How to Profit from a Free Service

When I began this blog (and eventual network) it wasn’t to make a profit. It wasn’t even to provide a free service. It was to share some writing opportunities with other work at home moms. As the Freelance Writing Jobs community grew, I began to think about ways to earn money while still being able to provide a free service. Many people urged me to turn this into a paying subscription based service but I didn’t for two reasons:

  1. I knew our community could go elsewhere and find the same information on their own for free.
  2. I knew most of the community would leave.
  3. I always promised to be a free resource and that’s not going to change.

The problem is, when you’re providing free stuff every day, you’re not earning any money. It’s hard to justify the time spent on doing this sort of thing when you’re bringing any income into the household. The community rewards are terrific and inspiring, but it’s hard to devote time to non-paying projects, especially when your time is needed elsewhere.

So I began to implement a few monetization strategies.  There were several years of trial and error, but eventually I hit on a formula that works.

Create a resource everyone can benefit from

For me, the most important criteria for building this community is to create a service everyone can benefit from. That’s why we post such a wide variety of gigs, and also, blog posts and resources of interest to writers of all levels. My intital thought was that if I catered to only beginners or only veteran writers, or only writers who wish to earn a certain amount of money it would create a sense of exclusivity and I wasn’t sure that was the aspect I was looking for. My strategy appealed to writers from all walks of life and we still have this same welcoming message today. That isn’t to say there’s something wrong with exclusivity. Certainly there are plenty of terrific communities catering only to veteran writers, but that wasn’t what I was going for here and I’m glad. I enjoy interacting with a diverse network of writers and members benefit from wisdom from a wide variety of sources.

Know your community

You won’t be able to earn a thing unless you know your community.  This is why most bloggers give up after a few months. They don’t have much traffic and  don’t know enough about the community to promote their services or do what it takes to create a revenue stream.  It doesn’t matter what type of free service one provides, without knowing the audience, there will be no way to gauge their wants and needs, and, eventually profit. Take every comment and email into consideration. Pay close attention to your stats to see what content or service gets the best response, and conduct polls every now and then to see how you’re doing. This will tell you several things:

  • The type of content your community likes best
  • The income level of your community
  • Whether they’re clickers or buyers
  • What types of products they’re most likely to buy

For example, I know the FWJ community best responds to educational products and services. However, it has to be something really good for them to spend the money. I also know that if the FWJ is in the market for gadgets or technology products they’re not likely to buy them here. While we have sold books and seminar tickets here, that’s not where the bulk of the income of income comes from.

Play with different revenue streams

Adsense gets a bad rap but it’s my main source of income at this blog network. It took a while for me to love it, though as it’s rather ugly. I tried it out on different zones and finally found the sweet spot. I also contacted private sponsors and tried a few affiliates. Since this isn’t a community of buyers, I realized I had to focus on private sales over affiliates. To be honest, learning to monetize this blog network took a lot of frustrating trial and error because it’s not a community of spenders. That’s not a bad thing, it just means it takes more effort and focus to find income.

I learned that this community doesn’t want to spend money on frivolity. They’ll pay money if they’re going to learn, but they’re not going to pay for products with heavy shipping costs, or stuff they wouldn’t have considered before.  I tried affiliates for business-y stuff, but no one was interested in computer products or business cards. It wasn’t until I post affiliates for webinars, books, and my own ebook that folks began to take notice.

If I didn’t take the time to learn about the FWJ community I wouldn’t have known the types of products and services they best respond to. I can’t stress enough how important this is.

Sell your own stuff

Last year, I wrote a brief ebook about the skills we acquire as bloggers. It sells a few copies each month, which is kind of nice. Since then, the community has been asking me when my next ebook is coming out, or to ask about my coaching services. Building a community around a free service means that when we have something to sell, they’ll trust us enough to consider buying. So maybe I’m not profiting so much from the content or the daily list of gigs, but through the content I have ebook sales or I earn money coaching folks about blogging, social media and getting started as a writer.

Find out what your community wants. Give some of it away and sell the rest.


It’s not enough to have a free service, nor is it enough to have an ebook or some ads on your site. If no one knows you exist, no one is going to drop by and buy your stuff. You have to promote. Not only do you have to promote, but you have to do so in a way that isn’t spammy. This is where your social media tools come in to play. Use your blog, Twitter account, Facebook fan pages and more to gain friends and followers and create a buzz around your brand.

Don’t rest on your laurels

Once you begin to bring in a steady income, your job isn’t over. You have to continue to bring in an income. Advertisers stop advertising after a while and sales for your products will eventually dwindle to a trickle. Continue looking for new revenue and passive income streams. Continue gauging the interests of your community in order to bring them the content – and the products- they’re looking for.

What do you think?

Do you think you can profit from a free service? If so, expect to put in hours or work each day. It’s not enough to set it and forget it. Take the time to gauge your community’s needs and buying habits. Research the revenue streams that will work the best with your community. Finally, remember that it all takes time. It can take years to build something for nothing and it rarely happens over night.

What service can you provide?





2 responses
  1. Anne Wayman Avatar

    Lol, Deb, you know what I think since I do roughly the same thing that you do… some people think it’s easy!
    .-= Anne Wayman´s last blog ..Freelance Writing Jobs For Wednesday, March 30, 2010 =-.

  2. Rachel Rueben Avatar

    Thanks for putting this out there. Many people think blogging is easy or mindless work, but a lot of thought goes into making a successful blog. I’ve heard crazy stories about people spending their lives at their computers just to grow, grow, grow their blog. Blogging is a job like any other, and not a get rich quick scheme!
    .-= Rachel Rueben´s last blog ..Dumb Sh** Writers Do =-.

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