Years ago, my friend and I started a tee shirt company. It was awesome. It was one of the most enjoyable businesses I have ever been a part of.
One of the things I remember most vividly is how often people would ask us for free shirts. Selling shirts was our entire business. Yet, it seemed like people has such an expectation for getting them for free.
We were younger and we didn’t know any better so in the beginning, we would give free shirts to whoever would ask for them. After a few months, we quickly realized that we were spending all this time and energy so that we could give people free gear. Worst off all, no one was even grateful for the gifts. It was so interesting how the people who would receive free shirts were always the ones who didn’t post an Instagram picture and tag us in it. We would say “all we ask is that you post a picture of you wearing the shirt on Instagram and tag our brand.”
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“Yeah yeah no problem” they would say. It would never happen. We were just getting started and we had a difficult time saying no.
But surprisingly enough, the people who were willing to pay for the shirts, who were interested in the message of the brand, were the ones who were always willing to promote us. It was then that I realized the value of a customer. It was then that I realized what we were actually selling.
We weren’t selling tee shirts, we were selling an idea.
To the people who got the free shirts, all they saw was a shirt. It was just another thing for them to pull out of their drawer or something for them to where to the gym. It was naive of us to expect them to be passionate about our brand or to go out of their way to support us. It was never their intention.
But for the paying customer, the person who had skin in the game, that was the person who would advocate for us.
So what’s the lesson?
The lesson is that “free merchandise” is rarely beneficial. It hurts your business and it devalues the product because the people who are willing to pay feel let down. You need to decide what it is that you are selling, and you need to commit on selling that. You can give other stuff away for free, but your business is your business. Don’t devalue your own company.
I have been remembering these lessons when people have asked me for free memberships to the academy. I have been sent maybe 4 or 5 messages from people asking for a free sample. They say “let me check it out and if I like it I will sign up for the subscription.”
No. I’ve learned my lesson, I know better.
This person has no value to me, there is no vested interest. Truthfully, I have no value to them either because they don’t actually care about my product. There is nothing in or for them. Chances are, they aren’t even passionate about my message. To them, it’s just another tee shirt.
Don’t let people trick you into thinking that they are doing you a favor by getting free access to your hard work. Your time is valuable, and you should treat it as such.