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When Giving A Free Sample Is Worse Than Political Anarchy

Copyright (c) 2006-2021

It seems like an obvious maneuver: give something away for free to draw more customers in. I see my favorite grocery store do it, and it works incredibly well- the store is mobbed, especially on Saturdays, when the samples are outrageous.

But, I've seen vendors in the store giving away free samples, but gain negligible results from it. Whether it's samples of instant oatmeal, or 'sample' coaching sessions, I've seen small business owners bomb over and over again with this tactic.

Yet, I use it myself, and it's one of the most powerful strategies I have, and it feels incredibly good to be generous. Why does free sometimes work and sometimes doesn't?

Lessons from Anarchy

Years ago, when I had been very interested in Anarchism as a political structure (or lack of one) I read a study done on two different groups that had their housing for free.

The study compared residents of a public housing project that were given housing, maintenance, and other services and support, versus a group of "squatters"- folks who would've been homeless, except they took over an abandoned apartment complex.

Which ones fared better? The squatters did. Their apartments went from completely neglected and destroyed, to real beauty, and the sense of community and connection between residents was very strong.

Conversely, the residents of the public housing project fared as many public housing projects do: things became neglected and fell apart, the crime rate rose, and disputes between residents were common.

The difference is that one of them wasn't really free.

It's been my experience that the human heart is happiest and most fulfilled when it's in service. I'm guessing that although you probably love to receive gifts, you probably enjoy giving them even more. And, probably even more than giving gifts, you enjoy feeling useful in some way.

A spiritual secret from the Sufis is this quote, attributed to the Divine: "I love those of My servants most, who are of most use to My creation." Put simply, in every day language, that our hearts are filled with the most important thing in the world, Love, when we're being of use and helping out.

The 'free' public housing, the study found, that people felt discouraged, as if they couldn't meaningfully contribute to their own or other's lives. The squatters, however, had no one to rely upon, and in the process, everyone pitched in with what skills they had, and it began to work well.

Am I against helping people who need help? Absolutely not! However, in the giving, it's important to also pay attention to the legitimate and overarching need each person has to be useful and valuable, to contribute, and to feel love for that contribution.

Many businesses, in giving away free samples, are unwittingly disempowering their customers, and creating neglect and disillusion with those they contact in the market place. But, there is a way to use free in a powerful way, that feels good to your customers, and builds your business. How?

Keys to Free

* Small samples that don't use you up, or overwhelm your prospect, are appropriate.

Put yourself in your customer's shoes: if someone else were giving away what you want to give away, would it make you raise your eyebrows? Would it ask a big commitment? Does it make you wonder 'what's wrong'? If so, you are probably giving away too much.

If the intention is to create trust and safety, then an excerpt of a book, or an article, a bite or two, an audio excerpt, a single gulp, all of these are appropriate amounts. And, ask for something in return: to add their names to your list. You show up a little bit, they show up a little bit. It evens out.

* Remember that giving more is asking for more.

For example, many coaches are astounded that people don't take them up on 'sample' coaching sessions. The truth is, coaching demands a tremendous amount of vulnerability in the client. It's kind of the same with giving away a whole meal. Someone has to be hungry enough, and then, if they do take it, they have to struggle with the feeling: "Do I look selfish for taking this much?"

After someone has taken a sample from you, if they want more, they are going to want to give something. Whether it's money, more information, filling out a questionnaire, whatever. If you don't make space for them to give, they probably won't take. And, the ones who do take without wanting to give, you've probably found that they aren't people who are going to become your customers anyway.

* Look to see where you might be hooked.

Often free can be a tactic of a person who is feeling a little desperate, rather than an integrated and generous strategy for your business. Is your unconscious message: 'Okay, mister, you took me up on my free offer, you better buy from me now, or else!'? If so, make space for your neediness, but fill it in your heart, not through trying to hook customers.

Although free is one of the most attention-grabbing words in English, don't forget that what people are really wanting, and hoping to get freely, is the opportunity to feel as if they matter. Ask for them to show up, and they will.


About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
Mark Silver is the author of Unveiling the Heart of Your Business: How Money, Marketing and Sales can Deepen Your Heart, Heal the World, and Still Add to Your Bottom Line. He has helped hundreds of small business owners around the globe, by integrating 1500 years of spiritual wisdom with down-to-earth business practices. Get three free chapters of the book online: http://www.heartofbusiness.com

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