Inspired by @sehurlburt I have some brief thoughts on free as a price point:
Price is a signal of quality, and free is actively harmful to marketing to the best customers, because they consume virtually no meaningful services for free and because it suggests that there is a hidden cost like “You disappear down the road” they’ll pay later.
Businesses are not adverse to paying money for things. They’re set up to do this. They often prefer concrete, bounded, forecastable prices to unknown, unbounded risks like e.g. “We will need to hire someone to support that thing.”
Developers have a reputation for liking free things. In part, this is a consequence of the OSS movement.
Developers don’t have reputation for spending metric shed loads of money, but that is *also* a true statement of (some of) their behavior. There are many devtools companies.
“Do it for the exposure.”
You can get exposure for free on Twitter and it is worth what you paid for it. If someone ever offers this, ask to see the marketing plan and specific commitments.
e.g. “We will promote you to our list of 100k email subscribers” is greater than nothing
“You can use it for your portfolio” rounds to nothing. You can make portfolio pieces without needing anyone’s permission and they’re easier than shippable work since they only have to be worthy of attention, not of productionizable business value.
“Free for now but you pay later” is only useful in free trials, which have astonishingly low conversion rates. You need a sophisticated marketing engine harvesting a lot of attention at scale to make these work. Do you have one? Then you can consider doing that.
There is substantial value in free “friendcatchers” which one uses as marketing for never-free offerings. Note that you do have to be intentional about how you turn attention for the friendcatcher into sales leads.
Good customers travel in packs. Bad customers travel in packs, too.
If you collect the attention of pathological customers with free or deeply underpriced offerings, the referrals and exposure you get will be to people offering mostly more of the same.
The same is true of customers who happily pay premium rates for services. You know who they’re going to talk you up to? Peers who can afford premium rates for services.
“How do you differentiate what you give away for free from what you charge for?” comes up in consulting, mostly from people who are very in confident that their offering has value and who are generally undercharging by orders of magnitude.
“What would you charge for a coffee conversations?” I am not in the business of selling coffee conversations (and never was). When I was in the business of selling consulting engagements, the engagements would have deliverables, substantial prework, etc.
Off the cuff riffing about the challenges a business faced? No charge because that was not the product; it only existed to suggest that I was capable of producing the product.
If a coffee conversation went well and someone was a qualified buyer, escalate to “Want a proposal?”
Incidentally, and this goes out to many creative friends: you need to have restrained professional confidence and boundaries.
I have watched people get mad and burn bridges over “Can you come give a talk at my company?” because they were offended about being asked for free work.
A better response to that is: “I would be happy to give you a proposal for a training engagement. What did you have in mind?”
In the worst case scenario, you’re about two more questions from a hard No.
Talk to a good lawyer sometime informally if you want to see someone very good at this in action. They are generally good about informally giving pointers but if you ask for a contract review Shields Up.