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Is working for free ever ok? Here’s why freemium could be the carrot-on-a-stick your agency needs

Is it ever worth giving your services away for free? If Adobe has anything to say about it, the answer is yes. Coming off an announcement...

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3 min read

Is it ever worth giving your services away for free? If Adobe has anything to say about it, the answer is yes. Coming off an announcement that they’re bringing Photoshop to online browsers, the company has begun testing a freemium version in Canada.

Freemium pricing strategies are arguably what took web design tools like Canva to unicorn status, and your agency can use a similar strategy to grow sales, too.

Freemium is a business model many software and internet-based companies, including Wix, use to offer a free version of a product while encouraging users to upgrade to a paid version with advanced features. In Wix’s case, we offer free web hosting, storage, bandwidth and customer support, and even more benefits and features when you upgrade to one of our Premium plans.

Agencies typically sell one-off project work. So, while a full-on freemium model might not make sense for your agency, there are still some lessons you can apply to your business.

To be clear, we’re not talking about letting clients take advantage of you. In fact, we have a guide to charging what you're worth here. We're talking about a smart marketing strategy to get your foot in the door with prospective dream clients.

Here are some freemium inspired tips to try out in your agency:

Leverage the freelance formula

Popularized by Wix Partner Marshall Fox, the freelance formula is a framework you can use whether you’re just starting out or looking to pivot. Offer something small for free (or at a discounted rate) in exchange for a great review or testimonial, and then get three referrals from that person so you can make the same offer to someone else in their network. You can rinse and repeat this as often as you like, with the goal of turning these people into paid clients.

This is done strategically, of course; you shouldn’t offer free services to just anyone. Identify potential high-ticket clients, or people who seem like they’d have strong networks they can connect you with, and use this approach with them specifically. With time, you’ll build your brand within your customers’ community.

Jab jab jab, hook with your content

Similar to the freelancer formula, Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia, published a book called Jab, Jab, Jab Right Hook centered around the premise that marketing shouldn’t feel like marketing; it should be about insightful storytelling. Each jab in this context refers to content that resonates with your audience and offers tangible value (think; tips, insider info or in-depth knowledge), and the hook is what seals the deal and converts at the end.

Small freebies you provide to prospective clients compound their interest in your services. Offer things that are valuable to them that’s a relatively low lift for your agency to produce.

In a follow-up post on his blog called ‘The one thing I didn’t clarify enough in Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook,’ Vaynerchuk writes, “Putting out great content, sending baskets of fruit, whatever your jab is, it doesn’t entitle you to land the right hook. It just allows you to have the audacity to ask.”

Vaynerchuk is pointing to some essential truths of marketing:

  1. Don’t be annoying or intrusive. You’re not trying to shove your brand into the client’s face, so be subtle.

  2. Don’t be too demanding. Your clients shouldn't have to jump through hoops. Make each jab fun, informative and entertaining.

  3. Not every jab will result in a right hook. Don’t expect everyone to convert.

Add premium content

Another way to go freemium: use platforms like Mighty Networks to host courses, memberships and offers. Start a course teaching what you’ve learned as an agency to monetize your knowledge and build even more authority using a site like Kajabi, Teachable, Udemy or Skillshare to build out and publish professional courses.

While it might seem like a ton of work, creating a course is the gift that keeps on giving. Once completed, you have a product you can sell repeatedly without needing to recreate it.

Similarly, you can create premium content accessible through a monthly subscription or exclusive newsletter. While this is generally advised for agencies with larger audiences, it never hurts to segment a list of prospective clients with plans to monetize in the future.

The same works well in reverse too. If you already have paid content, you can add some free content to funnel your audience towards your premium. Atlassian, a software company that creates various developer and product management recently added freemium editions for the first time to several of its core products (such as Jira and Confluence) and saw triple the sign-ups as a result.

Once created, ensure your customers understand your premium offer by testing your messaging to make sure it’s super clear.

Go freemium to score more clients

Succeeding with freemium means you’ve given enough value up front to incentivize a sale. It means you’ve built up trust in your ability to deliver, and while that may take time to foster (and a few jabs), it could pay off in the long-run.


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