The word “free” is a wonderful word, isn’t it? Risk-free, free shipping, buy one get one free – they’re all tried and true in the world of marketing. But have you ever thought of really giving something free up front to gain a customer or great word of mouth?

I’ll ask all CFOs or bean counters to stop cringing, I know, I’ve had the discussions with many of you. And I understand that most businesses are in business to MAKE money, not give away the store. But done right, giving away something for free can really make a difference and help your business grow (not go away).

Here are some ideas of how a few industries give things for free to gain customers.

Software Companies – What’s great about online software is that you can do a lot by giving your product and digital content away to get people in the door in a limited fashion.

  • Give full access to your product for free for a limited time. This takes away any tough sell questions if people can get in and really play with it.
  • Offer a free downloadable guide or something that you email that adds value.
  • Offer free webinars to potential customers.
  • Give the first month of an online service totally free or give a few months of a service contract free. These are usually pretty inexpensive to give away.

At VerticalResponse we take it one step further, we give our email marketing product away for free to smaller non-profits. This works in many ways; Our non-profits talk us up to their friends and colleagues, and we love the fact that we give back to the community. Free is good all the way around.

Restaurants & Bars – Getting and keeping costs in line is important to all restaurant owners, but there are some things you might try to generate some neighborhood buzz.

  • Offer a free appetizer of your choice from 4-6pm to get the crowds in the door early.
  • Give free cookies for dessert.
  • In Europe most cafes give you olives, chips, and nuts for ordering a few drinks.
  • A restaurant in the Bay Area gives you free hamachi shots and free cotton candy at the end of your meal. Cotton candy is quirky enough to cause some word-of-mouth and out of 251 Yelp reviews, 70 of them mention it!

There’s a restaurant in Lake Tahoe known for giving a “doggie bag” of a turkey sandwich and a pumpkin pie slice after you eat there for Thanksgiving. You still get the feeling you’re eating leftovers without the hassle of cooking!

Clothing Retail – Give a cool, free reusable shopping bag for customers to carry their stuff around in. Scoop in NYC does a great job at generating buzz from the free durable shopping bags they give away plus they get some nice advertising out of the deal when people are walking around town carrying the bags. Ambaince, a women’s boutique clothing store in SF, does the same thing.

Health Clubs – Health clubs can get really creative to attract customers. You can come up with a nice package to get people in the door. Here are some ideas of things to give to get people to sign on the dotted line:

  • Give free SIGG gym-logo’d water bottles.
  • Offer a free hour with a trainer.
  • Offer $50 worth of free food at the gym’s cafe.
  • Give a $25 gift certificate to the gym’s spa.
  • Have a monthly “mixer” for your guests if they bring a friend who isn’t a member.
  • Offer free gifts and some healthy smoothies.

The Sports Club LA gives free guest passes to get newbies coming to the club to try it out for a few days.

These are just a few ideas for these particular business types to get customers by giving something for free. Is there something you can give away to get people in your door?

© 2011 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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