For years I’ve marveled at 1. The speculative nature (for smaller businesses especially) of giving away information online with the expectation turning eyeballs into revenue and 2. The trend of users expecting free or nearly free services and/or quality information.
In a good New York Times article today, author Jenna Worthham, hits the nail squarely on this issue: “The core appeal of these kinds of services, at least for me, is that they cut though the cascade of stories, tweets, links and other media that flow across our screens every day, and serve up something reliably good.”
Valued Services. This is the key. If the core of your small business is a newsletter, or advice, or opinion, or even simply ease of use and savings of time, get users to pay for it. You don’t have to be apologetic. Unless you are a major content producer that can sustain the eyeballs-to-advertisers model, you’ll probably need to directly charge for your value. It costs plenty to produce valuable content, so there is nothing dirty about charging for it up front. I’m happy to use the paid portal model for NY Times, WSJ and other quality news sources as they provide direct value in depth and scope.
In reading the referenced NY Times article (below), I am pleased to see that the slow realization that profits are needed to continue valued information services. Disruption in particular industries does not mean the emerging companies can abandon a solid business model. http://nyti.ms/18xcRku
If it makes sense in your small business, you can still capture new users by delaying the up front charge in favor of the “Try and Buy” method. Make it exceptionally easy to try your service. Make the buy a good value proposition. While creating a marketing structure for small business client, I came across a very clean and intuitive CRM solution called Nutshell. They offer one of the simplest/cleanest/low pressure try and buy models I’ve seen. Nutshell offers simple value, vs. the multi-tier, pay-by-function models used by larger SAAS companies. I thought it was a great model for other companies to emulate. For some of Nutshell’s bigger competitors I could barely access screen shots to evaluate the product. The 30 day trial Nutshell offers is ample time to kick the tires. If your product is great, it will sell itself to trial users. Then charge.