Why you give away content that helps people
When I was 25, I told my mother I’d gotten a terrific job offer from a company in Florida — across the country — to come and do interactive development. This was the early 1990’s, before the web really took off, when the dot com boom was still in everyone’s future. Instead, we were doing “laptop sales presentations”.
“But what if they get you down there and pick your brain, then fire you?”
“Mom,” I said, “why would they do that? They’re still going to pay somebody to do it. It might as well be me.”
I remember that story every time somebody asks me why I would want to give away content that helps people do what I normally get paid for. After all, if I tell them how to do it, won’t they just do it themselves?
Some of them will, sure. Maybe even quite a few. But here’s the secret: I haven’t lost a client, because those people were never going to pay me in the first place. The people who read what I have to offer then go off and do it themselves were always going to go off and do it themselves; I’ve just helped them do it better.
And I’m OK with that. Here’s why.
If someone goes off and does what I’m offering well, they’re going to be successful. If they’re successful, they’re going to need more work done. Eventually, if they’re successful enough, they’re going to need to hire someone.
And who do you suppose they’re going to think of?
The person or company who made them successful, of course. Who wouldn’t want more of that?
The same thing applies when you’re talking about products. Giving away content that helps people use those products is a no-brainer. For example, let’s say that people need to be able to set up a home network in order to use your new networked thermostat. Every person you teach how to set up a home network is a person who wasn’t a potential customer before, but is now.
That’s not the only reason to give away content, however. You’ve got other good reasons, including:
- To create awareness: Your potential customers may not know that the problem you’re solving even exists, much less that you can solve it for them.
- To establish authority: You want to show that you really know what you’re talking about, and that people can look to you for answers.
- To guide customer decision-making: You want to make sure that they understand the problem well enough to make an informed decision, and to see that you’re the right choice to solve it for them.
Ultimately, you want to be the customer’s guide during the “buyer’s journey”, and content is how you do that.
Of course, giving away information seems less obvious when it’s information that you’re trying to sell. After all, if you give it away, why would anyone pay you?
In some ways, giving away information is even more crucial in this case, because what you’re selling isn’t tangible; you have to work harder to convince your audience both that value exists, and that you’re capable of giving it to them. You do that by providing value ahead of time, then when the customer is ready, you’ve shown them the way.
And then there’s the practical matter of the fact that customers don’t just show up and buy from you. Wouldn’t it be great if they did! No, instead, nurturing a customer can be, depending on your particular sales cycle, a long process, and getting them in the door with a piece of well-crafted content is a start.