Did you know that businesses like Apple and Google are built on free software?

Apple’s operating system OSX is built on Unix – created by telecoms giant AT&T who were prevented from selling the software due to anti-monopoly laws.

Google uses a custom version of Linux – essentially an open source clone of Unix. Unix is often used as the operating system of internet web servers. I could go on and on with lots of super geeky examples of open source software that makes the internet a better place, most of which you wouldn’t have heard about unless you were a bit of an internet nerd.

How about some examples of businesses that you have heard of that have used free software as an essential part of their business model?

Software businesses

Software businesses have long-since adopted what has become known as a freemium business model. This means that they give away software in order to gain users. Why? Because the more people using your software the better. Just ask Bill Gates!

Skype

Skype is a free internet phone and video service with 74 million users (so I’m guessing you’ve heard of them).

If you haven’t: You can download the Skype software for free and make video and voice calls for free to other people who also have Skype installed anywhere in the world. Wow!

Out of their 74 million users only 8.1 million are monthly paying customers. That means that only 9% pay for Skype. Microsoft bought Skype back in 2011 for a whacking $8.5 billion – 4 times what Skype was worth at the time.

Dropbox

Dropbox started back in 2007 and is a cloud storage service. Their software enables users to store and access their files from any device that has their software installed. Their free account only allows 2GB of storage (not much), so Dropbox rather cleverly offered their members free space in exchange for new customer referrals who signed up to their service. This was a great viral marketing strategy to grow their customer base. They now have over 400 million users with around 150,000 paying customers.

But why should I give away my content?

That’s all fine and good for software companies, but what if you run a consultancy or service business? It can seem counter intuitive to give away valuable content, especially if what you sell is your expert knowledge in a specific field. Wouldn’t giving away knowledge undermine your business and help your competition? All great questions!

Demonstrate your knowledge with confidence

There’s nothing like generosity as an expression of confidence. Giving away some high value and insightful tool or resource builds loyalty with your audience and strikes fear in the heart of your competitors… Who knows, they may even go one better than you and give away something even more valuable that you can then download and share with your customers.

Sharing is good karma

If people find your content useful and it’s freely available, they’re more likely to share this via email and social media across their own networks.

What do you want in return?

Very simply: Email list building. We’re giving away useful content in exchange for an email address and permission to send that person useful and relevant emails. We do this because, as a digital business, part of your content strategy is to build a loyal audience who you can engage with, learn from and occasionally convert into paying customers.

Remember that digital marketing is not a replacement for business development! In a service business you should always aim to build relationships in person or via video.

What do we give away?

Here at Wildheart Media we give away a lot. One example is our free website content audit worksheet for anyone planning a website redesign. This is not some nicely designed checklist with fancy graphics (although we do love fancy graphics!) Our website content audit worksheet is a detailed and thorough colour coded spreadsheet that we use with our own clients when we get them set up with our content marketing packages. We’re currently on version 4 of this spreadsheet and we keep refining it.

Why are we giving something so valuable away? Very simply we want businesses to succeed, not just our customers. Redesigning a website is a lot of work and the more a client understands this process the better the results will be. We’re also not a web design agency, we’re a content marketing agency. So this doesn’t feel like a conflict of interest to us.

How can you get started?

Read our blog post on how to use lead magnets on your WordPress website – it’s a great primer on the topic.