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Give Things Away to Make Money?

By - May 18, 2013

Can you give things away and make money from doing so? It is done all the time. Below you'll read about a company that gives tables to restaurants for free. But there are many other methods to use giveaways to generate profits. Several of them have been covered in the Unusual Ways Newsletter over the years, including some that I've used myself.

For example, you can give away a sample of something in order to get a customer to buy. I've done this myself with e-books. The usual technique is to give readers a chapter or two for free, with the expectation that some of them will like the book well enough to buy the whole thing. You include a link to the sales page in the sample PDF, of course.

I've even made money giving whole books away. There are three ways I've done this. One is to give a chapter at a time by email. When I did this one-chapter-per-week with a book on backpacking, quite a few readers did not want to wait forty weeks to get all the chapters, and so they just bought the book.

I have also stopped selling several of my books and put them online for free on various websites that I operate. The catch is that the pages are not linked to anywhere on the internet, so to find them a reader must subscribe and get a link to each part by email. I make money from the advertising on the pages where the book is hosted. I have put whole books up publicly and made money from ad revenue in that way as well, but it may work better to have readers return again and again rather than read it all at once.

I give away my book, "Mind Power Meditation," occasionally to my Brainpower Newsletter subscribers. It is a short book, but not just a sample. This one has links in it that promote brainwave entrainment products I like. I get a commission when readers click the link to the product pages and decide to buy something.

Free Tables

Rocky Mountain Table Talk is a company in Colorado Springs, Colorado, about an hour from where my wife and I used to live. I spoke to the owner a couple years ago to see how his business operates. He makes money by selling "table top advertising" on tables that are placed in restaurants and other businesses. The ads are colorful, and covered in acrylic (or something similar), making for an easy-to-clean table.

He then gives the tables to restaurants for free. More than that, he replaces the tops for free every three years. He has at least one set placed in Cañon City, our former hometown.

As the website (www.rockymountaintabletalk.com) explains, the advertiser gets exposure for several years at a relatively low cost. The benefit to restaurant owners is obvious - tables can be expensive. New table tops are supplied for free every three years or so in order to keep them in good shape and to keep them loaded with fresh ads.

I wrote about table top advertising for my book 101 Weird Ways to Make Money (available at a bookstore near you), and in researching the chapter I found that there are some fairly big companies doing this.

Applying the Concept

There are two general strategies for making money by giving people something for free. The first is to get a customer for your product by offering a sample of some sort. That is what I did with the e-book samples I gave away. This is also what a street performer is doing when singing or doing magic on a corner. In the latter case, though, the customer does not usually buy something additional, but is prompted to pay for what he or she has already enjoyed.

The other general strategy is to give away something that has advertising on it or in it, and make your profit from the advertisers. The free table tops is an example of this. Another common example in the past was giving away hard plastic phone book covers which had advertising on them. Phone books are not used as often now, so I suspect this business is almost gone.

In what new ways can you apply these two strategies? Let's look at a few possibilities.

Computer discs are relatively cheap, making content giveaways using them a natural. If you had one with an e-book or two full of real estate investing tips you might find a lot of people who would love a free copy. How do you make money? You could have others pay you to include their promotional e-books on the disc, or you could advertise your own e-books on it, providing sample chapters, or you could suggest affiliate products to readers and make commissions on any sales.

Using the paid advertiser route, you might get 30 cents per-advertiser per-disc-distributed (for most businesses it costs more than that for one Google click now). With 20 advertisers and a cost of about a dollar to produce the discs you would make a gross profit of $5 for every one you handed out.

You could do this in many other areas. A free self-improvement test on a disc, for example, could be given away, with sample chapters from self-help books by authors willing to pay to be included.

If you think about the basic concept for a moment, you can imagine that there are many other ways to use it. What else could you sell advertising on and then give away? It certainly has been done in most cities with free-distribution newspapers. How about park benches that are given to cities for use in parks? They could have twenty or more advertisers - probably enough to make a profit after paying the cost of the bench. This is probably being done in places, although the advertising I've seen seems to be on benches that the local government has already paid for (perhaps a smarter plan for them since they can get revenue for the ads forever).

Not Quite Free

If you can't give things away to make money in a given circumstance, you might look for ways to lower the cost of an item by putting advertising on it. For example, an advertiser might pay a couple dollars per tire to have their logo or short message put on the sidewalls of tires. If you can make eight dollars on a set in this way, it might enable you to sell the tires cheaper than anyone in town and still make a better profit.

How about "Raisin Ads" brand cereal? If you sold two dollars' worth of advertising on each box you could have the cheapest cereal in the grocery store. People will be happy to look at a box covered in advertising if it means spending less for their food.

If it hasn't been done yet, I expect someone to start selling advertising on grocery bags and then supplying them to grocery stores for half the normal price. I saw a school notebook in a store today with a cover that looked just like the bag of a well-known potato chip brand. Who knows where advertising might show up next.

With an hour of brainstorming you can probably think of several more ways to give things away to make a profit, or at least use advertising to reduce the cost of something.

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