How To Win Big by Giving Stuff Away

Michael Essany Headshot by Michael Essany on August 8, 2011
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In October 2009, a fledgling newbie in the world of social media decided to invest $4,000 into starting a new website called Social Media Examiner. Offering rich, pertinent, and always free-of-charge content related to social media and online marketing, the site resonated with audiences immediately.

Within two weeks of launch, SocialMediaExaminer.com was ranked among Technorati’s top 100 Small Business blogs. Today, almost two years after the adventure began, author and marketing expert Michael Stelzner (pictured) is a self-made millionaire with no shortage of valuable, battle-tested wisdom to impart.

“There have been so many charlatans in the world of marketing over the last five or ten years who have told you how to get rich quick if you simply follow their scheme or program,” Stelzner admits. “And I’ve been hoodwinked by some of them myself. But along the way through trial and error I learned a new way to market, which is basically by giving everything away.”

In his new book — Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition — Stelzner sheds light on a formula that he says made him a millionaire in the Great Recession. He calls it the “Elevation Principle” — great content plus other people minus marketing messages equals growth.

Cage Your Marketing

“If you think of your business as a rocket ship,” Stelzner tells the Intuit Small Business Blog, “your goal is to navigate this big piece of machinery and to reach new frontiers.” The Elevation Principle, Stelzner contends, is the way to reach those new frontiers in the fastest and most lucrative way possible.

According to Stelzner, what the Elevation Principle means for small business owners is that if you produce great content (how-to features, case studies, success stories, etc.), involve other people (outside experts, consultants to share relevant knowledge), and exclude all marketing messages (that is, never use your blog or online materials to promote yourself or your company), growth will come.

“Your content needs to be commercial free,” Stelzner says, drawing from the core argument of his book, which has won rave reviews from all corners of the marketing industry. “Have you ever been to a wedding sponsored by Nike? Have you ever received a gift that required you to watch a commercial before you could open it? Of course not. It’s ludicrous in a personal context. Think of it in a business context. This is where most small businesses get it wrong. They’ll have a great piece of content and then ruin it with an advertisement at the end.”

Why is Promoting Your Own Business on Your Own Blog a Bad Thing?

If you “cage your marketing,” Stelzner argues, your content will appear to be a gift rather than a ploy. “When you have content free of advertising, people are more inclined to share it on Twitter and across the social media networks and the general blogosphere. This creates an awesome virality that will enable you to grow and grow and grow.”

If you’re wondering — as most will — as to how a small business can make money by giving away so much for free, Stelzner has an insightful answer: “Content doesn’t equal revenue. So articles are not like virtual salespeople that are acting for you. Content, instead, is a reason for your prospects and customer base to find you and keep coming back. This is what we did with Social Media Examiner. In the beginning, we produced three rich content pieces a week. For first-time visitors, we had a little pop-up form that says ‘if you like our content, sign up for our daily broadcast, and get a free Facebook marketing tutorial.’

“This pop-up box essentially allows someone who is a lurker to become active and sign up for our newsletter,” Stelzner adds. “That becomes a back channel. Once you develop a back channel, which is a secondary channel through which you can do marketing, this is the way you can make lots of money. So your primary channel — your blog — should be commercial free. But it should have a mechanism to get people into the secondary channel. Social Media Examiner generated $1.7 million in our first year using email to promote our products, services, events, and occasionally to take some advertising through that secondary channel. So that’s the path to revenue.”

Putting His Money Where His Mouth Is

Want to learn more about Michael Stelzner’s “Elevation Principle?” Proving that he doesn’t just preach free content, Stelzner has made the first chapter of his book Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition available for download. To get it, click here.

Michael Essany Headshot

Michael Essany is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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