Give It Away: Why You Should Ditch Everything You Know About Building Your Business
I recently had a great conversation with a colleague about business models and the music life. He’s old school, and he has a firm policy of not giving away anything he does for free. It’s not that he’s not generous. He just doesn’t believe giving away stuff is a good business model.
If I’d never had my mind polluted by the 21st century marketing guru Seth Godin, I’d probably agree with him. Old business thinking is simple: I put in hard work to make my stuff, nobody’s going to rip me off by stealing my time and effort. If I don’t sell product to people immediately, I’ll never make any money.
In 2009, I started a company called www.greatstringsnow.com following the old business model. The idea was simple: anyone could send me a track, and me and my friends would play real strings on the track, and send them back a finished product in less than 48 hours. We charged ridiculously low prices for it (about $75 per track) counting on bulk numbers to make the hourly wage go up, and spent several hundred dollars a week on online marketing to drive people to our website.
It failed. Miserably. We never got a single order, and we dropped a huge chunk of change on convincing people to come to our website, only to have them leave. I shut the site down in December of 2009, having sold zero tracks and lost around $900 through paid advertisement.
Flash forward to 2011. I’d just finished reading the revolutionary book “Tribes”, and I decided to start a blog. I started posting all kinds of things that I was interested in, including a bunch of patches I’d built in MainStage for myself to use during worship. My mindset was generosity: I wanted to share what I knew with others.
After three months of posting files, I noticed I was getting thousands of preset downloads each month. I decided to create a pack of MainStage presets that I built to help address what people were telling me they needed (by this point I was getting around 10 email every week from MainStage users). It sold slowly, then gradually increased. I kept on giving away several hundred presets for free, and a bunch of other cool MainStage stuff.
Over the next year, the free stuff boosted my page to the top of the Google search rankings for Mainstage patches (something I could have literally spent thousands of dollars to do if it had done it the old-school way). I now have over 10,000 visits each month from people all over the world looking for help with MainStage. I launched MainStage one-on-one online training last month (again, you all asked me about training so many times I finally did it), and the schedule is already filling up each week. For the 3rd month in a row, I’ve made enough money from MainStage stuff that I’ve been able to cover most of my mortgage payment.
I never expected this. My goal has always been to help people, to share, and to build a community of geeky musicians around the world.
The new business mindset is radical. It demands generosity. It values relationships more than temporary profit. Money is the byproduct, not the end goal. It lets the market decide what it values, not the creator/manufacturer.
If you run a business, I’d encourage you to start challenging your mindset about what you do. Here are a list of great books to get you started:
Unleashing The Idea Virus- Seth Godin (This is a free download, further backing up his idea)