Give Things Away to Make Money?
By Steve Gillman - 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.
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
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.