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Give it away to get paid.
*Note: this is part 5 in a series. Start here.
Five months into my digital brush business adventure, I stumbled on a strategy that would change everything: giving away some of my best brushes for free.
In October of 2013, I put an inking brush up on my Gumroad shop (Kyle’s Mr. Natural Inker). And this was not just any brush - it was probably my best inker. I charged nothing … just gave it away. Why? The simple answer is impatience.
Up until this point, people had been happy paying for the two brush sets I had released. No complaints - prices were very low (too low … more on this in another post). But even the tiniest amount of money is a barrier for many people when it comes to purchasing a product, especially if they have no way to test it for themselves. I wanted the whole WORLD to see what I was capable of and a free brush made it possible for anybody with Photoshop to download the brush and test it out with nothing to lose.
So, up went Mr. Natural and I sat back and waited to see what would happen.
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Here is what I learned:
Giving something away for free was the easiest way to build awareness of my brand and products.
It was the fastest way to grow my customer base.
Giving away something GREAT left people feeling confident in the quality of my work and therefore more likely to make a purchase.
Giving away something GREAT made customers GRATEful! Goodwill was earned.
Quality giveaways became an amazing form of promotion that reached across the world without my having to do anything; the customers did it for me through social sharing, word of mouth, mentioning the brush by name when posting an illustration with it, etc.
These lessons each deserve more detailed breakdowns, but I never want this newsletter to take more than five minutes to read. So, here is a summary of what happened for now:
Thanks to the free brush, brand awareness grew quickly. People shared the product page link far and wide and reached potential customers I could never reach with my own solo efforts. And since the brush, itself, fell into that category of perfection I mentioned a few weeks ago, it represented the best of my abilities and made the brand look good.
Downloads for the free Mr. Natural brush were high and steady. After one month, I suddenly had 3000 new customers. Up until the release of this free brush, I was making anywhere between 5 and 10 sales per day, sometimes from new customers and sometimes from existing ones. On a great day, I might have gotten 15 new customers. But 100 per day for 30 days straight? This was incredible. And this trend continued over the next two months as I went on to add two more freebies: the Wet and Wild Watercolor brush and Pastel Palooza. By mid-December, I had added nearly 5200 new customers to my mailing list solely from free products. And though these products were technically free, I had also actually earned an extra $1400. This is because Gumroad offers a ‘pay-what-you-want’ price point, which meant that people could donate $1 (or more) for a ‘free’ brush, if they chose to do so. Many did.
Now the kicker: when it came time to send an email for pre-orders for my next brush set, Kyle’s Real Watercolors, I wasn’t just sending an email to about 4000 people, I was sending it to 9,000. My mailing list had more than doubled.
Sales reflected this with unprecedented growth– between December and February, they were up 70% (this means they nearly doubled). And from then on, they never dipped below this new baseline.
I will share more and expand on the lessons learned from this “freebies” experiment next time. Thanks so much for reading and as always, please leave a comment below if you have any reactions, questions or thoughts.
Resources for you
Every Friday, I give a free illustration masterclass at 2:30pm, EST on the Adobe Live YouTube channel. Here is a recent favorite.
My favorite recent episode of my favorite graphic design/pop culture podcast, Two Designers Walk into a Bar. This one covers the secrets in the design of the one-dollar bill and the secret coded drawings hobos used to communicate with one another.
Looking for movie recommendations? My friend, Khoi Vinh has written his wrap up of films for 2022. He has never steered me wrong.