When you see the word “free” in an advertisement or offer, people automatically look for the fine print. They immediately ask “What’s the catch?” and wonder what’s wrong or missing because no one offers anything for free without a reason. Even businesses can be weary of offering things for free because it is a loss of revenue, or can potentially devalue the remainder of your product or service line. So, while most people welcome getting something for free, there is a stigma attached that creates an atmosphere of concern and distrust so it becomes easier to charge a nominal fee rather than none at all. But is this really good for your business?

Recently Acuity Institute decided to challenge this culture of skepticism and went out on a limb by taking a few courses that we typically charge for and offered them for free. It was a risk we felt comfortable taking and decided that it was important to understand the data behind free. Thousands of students have since taken our free courses (Lean Six Sigma White Belt, Lean Six Sigma Champion, Lean Foundations, Lean Champion) and this has provided us with some valuable data. What did we learn? First, we learned that free does work. Secondly, we learned how to interpret the data of “free”.

The data told us that people were interested in free, and they appreciate when it still has value. Often it can be tempting to water-down something that you offer for free so you still have an opportunity down the road to create income. However, customers can instantly spot when this happens, and when there is no-value add, rather than creating an opportunity, it creates mistrust. If you are planning on offering something for free, the best way to position yourself for success down the road is to ensure there is value in it for all parties. In the case of Acuity’s free courses, we realized that it helped to introduce people to our business and started a relationship. We aided our learners by providing an avenue to help them increase their professional development, and we ultimately helped the organizations that these people are working in by adding value and new skills to their employees. It was a win-win for everyone involved.

By trusting our organization enough to find quality, value-added products that can benefit people on many levels and offer them for free, we found that we received much more than we expected in return. The feedback was amazing, people were thankful, and we saw interest peak many times over. The quality of the free courses helped to create trust, which translated into people wanting to continue their journey with Acuity Institute. Organizations are being impacted, and what began as a small risk on our end, has resulted in benefits far greater than we could have imagined. Before you dismiss “free” as a bad business move, stop and see if there isn’t a hidden value in free, and consider how you can use it as an opportunity to learn more about connecting with your customer base.