One would think Bill Jelen is crazy. As "Mr.Excel" (www.MrExcel.com) he's an expert in using a spreadsheet to figure things out — so how does one write the formula for Free? Bill has some very specific advice for consultants and service providers on how Free=3*x or more.
Jelen has written about 25 computer books, many for Que imprint publishing, some are self-published. He tells me in the computer book field, selling 10,000 books is considered a best seller. His first book took almost 3 years to reach that mark. For his next book, he set up a system where people could give him their email, and they'd receive a chapter a week. Over 40,000 people signed up for this offer, but he sold 10k books in less than 1 year (and that's 3 times as fast for you folks that aren't good with Excel.)
Since this experiment, you can obtain copies of Jelen's latest tome at his website, for free. "Pirates were scanning the books, and I figured I'd just beat them at their game and give it away. I think I sell more books anyway, and somewhere in the world there's someone who can't afford my book that's benefiting. I believe this good karma will help me eventually."
The giving doesn't stop with books. Jelen also creates a daily podcast, 5 days a week — he's up to over 1100 episodes. Chances are, if you need to know how to do something with Excel, he's probably covered that. His message board community has over 60,000 registered users, and his Facebook page has greater than 1000 fans.
Bill is in demand as a seminar speaker, but each participant also gets a book as part of the price. "They're selling tools. I tell them: When you get back to work, coworkers will want to borrow it. Don't let them. Here's link for them to download the book for free." His sense is that he sells books at a faster rate because he gives away chapters at a time.
His advice for others who want to use this unorthodox method? "If you have a quality product, and have a low cost way of giving things away for free, it is a great way to get the word out. New fans may be skeptical — let them try the product. Your satisfied fans will be happy to give you money for the full product." Take him at his word: http://www.mrexcel.com/previewsig.html will get you a free book.
I'd welcome your comments about this business model.
Last updated: Jul 1, 2009
HOWARD GREENSTEIN is a social media strategist and evangelist, and president of the Harbrooke Group, which specializes in helping companies communicate with their customers using the latest Web technologies. @HowardGr