Give Away 99% For Free. Monetize The Last 1%
A framework for giving, creating, and capturing value.
Dear Friend & Subscriber,
We’re almost 2 weeks into the very first Write The Ship live cohort, and someone asked the question, “How should I think about withholding some of my content so I can monetize later?”
I explained that the best creators give away 99% of what they know for free.
They are not concerned with needing to withhold information.
Scarcity of content is not their strategy.
As I write about often with my pirate crew over at Category Pirates, mercenaries (aka: people who are trying to “take” their sliver of an existing market) are the ones with secrets. They’re the ones trying to sell you on a one-click purchase that will solve all your problems. They’re the ones who want you to believe that out of EVERYONE in this MASSIVE, ALREADY EXISTING category, they’re the only ones with the answers.
Then, there are missionaries. These are the category creators, the ones who aren’t trying to take from someone else’s pie but show the world how much more satisfying this new pie they’re creating is—and why people should give it a try. And the reason they’re so willing to share, and NOT withhold information, is because they WANT people to take this new perspective they’re giving them and share it with more people. They want to spread their gospel, because that’s the fastest way to get more people to “follow” this new religion.
So, which one do you want to be?
A salesman trying to convince people why your widget is slightly faster, slightly cheaper, slightly better than all the other widgets that exist in the market?
Or a prophet educating people on a new and different path forward?
For as long as I’ve been writing online, I’ve lived by the same 1 rule.
Give, give, give.
Give some more.
Give without expectation. Give because the more people I help, the more people will tell other people that I am a well of information—an invaluable resource.
Give, and give, and then when it’s finally time to reap the rewards of all this hard work, only monetize the last 1%.
Here’s how it works:
When people ask questions, give them the answers.
When lots of people ask the same questions, answer those questions at scale. Turn your answers into Timeless Content in your forever-growing library.
When lots of people find a certain subset of your content library extremely valuable, give them more. Take them by the hand and walk them further down the path. Give them guides, give them frameworks (like I am doing here), mental models, and more.
And when those people reach the end of the path and say to you, “I’ve been converted. All of this makes sense. I’ve taken it upon myself to do the work, I’ve begun the journey, and I’m ready to invest in myself to continue forward,” monetize the last 1%.
“But you already gave them all the answers!” the mercenaries shout!
Yes, you did. You gave them all the answers, which they understand loosely in theory.
NOW, they want more than just “the answers.”
When people pay for the last 1%, what they’re really buying is the organization, implementation, and community surrounding all your ideas.
For example, almost everything I know and actively share about writing online already exists somewhere. The problem is, you don’t know where it all is (and honestly, neither do I at this point). So while it might all be freely accessible on the Internet, it’s not very well organized. And so instead of spending 50+ hours scouring the Internet for everything I’ve said on a particular topic, it’s a whole lot easier to just buy my book, The Art & Business of Online Writing, spend the $20, and have all the information neatly organized there for you to reference whenever you need it.
The same goes for the Ship 30 for 30 community.
Again, all the information I share with writers on our Office Hours calls each week, I’ve already written about elsewhere. But reading it in an article and hearing me explain it in more depth, live, on a video call is a completely different experience. On top of that, implementing the ideas on your own is one thing, but having a community of 250+ other writers helping motivate you to keep practicing those ideas is entirely another. When a writer buys access to Ship 30 for 30, they aren’t “just” buying the information. They’re buying the information, neatly organized, distributed in a different way, plus the community.
Which is why I say, over and over again, there’s no need to withhold information.
If people love what you’re sharing, they’re going to want more of it. And they’re going to want it more efficiently organized, they’re going to want help implementing it, and they’re going to want to be part of the more engaged community surrounding your ideas.
If you can’t get people to pay attention to your free work, you aren’t going to be able to get people to pay attention to your paid work.
The last thing I want to share here is:
Writing and creating FREE content people love enough to share with someone else is hard. It’s much harder than people realize—even if you are trying to share 100% of what you know, at scale, every single day.
Imagine how much harder that task becomes when you tell yourself, “I can only share 1% of what I know.”
You aren’t going to get anywhere.
The underlying reason why I love the 99% FREE / 1% PAID model is because it challenges me to constantly be coming up with new ways to provide even more value to the people who read my work. I WANT to feel like I’ve already given 99% away for free, so that I have to work extra-extra hard to make that last 1% so incredibly meaningful and memorable that by the time someone gets there, it’s not even a question. Of course they’ll want to be part of the community, buy the book, join the live cohort, and so on—because everything I’ve given them up until that point was “THAT GOOD.”
But when you do the opposite of this, and when you try to withhold information, you are actively practicing being a lazy creator.
You’re assuming whatever you put out there, people will buy.
You’re lying to yourself.
So, stop trying to withhold from people. It’s gaining you nothing.
Instead, focus on giving. And not just “giving” (in the vague sense that people love to talk about all over social media), but giving to the point where you literally feel like you’ve said everything you could possibly say on a given topic.
Then, how you monetize the last 1%, is you organize it all.
You package it up.
You make it easy for the person to navigate, to implement, to practice, and to feel supported.
There: that’s your business.
Nicolas “99% FREE” Cole
Like so much of what you write, this principle can be applied to so many aspects of life. Your words reach far beyond writing and are appreciated in that regard.
Great concept, thank you.