Online course creators face a tough question: where do you draw the line between your free content and your paid content?
Anyone selling online courses or selling information products of any kind needs to answer this question. After all, content marketing is all about providing useful, valuable information for free...
But when are you giving away too much of your information for free? How can you do content marketing without cannibalizing content that goes into your premium information products?
Where to Place the “Free Line”
Eben Pagan, who built a large information product empire, coined the term "free line". The free line is basically the line that delineates you free content from your paid content.
No matter what business you are in and no matter what you are selling, you have a free line.
On one side of the free line is anything and everything your potential customers can do without paying money. That may be as simple as visiting your website and reading some information on it. Even a local business has a free line: you can enter a store and browse products for free. You can pick up a brochure for free. You can maybe try some free samples.
On the other side of the free line is anything that is behind a paywall. That includes any product you purchase, including information products such as online courses.
The Stingy Approach to the Free Line
One approach to setting your free line is to be relatively stingy with your content. In other words: you guard your valuable content and give away very little of it for free.
I'm sure you've had some negative experiences being on the customer side of such an approach. Maybe you clicked on an article with a promising title, only to find that it provides little to no useful information. Instead of delivering on the headline, the article simply pushes you to make a purchase.
To me, the worst offender in this category is the pitchfest webinar. The webinar is advertised to teach something valuable, but it ends up being nothing but a long-winded sales pitch.
But the stingy free line approach doesn't have to be all bad. A more positive way to do it is to use the "hot tip" method. That is when you give away something that is small, but valuable. For example, you could offer a cheat sheet with many valuable headline formulas. This can be a highly valuable offer, but it wouldn't cannibalize an entire copywriting course or a copywriting service.
The Generous Approach to the Free Line
Even if you follow the "hot tip" approach described above, you might still face a problem: a hot tip makes for a good opt-in offer, but it's not going to generate traffic and build your audience.
Unless you're paying for traffic, click by click, you need to create more content. This is where content marketing comes in. The idea with content marketing is to push back the free line. To offer more information, more value for free. On the extreme end of this we have ultimate guides and skyscraper content. These are massive content pieces, making large amounts of information available for free.
Being generous with your free content can have several benefits for your business:
- It builds trust: ideally, your free content can provide your readers with real value and real "wins". Anyone who's gotten real, tangible value from you already will be much more willing to further engage with your business and become a customer or client.
- It drives traffic: highly valuable content is shareable, attracts backlinks and is more likely to be listed at the top of relevant Google searches than thin, simple, low-value content.
- It builds an audience: this is different from just driving traffic. Highly valuable content encourages people to subscribe to your mailing list, to comment on your blog posts and to truly engage and interact with you. This is a hugely valuable asset for any business.
Okay, so creating generous free content has all these benefits, BUT...
...if you create such content, will you have any information left to place beyond the free line? Or will you have given away everything you wanted to include in your online course?
Here's the good news: there is a solution to this problem. And I really mean a complete, reliable solution. The distinction between your free content and your paid content need not be fuzzy or uncertain at all. And you can have great, highly valuable online courses and information products AND be generous with the placement of your free line, at the same time.
Watch this video to see how:
Exercise: How to Implement this Strategy
After watching the video, take a moment to think about your own business and answer these questions:
- In your market what's an example of a neat "package" of information that would make a good blog post or video that you use for content marketing?
- What's an example of a complete system, step-by-step guide or "integrated" information that would make a good information product?
- What's an example of something more involved where people seek hands-on help, one on one coaching and similar things that could make a good high-priced offer?
If you struggle to answer any of these questions or if you don't know how to apply this kind of thinking to your market, leave a comment below and I'll help you out.