Free Is Not A Fucking Business Model


Hi, my name is Karol. If you’re giving away free content with no plan to build a business, but an expectation to make a lot of money “somewhere down the line,” you’re being an idiot.

Repeat after me:

Free is not a business model.

Last week Nick and I were talking about this at Sarah’s kitchen table. Free can be a lead generator, or as Nick calls it “penetration strategy.” Free can get you in front of a lot of people. Free can build goodwill with your audience. But free is free. No dollar signs. No profits. No business.

Herein lies the problem with most wannabe bloggers-cum-“business owners.” They expect to build an audience and then someday figure out how to make money and quit their day jobs. It doesn’t (usually) work like that. While it can happen, it’s a pie-in-the-sky approach that most likely will not work for you. Sorry to burst your bubble, but somebody needed to tell it to you straight.

In addition to that, far too many bloggers I meet don’t fit the following criteria for building a successful blog:

1) A joy of writing.

If you don’t enjoy writing you’re in for a hellish time trying to build a blog into a business. Your time would be better spent eating Doritos and watching American Idol like the rest of America.

2) Unforgettable writing.

Your writing doesn’t have to be unforgettable to all people, of course. It does, however, have to be unforgettable to a sizable audience.

How Can You Fix This?

Assuming you enjoy writing and can write regular content that is unforgettable, you’re off to a pretty good start.

But you’re still in the “free is not a business model” boat. And that bitch is sinking fast.

The truth is if I wanted to maximize the money I made online I would quit blogging. I do this because I thoroughly enjoy it. If I put all of my writing time into product creation and promotion I would likely quadruple my income in the next 6 months. As you probably know, my life is not about making the maximum amount of money. If I’m reaching my current enough point (I talk about this in the Freedom Fighters course) I’m happy living life and having fun. (Doing that got me on USA Today.)

So what do you do?

Do you quit blogging and instead work on creating something valuable to sell? Or do you continue blogging, continue slaving away writing content that nobody reads, and hope to someday have a large enough audience to sell something to?

It’s honestly your choice, but …

If you truly want to build a business I say fuck blogging.

Do this instead:

1) Create something powerful. I don’t care who you are, you know something or can create something that other people would be willing to pay for. Be that a physical product, a digital product, a piece of software, or some kind of consulting. You have it in you even if you may not know it yet. It’s not my job to find out what that thing is. Just know it’s there. I promise you that.

2) Write a handful of phenomenal guest posts for popular blogs like ZenHabits and CopyBlogger or any big site that’s relevant to your market. It’s intimidating to reach out to huge websites like this, but whatever. Do it. Pick the fucking weight up off the floor or drop it. The choice is yours.

3) Include a link to your product in the author byline to those guest posts. Easy enough. Most guest post authors include links to their blogs. That’s cool. You’re going to link to a website too. But you’re doing it to …

4) Profit. That means you have to sell. Quit whining. Selling is not dirty. Whoever you are, whatever you do, you are selling. Whether that’s trying to get a job, trying to get laid, or trying to build a business, you are selling. Might as well embrace it and learn to do it well.

This, in and of itself, won’t be enough to build a business. It will get the ball rolling for you and lay a foundation.

Once you’ve made some contacts and money it’s time to leverage that to build more contacts and make more money. Eventually you’ll hit a tipping point and you’ll have built a business with real customers, real friends, and a real ability to quit your day job.

You’re welcome.

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  1. Hey Karol!

    I liked this approach you put forward there! It seems to be in accordance with what I recently read on some other blogs (the principle that “just blogging” is not the most effective way if you are in more for the money than for the joy of blogging).

    One question came to my mind though, when I read your post. It concerns your advice about guest posting. While the advice makes perfect sense to me, I was wondering whether there are good chances to do this without having an at least reasonably sized blog of your own.

    What do you think? Wouldn’t the owners of the “big blogs” have quite some reluctance to host someone that has no “name” (in the blogging sphere) at all? So would you need a blog of a certain size after all?

    I think we agree that one should try anyway, after all you become at least a bit “bigger” by trying ;).

    But what do you think in general?

    Best regards!

    • “Wouldn’t the owners of the “big blogs” have quite some reluctance to host someone that has no “name” (in the blogging sphere) at all? So would you need a blog of a certain size after all?”

      Stop making excuses Steffen.

  2. Ahhh, your no B.S. words are a breath of fresh air!!!

    I feel the pain in this strategy… I started blogging without a product, or a “core” point… which makes blogging EXTREMELY difficult. I did however use the time to gage my audience, and decide which types of post’s they like best.

    Now I am having a re-design built, and will re-launch with a product for my audience. Thus the sole point of the content leads to the product so it won’t just be a blog… but a business as well.

    Thanks Karol… Surfs up!

  3. “If you’re giving away free content with no plan to build a business, but an expectation to make a lot of money “somewhere down the line,” you’re being an idiot.”

    Then I’m officially an idiot ;)

  4. Awesome! Karol you have a way of cutting past all the sparkly stars and straight to the (vegan) meat of the matter.

    The quickest way to online wealth? Probably a micro-niche site centered around a “get rich online” product. The funnest way to online wealth? For me it’s blogging! (uh, action plan still in hand though.)

    • No, no, no, selling “get rich online” products is not the quickest way to wealth. It might be a fast way to make a buck, but there is a massive difference between wealth and money.

  5. You know what? I LOVE to write – but It’s so freeing to not HAVE to write. Deep down I knew there was something else I wanted to create – so I did it! And people are LOVING it. Thank you Karol for pointing the way.

    This is my “something powerful”! Warning: it’s an art project – not everyone will understand it.

  6. You’re hitting on a tension it took me a long time to reconcile. I love blogging, because I’m a writer. And I have no interest in monetizing my blog.

    Once I acknowledged that, I was able to enjoy my blog more AND start thinking a lot more seriously about what I could offer for profit. So, I’m continuing to write, but it’s not my business model. Although I am giving some business services away for free right now (uh-oh!), but no apologies. I am incredibly clear on my (for-profit) motives for doing so.

    I meet a lot of people who face the same tension I did…but maybe aren’t as honest with themselves in acknowledging what they want to do vs what will make them a living. This post is killer.

  7. Karol,

    Here’s the other fucking idea. Make it a service. People want to push pablum products like e-books and courses. Fuck that. Make a services business because you can turn it on a dime.

    Also, if you blog about anything – from copywriting to lawyering to surgery…you’ll be able to attract clients way more easily than pushing “The New Media Artifesto” or whatever bullshit you’re going to come out with.

  8. One thing you didn’t mention in your post was that you might love to write (I do!), but blogging might not be your medium (It’s not for me!). But hey, it was a cheap way to find that out! :) Now, onto an extraordinary business…

  9. About time someone called out every website on the block where people want to give away a free eBook. It’s a weak attempt to grow an email list.

    • That’s actually not what I’m referring to. Giving something away as a lead generator is smart. Blogging with thoughts of making money, but no plan to do so is idiotic.

  10. This post is so powerful that it sends thrills down my spine.. You gave me a big hard slap, Karol! Thanks for the reminder – you’re really an inspiration.

  11. “Whether that’s trying to get a job, trying to get laid, or trying to build a business, you are selling. Might as well embrace it and learn to do it well. ”
    I like it!

  12. I’m not too sure if I’d like to agree completely with you on this one.

    I know that blogging is not a viable business model and I have written about it in my blog. What I don’t seem to agree with fully is that we should not start a blog and then come up with a product later.

    Even though having a product idea at the beginning is good, it’s even better when you can get to know your market by getting feedback’s and watching the interactions.

    So it’s not bad, in my opinion, to start a blog, wait some time, analyze how it goes and then come out with a product.

  13. Karol, this by far my favourite post on your blog.
    It’s clear and simple.
    Keep doing the great work!

  14. And this is what we call, brutal writing! Your point of view is kick-ass! (excuse me for the language). I appreciate that you are one good person who first said that straight to my face – “FREE is NOT business”.
    You said on one of your replies that this guy was missing the point. And I agree with you.
    Nevertheless, I think that the title you have in this post is actually the main point.
    Anyway, thank’s for the awakening! ;)


  15. You are right. I am not a blogger – I am a software engineer who competes in powerlifting. Leo Babuata posted on I am not a brewer where he speaks of the Belgian monks who state:

    “We are no brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.”

    Since reading this I have posted the phrase, “Find your brewery.” everywhere.

    Now I will take your advice as well – I will do something powerful, find my brewery as it were. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go figure out what to do and just fucking do it. Top of my head I’m thinking power gym – good mix of work and passion.

    Thank you.

  16. Thanks Karol for your kick in the butt! I’m launching a business and trying to figure things out–certainly appreciate what you have to say. Ya got me thinking bro!

  17. Karol,
    You got me on the headline Hook.
    Why do you think so many people are starting blogs with no idea how to monetize with only the hopes that one day they WILL make money with it?

    Isn’t it a process that some people need to go through? Like a self discovery phase?

    I started blogging for my sleeping mask business a year ago and hated it. I hated writing about sleeping. It was agonizing. After 5 posts i quit.

    Then i tried again and reboot but this time disconnected it from my ebusiness and made it more personal. I’m absolutely loving it. In fact it’s fast becoming one of my passions and i look forward to improving my blog, my writing skills, my articles and seeking out new people to connect with and converse with. Like i am here.

    As i blog, i’m learning and discovering what my true intentions are. Some people cant or don’t know what they want right out of the gate and take more time to develop their plan of action.

    I guess i’m trying to say that sometimes we need to try, fail, try again, fail again and keep trying until the right mix happens. While others are more self aware and know out the gate how and what they are going to do with their blogs.

    Sometimes it’s the journey to success that makes it all worth it. Just my two cents.

  18. Thanks for this piece Karol. I read this and then I knew I had to launch my eBook. No more excuses. I launched it today and just did the best that I could with my sales page based on what you wrote in the email series.


  19. Thanks for the inspiration Karol, this no-BS approach is much more effective than the “anyone can do it”/”isn’t blogging a joyous thing?” fluff contagion.

  20. Love it! And I especially love the directness of this piece. Free is not only curse among the blogging community, but also with many consultants/coaches/experts making the foray and adopting a generic free content strategy outside the context of a launch or targeted call-to-action. Heck, I’m often guilty of this myself! (Because let’s face it: random marketing is definitely more fun than rolling out strategic marketing campaigns) But then we wonder why we’re exhausted, our “fans” aren’t willing to buy the things that we DO sell, and we aren’t making the money of our dreams…
    Again, thanks for the no BS approach – so many need to hear it!

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