Why I’m Consulting for Free

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A few weeks ago, I started up an online group where people can share their landing pages and get critiques from the inbound community.

I’ve spent hours promoting the group and engaging with every single person who posts. As I write this, we’re at 220+ people.

Not bad.

I respond to every request for a critique with some specific feedback, sharing insights and recommending improvements that will translate into tangible returns for the businesses I’m helping.

And I’ve been doing it for free.

sharks

I don’t give away the farm, mind you – but I’m sharing enough to make it worthwhile to tune in.

This is time and energy I could be directing into my paid projects, and if you’ve followed me at all, you know I’ve typically cringed at any suggestion/request to work for free.

What might make even less sense is that businesses are willing to pay good money for a landing page audit.

I know, because I’ve charged for them. And like the Joker says,

Good-at-something-The-Joker-Dark-Knight

To make sense of this, I’m going to take a risk here and tear a page right out of my playbook.

Let’s start with the fact that I’ve been looking toward the kind of business I want to build and evaluating how well I’m doing on getting myself there.

I narrowed down my areas of focus to just three things I want Business Casual Copywriting (and myself, personally) to be known for:

  1. CRO copywriting (Landing pages, website copy, email marketing)
  2. The business of freelancing (Teaching freelancers business skills)
  3. Humor (Ha! Ha!)

That’s it, that’s all. Not blogging, not SEO, not terrible hairlines – just those three things.

As I defined these areas of focus, I realized I was missing two key elements for success:

  • Community: While I have a substantial network, it’s not focused around CRO. My reputation has been established as someone who writes blogs/articles and I’ve been getting better known for my abilities in website copy (more projects on that side, which is encouraging). I also don’t have the ear of freelancers just yet; I’m not publishing much work specific to them or going where they hang out. I do Skype calls to help mentor a few, but right now this is all behind the scenes stuff.
  • Credibility: Though my work is strong and I’m proud of my portfolio, I don’t have the case studies to prove myself with CRO to the big fish clients. And while I exceeded my first-year financial goals, I haven’t championed that or built up enough influence with other freelancers to get people to care about my story.

I needed a way to start building both credibility and community.

That’s when I had an idea: Inbound.org had struggled to get their “Groups” functionality going – groups were clunky, poorly advertised and altogether not that useful.

But Inbound.org has a HUGE community of marketers and businesses who read, and they’ve got a vested interest in making “Groups” work and they’re willing and able to improve the experience.

There’s so much potential there, and I had the rare chance to be a first mover on a platform with substantial reach and a dedicated team.

So here’s why I’m basically consulting free of charge:

By starting this group and offering a bit of insight for free, I am…

  • Earning implied authority
    If you’re the guy who owns the CRO-focused group, people assume you know what you’re talking about (until you prove them wrong). I can control the conversation, and have the benefit and responsibility of steering the conversation to productive places.
  • Cultivating a community
    I’ve got 220+ people in a group with at least a passing interest/stated need in the type of work I want to do most.
  • Proving my competence
    By focusing on being genuinely helpful, I’ve given myself a platform to show people my process and that I know what I’m talking about.
  • Attracting (awesome!) partners
    I’ve already approached a few different businesses I know would be interested in a forum full of people running landing page tests and looking to improve conversion rates. I have more sway as a group than I do as an individual right now.
  • Learning a great deal
    Smart people like Rich Page are sharing their insights in The Pit, and I’m learning from them as they pick up things I might’ve missed, or even as I disagree with their assessments.
  • Building goodwill
    I’m not being disingenuous – even if I have something to gain, my entire focus has been on being helpful, and I do believe that kind of sentiment can only bring good things.
  • Creating a market
    It’s no big secret – one day I want to sell guides and eBooks about CRO, maybe even a beginner’s class or two. Both those participating in the community and the lurkers are the people who might one day buy from me.

And it keeps getting better.

Because I was one of the first and most passionate about “Groups”, some of Inbound.org’s developers gave me their emails and now respond lightning-fast to requests for features or fixes. They’ve even gone out of their way to promote the group on their owned media channels.

That’s a benefit I didn’t even see coming; I’m helping to shape and refine the functionality of groups in my own, small way.

Could it all blow up in my face?

Maybe. Possibly. Some days I’m certain it will.

There’s a chance that people won’t ever want to pay for a more comprehensive audit if they’ve seen that I’ll hand out some basics for free.

There’s a (very unlikely) chance that Inbound.org could go belly-up and my group would disappear.

And yes, there’s a very real cost to the time I put into trying to grow this community, and if it never pays off monetarily, it will perhaps be regarded by some as a wasted effort.

But I think it’s impossible to lose here.

I think it’s impossible to invest time in being helpful and useful; to devote yourself to trying to build a community, and come out completely empty handed.

I refuse to believe that’s what will happen. Who knows what one good connection or one thorough bit of feedback might bring?

So for now, I’ll keep putting my time and attention into The Pit, and I’ll watch excitedly as it grows.

Is it the best way to go about this? I don’t know.

Is it a perfect strategy? I doubt it.

If nothing else, it’s made for a wonderful experiment.

(Interested in conversion rate optimization/landing pages? Consider joining us in The Pit: Landing Page Critiques!)

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Photo Credit: davewhittle1 via Compfight cc

14 thoughts on “Why I’m Consulting for Free

    • I too do alot of free consulting but I do it because I love SEO and Digital Marketing as a whole. I began as a freelance computer programmer before the internet / world wide web. I found a passion in knowing how to make the early ROM, RAM, Pokes, Peeks, Astreks, and char$ work and quickly picked up on binary, ASCII, Basic, Pascal, Fortran, Cobol, and RPG. The early bulletin boards had many disadvantages but as we began to transitioned to java and hypertext, and using html everything became easier and easier. We unConscientiously or possibly Conscientiously want to share what we know and in some form feeds our personal immediate gratification and our payoff is the feelings of need or want OR to show off our intellectual superiority. It all depends on how deep you want to explore the child within.

      • Joel

        I like those last two lines, Dr. Robert :)
        Thanks for sharing your story. I agree – there’s something… cathartic.. about sharing what you know.

  1. Joel –

    We run in so many of the same circles that I know you probably see my praise for you and your work often, however, I just want to take a moment to reiterate, just cause.

    The advice and direction that I’ve personally witnessed (and occasionally contributed to) in The Pit are excellent. The businessman in me see’s tons of pathways to dollar signs here but more than anything your genuine willingness to help al those who ask has been commendable.

    Please keep up the great work and thank you again for putting so much time and effort into the cause.

    • Joel

      Nick – Thank you. You’ve gone to bat for me a whole bunch, and I appreciate that so much. I see a lot of potential in what I’m building here, and I do think that it’ll all lead to some very exciting things. Some days you wonder if people are even reading what you’re doing in there, but it’s encouraging to read things like this – so no matter how many times you do it, it helps every single one :)

  2. I was just reading over your very thorough evaluations in the group a few days ago and thought to myself “I want to hire this guy”. I plan to reach out to you soon for some on-boarding stuff and email drip consultation.

    • Joel

      Hah! That’s awesome! It’s been pretty neat to see, actually – since writing this, a few folks have voiced similar sentiments. That’s really, really encouraging to me. Contact me any time!

  3. I started an online TV company in 2012. Even before and since then I’ve shared valuable information for free. I was a technology company before. What I started a media company was for the “Tea Industry.” Tea industry was spouting too much bad, unreliable and false information. Something I could not take any more I thought I had to do something before these people kill the Tea Market. I’ll tell you monetizing is a challenge. But hopefully a better product with steady income stream will be the ultimate prize.
    Good Luck to you!

    • Joel

      Thank you, Madusha! Monetizing, I have some ideas – but first, my focus must be on building a community through being genuinely helpful. When that’s gone on for some time and I feel things are more established, then I think I’ll have the leverage to make some money. But until then, I’ll just keep being helpful!

  4. Keep giving and helping as many people as you can without expectation of anything in return. You’re right – it will position you as not only a leader in this space, but a generous leader. It’s a long term play, but if you do it right and authentically, it will pay off.

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