I love the spirit behind an idea like this, and I’m 100% on board with providing value before people buy to earn their trust. That makes total sense as something that would map to coworking.
But I’ve also learned to be very careful about the usage of “free” especially when the free thing is indistinguishable from the paid thing.
GaryVee’s point is right, but it’s also nuanced.
Doing work for free so you might get paid later, without a real strategy for getting to getting paid later, is NOT what GV suggests (though it’s often misinterpreted that way). What you give, and how you give it, and who you give it to, all need to be strategic in order for you to get the results you want.
I am sure that every YouTuber whom now makes a wage off the platform would agree that in some instances you need to do years of free work before “making it”
…don’t forget who pays the youtubers. It’s not the people who benefit from the “free” thing, it’s the platform that sells advertising.
To me, the question is “what does free accomplish?”
- Does your offer allow someone from an under-represented or under-supported community thrive as part of a community? Or is it going to attract the entitlement of free-seekers who will never contribute back? How can you tell the difference, and be intentional about who you are helping?
- How can you communicate that the value of the thing you are offering for free, and make it clear that this arrangement is special in some way?
- Can you make “free” a vehicle to invite your paying members to contribute in new ways, increasing their buy-in and sense of belonging?
That’s just off the top of my head, and some of the questions we’ve been asking ourselves. We have some concrete goals around making Indy Hall more accessible with the specific and publicly stated goal of making Indy Hall more representative of the population in our city (which it currently is NOT). This is all a small part of a larger initiative to help create 10,0000 more solo business owners in our city.
A couple of the specific things that we’re working on this summer include a scholarship/fellowship program that has certain elements of what you’ve described @carl.r.sullivan. But rather than simply offering free, we’re inviting our community to help us create a scholarship pool to extend the value of the community they’ve felt to folks who may not be in a position to afford it yet.
To magnify support, we’re "matching’ member contributions to the scholarship pool $1-$1, effectively doubling the pool of available resources to help folks who want to and would benefit from being a member. We’re specifically reaching out to community leaders to help us find candidates for our scholarship/fellowship, and will involved our community in the outreach, selection, onboarding, and mentorship of these new members.
Rather than offer free and hoping for the best that some small % convert to paying members, we’re setting the expectation early that our goal is to help you succeed so that when your fellowship is done your business is in a position that paying for a membership is a no-brainer, and aspirationally, you maybe even have the ability to contribute to the next generation of the fellowship fund.
And because the memberships aren’t really “free” but instead subsidized, it allows us to sustainably focus resources on helping these fellowship members achieve their goals.
Obviously, this is a work in progress too and we’re already learning a lot through some early conversations and experiments. In a lot of ways, this is a call back to our early days and an “upgrade” of our ecosystem approach to be more intentional about our long-term planning.