Often “would-be” Internet Marketers start out trying to make money online free.
After all, they’re short of money, so it makes sense that they don’t have spare cash to spend on starting a business. Taking advantage of this, the seedier Internet marketing gurus foster the impression that it’s easy and free to make money online because you don’t have the traditional expenses of an offline business: premises, stock and staff. They suck desperate and cash-strapped folk in with lies and promises of wealth round the corner saying you can do it all “free”.
It's tempting to fall for it, and I tried very hard to do it all free. In the “old days” of Internet Marketing it probably was possible – with hard work. But nowadays there are so many different aspects to online marketing that it’s virtually impossible.
No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
You’ll probably have heard that expression without knowing the origin of the saying, although the sentiment is obvious. According to Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_is_no_such_thing_as_a_free_lunch
The “free lunch” refers to the once-common tradition of saloons in the United States providing a “free” lunch to patrons who had purchased at least one drink. Many foods on offer were high in salt (e.g. ham, cheese, and salted crackers), so those who ate them ended up buying a lot of beer.
It’s a marketing ploy!
Another way to look at “free lunch” according to https://tifwe.org/no-free-lunch-why-understanding-opportunity-cost-matters/ is to consider opportunity cost – you’re swapping one thing for another. To apply it to the literal meaning of the “free lunch”, instead of paying cash for a lunch, you have invested your time and probably created some kind of indebtedness to the “generous” donor.
It pays to remember that very little in life is genuinely free. It’s either paid for by time or money – and by lost profits.
While you are struggling to make “free” work, you may be missing out on profits you could be making if you had paid for professional help earlier.
Yet that word “free” is so tempting to wannabe Internet Entrepreneurs. Putting it into my keyword research tool (which wasn’t free) set it churning out thousands upon thousands of phrases that included the word “free”. Here’s a tiny selection:
- How to make money as a stay at home mom free
- How can I earn money from home for free?
- Top 10 money from home free tips
- How to make money from home free
- Free website
- Free autoresponder
- Free traffic
- The list goes on and on….
So that’s what people are asking about. But does it make sense?
Why Is The Internet Different To Real Life?
Suppose you were starting an offline business. Would you imagine you could run it from a rent-free shop, with robots working for you for free instead of staff who want paying. Could you pack your shop with customers spending their hard-earned cash on products you had acquired “free”?
That sounds like “pie in the sky” rather than a foundation for generating legitimate and repeatable profits. Do you agree?
So why would you suspend your common-sense and imagine that online you can start a business for free that will generate huge profits within days?
Surely “they” wouldn’t lie to you, those flashy actors posing in front of hired cars, being nice to their Mums and wanting to “give back to the community”? Perish the thought!
How Can A Quality Resource Be Free?
You CAN find plenty of free resources – even good quality ones. But you need to understand exactly why they are free. The starting point is to ask yourself: “Is the supplier a charity or is it a business?” If it’s NOT a charity, they need to make money, and how can they make money giving away something it cost them money to produce?
Actually, there are several ways. Here are a few ways you may pay for freebies:
- You are steered eventually to their paid product, but hey – you got a free trial to make up your mind. Fair enough.
- A free offer will usually be in return for your email address, so that the supplier can email sales pitches to you and sell you their paid product(s).
- Freebie suppliers display their adverts on the free website / eBook they gave you– taking your hard won visitors away to their offers. For instance, when you watch free videos on Youtube, someone’s advert may be shown.
Here are some particular examples of “free” or “cheap” resources, for you to consider whether the price of free is worth paying, OR whether you will get better features as an upgraded member:
Free Link Tracker
“I must do more of that. I wonder which traffic platform (or campaign within the platform) the sale came from?”
If you are anything like me I had so many campaigns running over so many different platforms that I had no idea where sales were coming from. Not very efficient 🙁 You need to repeat successful campaigns and dump the ones that aren't converting.
Then I found this free link tracker So Many Hits (affiliate link) and was amazed by the features offered in the free platform, including earning commission if anyone joins and upgrades to paid membership on your link. Naturally there are extra features available to paid members, but even without the upgrade, it's a fully functional free link tracker.
They are so confident of their tracking that they'll give a $50 bonus to anyone who can identify and prove a tracking error.
Click here to learn more about how link tracking works.
Before the Internet, a free gift would usually be something tangible, with a real cost. However the advent of the Internet has enabled a mass of “free” offers – because it’s so easy to create an eBook and give it away free – even on high traffic sites such as Amazon that will easily out-rank your offerings.
Usually a free gift online is a lead magnet to draw you into a marketer’s sales funnel and you are trading your email address for the freebie, and from then on you
- Have probably given them permission to “market” their future offers to you. This may be done professionally, or deteriorate into email blasts that are little better than permission-based spam, at which point you’ll be relieved to unsubscribe (and just hope they haven’t sold your email address to their other contacts).
- Maybe you feel a little sense of obligation to the provider of the free gift if it was useful?
It’s not just online that this happens. I recently accepted the offer of a free taster session of their therapy from a complementary health practitioner. I didn't find any benefit from the session, and wonder if that was something to do with sales pitch fired at me on the relaxation couch.
You can pick up free courses on Internet Marketing – but as someone in need of learning, are you capable of assessing the quality of the course you find? I just asked Google to find “free WordPress training course” and it came back with 126,000,000 options! Do I trust the one at the top who has a paid advert, or do I have to try to find the best from the rest?
Drawing on my own poor choices when I started out online: I decided to try and teach myself WordPress, free. I wasted a lot of time redesigning sites each time I learned something new. My time would have been far better spent taking a paid course from someone in the industry with a proven track record, and learning everything from the same source, with support to ask for help. But providing a quality service costs money – why would they do it free?
Free Traffic From Traffic Exchanges
You quickly realise that to make sales online you need “Traffic” – eyes on your site.
Often Traffic Exchanges are the first introduction to Internet Marketing for aspiring online entrepreneurs.
The model is that people sit viewing ads they don’t want to look at so you can display your ads – which they don’t want to see. There may be a tiny conversion rate from complete newbies viewing the ads, but anyone who has spent more than a week working the traffic exchanges will have seen the same ads thousands of times, have no intention of buying anything and only be at the exchanges to tempt newcomers to buy their product.
So you are wasting your time to be able to show ads to people who have NO interest in them, instead of paying for adverts in places where there’s an interested audience. And wasted time can never be regained.
Free Traffic On Facebook
Some will say that Facebook (etc) gives you free traffic and a free website (aka business page or group). Well I have just (June 2019) watched a very interesting webinar explaining that anyone relying on organic Facebook and Instagram traffic is in for yet another shock as the Facebook (and Instagram) algorithms are “tweaked” yet again to reduce organic reach.
Paid Facebook Ads are the way to beat this – no surprise there.
Do you blame them? Well I don't. Mark Zuckerberg & co worked damned hard to build a vast site and now they want to earn from it in the form of advertising revenue. If you had billions of folk visiting your platform daily, I bet you'd want to earn some ad revenue to reimburse you. And if you (and I!) are fool enough to create content for him, well….. no-one is forcing you to be on there.
Free websites will probably contain someone else’s offers, which will be strategically placed by those more skilled than you, to take advantage of your traffic.
In fact I once BOUGHT a ready-made website and found that the supplier had left his own adverts hidden deep within, hoping I was too innocent to realise what he'd done.
The other side of the free website issue is, how much will you value it? I once created a site for a friend who needed one for her offline business. It took me hours, but because she hadn’t made any investment in it she placed no value on it – despite the fact that it was a prime source of her customers. So when it got hacked (because at the time I was using “cheap hosting” – another false economy) – she casually said “Oh dear, we’ll have to make another one”. Of course the “we” was supposed to be “me”. I tried to explain that I couldn’t keep working for free, and perhaps she’d like to buy better hosting, or paid for security protection – anything to prevent the same happening again! But the thought of paying real money wasn’t on her radar.
I caved in and produced a quickie website so that we stayed friends, but it was a real lesson to me that something you do for someone for “free” will have very little value to them. If she had paid good money for it, I’m sure she would have valued it more.
A Free Facebook Page / Group?
Yes, it's almost essential for your business to be on Facebook and Instagram to establish credibility; but don't make the mistake of confusing it with your OWN website, on hosting that you PAY for.
I worked hard to create my online Facebook business page and gather followers. I even spent money on Facebook ads to get followers.
Then one day they just took my page down and I lost the lot. I have NO idea what offence I had committed, or how to rectify it. No help from support to tell me what I had done wrong. They just pointed me to their Community Standards page, none of which I felt I had breached.
Jury, Judge and Executioner.
My love affair with free traffic from Facebook fell apart at that stage.
The goal, as far as I'm concerned, is to get people off Facebook and onto my own mailing list.
Free / Cheap Hosting
When I first started creating blogs I stupidly succumbed to a very cheap hosting platform. It soon became obvious that my site was always “going down” and terribly slow to load so visitors quickly lost interest and left.
Then I realised that the hosting was cheap because it was shared with other site owners. One of the sites I shared with got hacked over and over again, the contagion spread to my blog and I had to spend ages trying to fix it. Finally it was damaged beyond repair. I asked the hosting company to revert to a backup only to discover that backup was one of the services advertised but not actually performed by this particular budget hosting company. Their last backup had been 6 months ago.
I lost my whole blog that had taken hours, nay weeks, to create.
Chastened, I soon changed to Managed WordPress hosting with a company that provides a reliable service and great support when I need it, in return for a realistic price that lets them afford to provide a good service.
Of course there is another way to get free hosting, and that’s with free blogs such as WordPress.com, Blogger.com and others not so well known.
Although these are reputable operations and some people have built huge businesses using them, be aware that you must play by their rules (research them first). Because if they don’t like what you’re doing you may find your site has disappeared, like my Facebook page!
You’ll often find free trials of auto-responders (software that sends emails to a list of your contacts who have agreed to be contacted. A proportion of the emails sent will be selling something to the “list” you have built).
A free trial is the best way to find out if a software product is good, so long as you understand why it’s free and what might be the “cost” of the free version.
Remember – why would anyone produce totally free software? How will they profit from their development efforts?
- They will normally want to give you a free trial, and then sell you their paid software. Before spending too long working with the free version, be sure you can afford the paid version when you need it in the future.
- Perhaps you will have use of a restricted version of software that shows their adverts more prominently than yours, or promotes their software to others who see you using it.
- It might be missing a vital function that’s only available in the paid version.
- Free autoresponders have a special peril – if you have built up a huge list on a free service, switching providers (if the first one becomes too expensive) is a hassle, and carries the risk of losing your subscribers if they have to opt-in again.
So while it’s great to have a free trial of software to evaluate, never forget that the ultimate aim is to convert you to a paid customer.
After all, if the software developer isn’t making money from the software, who will pay for further development and support – not to mention their hosting and staff costs?
However – I'm going into ONE free autoresponder trial with my eyes wide open, and so far it's looking good. MailerLite is free until I reach 1000 subscribers at which point the monthly cost is much lower than some of its main competitors.
If I don't find any glitches as my trial continues, it's a price I will happily pay.
What Value Do You Place On Your Business Image?
When you try to do everything on the cheap – free website, free email, free hosting, etc, what does that convey to a potential customer about the worth of your business?
To me it screams: “This business isn’t making enough money to pay for the basics”.
This could mean either that their product is rubbish or that they won’t be about for long because they have made no real commitment to their business and may just be a “fly-by-night” con-merchant.
Perhaps this won’t matter to me, depending on how much I am paying for their product and what I expect from them in the future. But it’s a question you should ask yourself when buying or selling online, because YOUR customers will be evaluating your site in the same way.
Is Everything That’s Free Bad?
Not at all! Here are some of the most useful tools that I use:
- Free Google calendar https://calendar.google.com and many of Google’s other free offerings sit on my browser day after day, permanently open
- I make frequent use of “free” image sites such as Pixabay.com, Pexels.com, unsplash.com and their content is superb. But be aware of the excellent and prominently displayed “paid for” images, some people buy them when they see them.
- Free (open source) versions of Ubuntu, Excel, Office etc, although my personal experience of one of these was so appalling that I was soon begging to part with my money for the “real thing”
- Flexclip Video Maker that I wrote about last week is a free tool
- MailerLite (affiliate link) – an autoresponder I'm currently evaluating. It starts off free until you “grow”.
- Most of us use Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest free
Also bear in mind, that unlike the hapless blogger churning out articles day after day, the social media users are generating free content for their site owners! So any content you place on social media sites (as with the free websites) must conform to the rules of the site owner, or you risk having your page shut down and losing the lot like I did. Sigh.
From recent news “scandals” the general public is becoming more aware that on many social media sites “free” use is in return for your very detailed and personal information to be used to target you with personalised adverts, so enjoy these free sites in the knowledge that that's how they pay their way.
I don't think it's a scandal, I think it's good business.
Still Think You Can Make Money Online Free?
I hope I have made you stop and think about ”falling for” the word free. Don’t feel bad – when I started out I made most of these mistakes purely out of ignorance. Then I remembered that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”.
It something is free, the owner of that resource probably wants something in return.
Yes, this blog is a free resource, but my ultimate aim is to impress you with my offerings such that you buy something I recommend.
That's why Facebook is in business, and if they're honest, that's why most bloggers are blogging!
So How Can You Start A Business If You Have No Money?
Sadly knowing that free carries its own costs and risks doesn’t help if you are genuinely down to your last dollar or two, and desperate. What can you do instead?
My recommendation is to step back a little and look at ways to accumulate some “seed capital” to invest in your own business.
- Look round the house for items to sell on eBay
- Take a part-time job
- Can you cut down on take-aways or alcohol, and surely you can’t afford to smoke?
- Cut out your paid TV subscription and generate extra time by doing so
- If you have spare time, do you know anyone who would pay you to do odd jobs such as lawn mowing or car cleaning?
- If you can only work from home, online, look at some of the genuine ways to get paid without up-front costs. You can find some here: https://kingged.com/make-money-on-weekends/
Then when you have generated, say, an extra couple of hundred dollars a month using the methods above, you’re in a much stronger position to use that money to get help to run a genuine online business.
Don’t risk the future of your online business by trying to rely completely on free resources.