comments you have below.