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A Counterintuitive Guide to Pricing Your Best Work

When you’re trying to make a living from your creative work, figuring out how to price your products or services is a hard decision. When I created The Guerrilla Influence Formula, AR’s flagship product, I struggled with the question for a long time. I had a hard time deciding what it was worth and what you would want to pay for it. In the end, I settled on a number and things turned out fine.

When in doubt, just pick something I say.

What I think is most important is deciding how to price your very best work—the stuff you’re the proudest of. That’s an even harder decision, but it doesn’t have to be:

Give it away for free.

I try to maintain a strict policy of giving away my very best work. This could be in the form of an e-book, a consultation, or anything else, but the idea is always the same—if I think it has the best shot to be helpful to a wide array of people, it’s going to be free.

I don’t think money is bad. In fact, I’m of the strong opinion that it’s very good, and my life policy is “the more the merrier,” but I don’t think it’s the most important factor to consider if you’re trying to make the biggest impact possible with your work.

Also, it might sound funny, but I think that freely giving away your best work likely leads to more money and a better business in the long run. Plenty of gurus disagree with that, but it’s been my experience so far.

Free as a Goodwill Builder

When you give away your very best work, you build a tremendous amount of rapport with the people that use it. That relationship is worth more in the long run than any single sale ever will be.

More important than that, though, is the fact that I like knowing that the best work I’m capable of is out there helping as many people as possible without barriers. I like knowing that something I created potentially changed someone’s perception of the world and helped them take a big step in their life. That’s rewarding

The reciprocation that comes when you give your very best work away for free is also amazing. Since releasing Take This Job and Shove It, it’s been downloaded thousands of times and I’ve seen people share it all over the web, recommend Riskology.co to their friends, and even write in to offer something in return.

That simply feels good—better than money has ever made me feel. Don’t underestimate the feeling of being liked. Professionals that think you should charge for everything argue this to no end, but I’ll never concede. I’d rather have people’s goodwill than their money.

Of course, you don’t have to choose; you can have both, and giving away your very best work is a good way to get there.

Free as a Lead Generation Tool

This is the classic freemium model where you give away a piece of your product or service with the hope that many will take advantage of it, and a percentage of those people will realize they need the “full-version” and upgrade.

The major difference, of course, is that rather than give away a tiny piece of your best work and hope that people sign up and pay, you give away all of the best, most useful stuff. If someone needs all the special bells and whistles, they can pay for that, but they get all the best, most widely useful stuff for free.

The rule I try to follow:

  • General and insanely useful = Free
  • Specific and insanely useful = Paid

The very best pieces of your work that apply to a general audience should be free and if someone wants it in a format that fits their unique situation, there’s a good opportunity to ask for a sale.

Don’t fret about giving away so much for free. That’s a silly problem, and I think too many people worry about it. Instead, worry about how you can give even more of your very best work away for free. When you do that, you find hordes of people paying when you ask them to even if they can’t personally use what you’re selling; they’re so happy with what you’ve given them already, they want to support you however they can.

Free as a Legacy Builder

You don’t have to give away your life’s greatest work to create a strong legacy, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt, and history always looks fondly on those that gave to their world without asking for something in return.

This is the strongest motivator for free for me. I spent most of my life believing that, to be successful, I needed to closely guard my creations and never give something up without getting something of equal or better value in return.

Now I see the folly of that thinking and I look for every opportunity I can find to be more generous, to give more freely. That’s why Riskology.co is uncopyrighted. That’s why at least 90% of everything I create has no price tag.

If I want the people in my world to give me a strong place in their history, I have to give them a compelling reason to do so, and giving away my greatest work is the best way I know how to do that.

I don’t buy the marketing hype that says you have to put a price tag on something for people to value it. I believe that good work makes its own value statement whether it’s in a limited or infinite quanity.

Look at Google or Wikipedia. 99% of the people who use their services do so without ever paying a dime, but I’ve never met anyone that finds what they offer to be anything less than remarkable and world changing. And, of course, Google is insanely profitable and Wikipedia raises enormous amounts of money every year that allow it to remain free.

The Delayed Gratification Model

What’s missing from this whole equation is a clear profit model, right? How do you keep producing your best work if you’re always giving it away for free?

The answer is, don’t give everything away for free, just your best work. This creates a totally counterintuitive value system, but it still works, and, in my experience so far, works very well. You treat people right and give them the best you’re capable of, and then charge for something that’s more specific to their own situation.

  • General and insanely useful = Free
  • Specific and insanely useful = Paid

In this way, you help as many people as possible for free, and those that want to go further pay for a more specific solution.

Working like this is a model of delayed gratification, and it takes some getting used to. You have to get over the idea that you’re owed compensation every single time someone gets something valuable from you. Need some convincing? See this article in the New Yorker about a 40 year study that showed children who learned delayed gratification were considerably more successful in life.

Setting up a paywall between your best work and the people who need it will guarantee you’re fairly compensated, but I’m not convinced it will do much to build goodwill or cement your legacy.

This mindset is easier to accept if you perceive compensation as more than just money. In my case, it’s nice emails and influence. When I give away my best work for free, people notice and spread the word about Riskology.co. Then, they start to pay more attention to what I have to say.

You can choose to look at compensation however you like, and I hope you do because money is only one of many forms. If it’s the sole factor in your decision making, you might miss a lot of opportunities to positively affect the world.

So what about your best work? What’s the price tag?

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Image by: Clan UiBriain