To grow your small business, work for free

smallbizfeb2Getting a small business off the ground can be one of the most daunting things in the world. As a small business owner, you’re expected to deliver top quality at a price the market will bear, all while trying to stay on top of branding your business, developing your products and services, generating leads and converting them, managing your employees and everything else a fully functional business is supposed to do.

Oh yeah, and you have to do it all on a shoestring budget while possibly acting as the sole point of contact for any employees and customers. Ouch.

This initial growth stage is generally where small businesses either sink or swim. As a small business owner, you need to develop a consistent customer base and generate revenues as soon as possible, so the rest of the business’s needs can be attended to.

Marketing is often one of the things that gets left by the wayside when an entrepreneur is building out a small business, whether due to a lack of budgeting or time. Fortunately, there is one tactic that, if done correctly, will save you time and money while getting your products and services in front of your target market.

“Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about giving away knickknacks here.”

If it’s free, it’s for me: Why working for free can be so powerful

We’ve all seen the freebies businesses give away as part of a promotional effort: Free key chains, pens, stickers and maybe even a t-shirt. This can be fun, but it’s using the “free” principle in a very low impact way.

By thinking a bit bigger and leveraging the idea of free the right way, you can create a powerful lead generation engine that will eventually sustain itself.

smallbizfeb3Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about giving away knickknacks here. No, what we’re getting at is that in the early stages of your small business’s growth, you should consider giving your products or services away for free.

It sounds crazy, but here are a few reasons why working for free in the beginning can pay huge dividends later.

In the early stages of a startup or small business, you’re just trying to reach a minimum viable product that you can iterate on later. If you allow your future customers to get a taste of what you already have, they’ll give you feedback that will be massively valuable when its time to put something out they’ll want to pay for.It gives you a testing ground for your offerings

Often, people are leery of changing their habits or routines to accommodate something new. This is especially true when there’s a high financial or time barrier to trying a new product or service. But as Linda Finkle explained in a recent LinkedIn article, it’s considerably easier to get potential customers to give you a chance if you remove those barriers.

Wow them enough, and they’ll pay the second time around

One of the biggest benefits of giving something away for free is that the expectations are controlled: No one is going to be hugely disappointed if a free product isn’t the best thing ever.

smallbizfeb1But what this does is get them to let their guard down, and that’s when you blow them away with what you have to offer. CrossFit, the massively popular fitness regimen, has this down to a T. Their classes are expensive, but newcomers are usually so thrilled with the two free workouts they get that they come back for more – with their wallets wide open.

You can reach the unreachable

If you’re in the B2B space, it can be hard to convince another business to give their precious dollars to an unproven entity. In fact, it can be hard to even get in the door to show what you have.

Just like in a B2C market, you can use a free trial to break down barriers and make trying your product more palatable to even a risk-averse enterprise. Finkle noted that one roundabout way to break the ice with a company you want to partner with is to find out what charities and nonprofits they’re involved with and offer your free services to those. This can be a stepping stone to working with businesses that once seemed impenetrable.

Have you tried using “free” in your own marketing? If not, how can you give your services away for free in a way that benefits you later?

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