Give to Get on Your Blog

I don’t want to put all of my knowledge on my blog. I need to save it for my teaching. I shouldn’t be giving it all away for free.

This objection is raised at almost every workshop at which I discuss blogging. It happened again last week. One person voiced the thought, but there were probably many others in the audience who were thinking the same thing.
My response was sharp, but to the point: That’s old-school thinking. Those who haven’t been promoting on the Web long or don’t know how to use it effectively are often stuck in a conventional protectionist mode. They’re so concerned about copyright and “giving away the store” that they are ineffective with their online marketing. Their blogs are weak and not highly visited.

Judy Coates Perez
Judy Coates Perez, Oh Deer, Oh Deer, Look What's Become of Me! Hand-painted art quilt, 42 x 54 inches. ©The Artist

One reason that blogs are so powerful is that they can establish you (yes, little ole you!) as an expert. Actually, it’s you who must do the establishing. You have to put the information out there so that others tag you as the expert. Artist-blogger Judy Coates Perez summarized it for our workshop attendees last week: You have to give to get. It’s karmic. The more you give, the more you’ll get in return. Let’s look at the following examples.
Artist A has a blog, but doesn’t quite understand why. He posts images of his work (yay!) and then just kind of talks about making art. He would like to have more opportunities as an instructor, but he’s resisting blogging about everything he knows. He thinks people should have to pay for certain information.

It's karmic

Then there’s Artist B. She has a powerful blog that she uses to help fill her classes and workshops. She’s posting at least four articles a week that people can’t wait to read. She listens to those who leave comments on her blog and responds. She is the go-to-gal for everything on her subject because people have learned to trust her. They know she has answers and—this part is important—that she’s willing to share the answers with her students.
In contrast, you don’t know what you’ll get with Artist A. There are so many “teachers” out there who are unwilling to share their secrets. Maybe Artist A is one of them. We’ll never know. Bummer for him. Artist B is the instructor I want to hire.
FINAL WORD: Just because you give away free information on your blog doesn’t mean that people won’t pay for the same information in a different format. In fact, I’ve found that they’re more likely to pay after they’ve seen the quality of the free stuff. Give to get on your blog or website. Consider my own example. I could never have attracted rooms full of artists or sold thousands of copies of my book if I hadn’t first published a weekly newsletter and then a blog. I’m all about giving away the store. Artists who attend my workshops and take my classes say they appreciate me because I share what I know so freely.
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30 thoughts on “Give to Get on Your Blog”

  1. My blog is a combination of reflections on doing art and navigating through a complicated life. I can’t imagine NOT sharing how I do my art on the blog. If I am ever fortunate enough to make my art into a business, I know I’ll still share my process.
    I know of another artist (V) with an online shop who will no longer give anything away and has removed her website from public access because she complains that she’s not making any money from doing this, that it costs too much of her time to contribute to the education (and enjoyment) of her customers.
    A third artist (B) takes great enjoyment in sharing the stuff she makes and how she makes it while at the same time pointing out that she used the stuff she sells to make her art. I know who I am choosing to buy art supplies from, and it’s not Artist V.

  2. I think you’re absolutely right here, Alyson! I give away a lot, and people often tell me how much they appreciate how generous I am with my time and information. And you know what? My last class filled up within a week and a half after I announced it in my newsletter and on Facebook (much LESS advertising than usual) because I think people wanted the one-on-one of a class. It IS karmic! Thanks for getting out the word…

  3. Alyson, your advice is excellent, so true and very well put. I know that many of my workshop students come to me from my blog (I often ask how they found me.)
    I too have had the remark from other artists that it is dangerous to give away “secrets.” My reply to that–I give away my knowledge,my experience, my technical tips, but not my secrets. We all have those–things we wish to keep private and that’s fine.The thing is that you are in control of what you put out there on your blog and I completely agree that it is best to be generous.
    Along with that, I answer all of my email from other artists who write with questions and comments.You never know who is considering your next workshop–but beyond that, I just believe in being open. Like most artists, I am indebted to others who have been generous with me, and if I can pass that along it is right and good.

  4. Giving stuff away for free is a wonderful way to attract people who want freebies to your site. Those folks don’t necessarily convert to paying customers.
    I’ve written hundreds of free how-to articles over the years, and happily posted them as a way to give back what I’ve gained from other artists. However, in the last year, I’ve stopped growing the how-to section on my free site, because the demand for more, more, MORE from readers was exhausting. I also found that when someone asked for something that I’d included on one of my CDs or in my books, and I suggested purchasing it, the reply was generally “can’t you just give it to me for free”.
    Most of the how-to stuff I write now requires a specific product I sell. Folks are free to read through the lessons to learn the techniques, and improvise materials if they like, but to get the finished result I show in my samples, they really do have to purchase the products used to make them—and yes, I still often get people asking me if I can just give them those products for free.

  5. Alyson, so true! Seth Godin gave away ebooks online – but some people wanted it in hard copy, so he published them, and even though people could still get it online for free, the hard copies went to the NY Times best sellers list.
    Blogs are free and useful samples of what you offer. It should be useful to the reader and help him or her to grow and gain new understanding about how to market their work. Blogs and articles, no matter what the medium, are about the reader, not the author. I learned that concept years ago when I started writing articles for art magazines. It has always been about giving… even before the Internet.

  6. I am starting a new blog and cannot wait to share my artistic process, my knowledge of color, show steps of my paintings, etc. Alyson’s blog was a great affirmation. Fortunately, I have seen role models of the “give to get” concept and they are happy people with full lives. It is amazing how many artists shake their heads at all of the public opportunities on the Internet. As a wise artist friend once told me after a painting was stolen, “You are the factory – you own your style, concept, etc., and no one can steal that from you.”
    And thanks Alyson, for being one of our role models! 🙂

  7. Surely the prime example to convince anyone reading this blog is… THIS BLOG. 🙂
    Your courses, workshops and resources are excellent and yet you share so much right here on the blog to give us a taster of your style, your expertise and your attitude to your students and the art world. There’s enough here to keep most artists going for several years, yet still we click and buy more of your services with confidence.

  8. This is similar to a lot of what Chris Brogan and Seth Godin have been driving at for years. They both give away so much great free content, yet when they do get paid, they really get paid! (Brogan recently disclosed that his day rate was in the vicinity of $22,000. Just to have his full attention for a day. And I’m sure it’s entirely worth it, too.)

  9. This brings me to wonder, though, just what I *can* give away? For some reason I can’t imagine that the general would really want to know exactly how I use color theory and the golden mean to create art. It seems kind of arcane and not really a secret. Then again, maybe that’s exactly what I should blog about… What do you guys say?

  10. We’ve been “giving the store away” for years. And though I get asked a lot “why are you sharing all your secrets” I have to answer, because I love to. It’s come back to me tenfold – just as you said, Alyson, sharing the info has created trust and makes it possible to sell the information as well. People who don’t get the value of “giving to get” are really missing out.

  11. To Brad Blackman: You asked what can you give away? You are probably taking it for granted that you know how to do something that other’s do not – you may think everyone knows what you do. They don’t! Something as simple as your own use of color, how you apply it, how you create, may be of value to someone else, maybe someone just starting out or someone who hasn’t used your medium. Or, your collectors would like to have a better understanding of the details of how you work.

  12. Spot On!! This spirit of giving is great in other areas as well. I find that by helping other artists get to the next level, I get to go up a level too. It’s truly reaping what we sow, whether for good or bad. I can remember being in school and certain painters would not share any of their “secrets” with others for fear that somebody would out do them. What they failed to realize is that nobody can completely duplicate your style…it’s like your signature. Now sure, others can try copying you, but they don’t have the inspiration behind the work and it will show.

  13. Great tip and thank you for sharing as always! There’s been a lot of talk about the value of free and this post really speaks in support of free and how to do it properly!

  14. This concept is key to my Multiple Streams of Art Income theory (which you can learn about on my Membership It’s one of the first key concepts – the “Pink Spoon” If you give them a taste of who you are and what you offer, they’ll want more.
    And the best thing you can do with a blog is share who you are, how you think, what’s important to you, what you value. Because while you may get fans of your work – you will only get lifetime fans if they get to know who you are. It’s also a wonderful exercise in valuing what makes you unique – which is also critical to your success.
    And for people who worry about giving too much away -you can think in terms of repurposing your work in different forms at different price points from free on up.

  15. I am not really an artist but I did some paintings which I later gave away to a nursing home for the elderly. It felt good even if what they paid for the painting was peanuts. I got a thank you ;-). Now, I just deal with desperate journalism. Back to the subject. Free is good but you should also know how to get or receive. Maybe the key is knowing how to give “free” that will generate a return on invested time and effort.

  16. Kristin Richland

    As usual, I really enjoy all the conversations that your posts generate! One of my goals is to put up more process work on my blog, and now that I’ve got a computer that can handle imaging I don’t have much excuse.
    I give advice almost all day long where I work, namely, an art-supply store. That’s where I’ve really learned that ‘give-to-get’ really pays off. The downside is I’m kind of wiped-out when time comes for my own blog! But I’ll try and post something at least once a week. There. I’ve put it in writing 🙂
    I especially liked the “what would you do?” tactic on Ann Brauer’s quilting blog. And now I’m going to go listen to the podcast. Cart before horse, as usual.
    Oh, before I forget, Alyson: I usually use the fact that you have awesome free offerings to book purchasers to help _sell_ your book at our shop!

  17. Alyson Stanfield

    Lisa: You wrote “I suggested purchasing it, the reply was generally “can’t you just give it to me for free”.” Unfortunately, some people are just rude. Of course there’s a line between Free and Fee. I’m glad you’ve found yours–just as I have found mine. I come into the same situations after giving away my newsletter, my blog posts, my podcast, my marketing salons, and lots of teleseminars. Most people know that we have to make a living, but it’s just a small handful that can ruin the day.
    Lori: Absolutely! I had Seth mentioned in my first draft of this post, but it was too long and I had to cut him out. Yipes! Don’t tell him I cut him. He’s a mentor to us all.
    Carol: I’m psyched to see your new blog. You are a generous soul, so I know it will be great.
    Tina: Thank you. I’m humbled. And I do hope you stay around for several years. I just have to keep up with YOU.
    Brad: Well, drat. I wrote something about what you could give away and I can’t find it right now. I’ll let you know if I do.
    Maria: You are very generous in your support of other artists. Thank you for being here to support me, too.
    Debra: Absolutely! And The Pink Spoon is, I believe, Andrea Lee’s concept, if I’m not mistaken. Of course, there are probably others who have used the same analogy, but that’s where I first read it.
    MCA: Great minds!
    Editor: I’m really talking about knowledge, but you’re right. We can’t give away everything. Debra is right, though. We CAN give most of it away and then repurpose it in paid content–as I did in my book.
    Kristin: I understand that you don’t have much energy left for yourself at day’s end. Where do you work that you sell my book? Way cool!

  18. Alyson Stanfield

    Lin: You proved my point.
    Collette: Congratulations on filling up your class. Living proof!
    Rebecca: I imagine you as a very generous spirit. BTW, loved visiting your state, but didn’t even see Lake Michigan. It was so foggy!

  19. Yes, I’m licensed by Andrea Lee for the Multiple Streams of Coaching Income, and I’ve re-purposed it for my niche – arts and entertainment Industry. But Andrea didn’t invent the pink spoon – after all, what does a spoon have to do with coaching – she got it from Baskin Robbins ice cream! Frankly, it’s a concept that has been around for years in one form or another.

  20. Alyson Stanfield

    Debra: Of course. I tried to acknowledge that in my comment, but guess I wasn’t clear. Thanks for the clarification.

  21. I have been listening to your podcast everyday,while I’m working since I discovered your blog about 1 week ago. I didn’t get the time to read your posts yet, but I sure will, I really love your podcast, so I’m sure it’s going to worth it and enjoy.Anyway, just this post to say Thank you, it’s a pleasure to listen you everyday.

  22. Boy I just love this..”It’s karmic. The more you give, the more you’ll get in return.” It’s a basic concept that just proves true over and over. It’s a concept that someone never learns until they actually practice it. A nifty little trick of life that takes a lifetime to learn for some. I really like your blog, it’s my first visit and I’m off to investigate further.

  23. Alyson Stanfield

    Nadine: Thanks! I always like hearing that someone is listening to the podcast. Because you can’t really “talk back” to me, it’s hard to know its effect.
    Eleanore: Yeah, karma is kinda cool like that. I’m so happy you’re here and that you decided to stay awhile.

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  25. I definitely think there’s a difference between giving the shop away and giving away one’s process and images that I have scanned from old photos and other things that I have. When I do finally have time to run my etsy shop adequately you can bet that there will be things that will be strictly for sale. The blog, however, is for giveaways and will eventually be a good promotional tool.
    I think the important thing is to be gracious about it if someone does ask for a freebie and say, “I’m sorry but if you want freebies you need to go to my blog (or other site. The stuff in the shop is strictly for sale.” Hopefully by being gracious you will get and keep a customer.
    As far as giving art away, I was working a fair last month (and not being particularly successful) when a developmentally challenged woman came by and was captivated by my stuff. I knew she didn’t have any money but she was looking at everything very closely. I asked her if she’d like to have something. The look in her eyes was a wonder to behold. I told her to pick anything that caught her eye that she’d like to have. She took a bookmark only but I would have gladly given her something more expensive just to get that look on her face again. And the gratitude from her parents…. All because I took her need for art seriously. I barely made my table, but I consider myself well paid for that day. That’s why I give things away.

  26. Brad, I started my blog in an effort to regain writing and cognitive skills that had deteriorated because of an illness. I felt I also needed to write more about the challenges I was facing and about simple, stupid things (today’s post, for example, was about the river that flows through my city). I also wanted to write about my thought process as a writer and artist-in-training but didn’t expect that people would really be interested in how I “did” art. I was doing it more for myself, to record what I was doing since I seem incapable of maintaining a paper journal for very long.
    Much to my great surprise and pleasure, my readers LOVE the process pieces. They love seeing stuff in progress and the finished product. I get ideas from readers. I find out about cool stuff I didn’t know about. If I mention I’m having difficulty figuring something out, they tell me. And they even like the “stupid” posts when I’m venting about the 10 things that aggravate me. While people appreciate the freebies I offer, that’s not why they read it. It’s a gimmick that gets them in the door. Sure, you might not have a “paying” customer every time, someone who stays and reads every day, but you will get some.
    So, I think that if you wrote about what you do, why you do it, and how you do it, you’d be surprised by how many people would read it. I personally would love to know more about color theory so there’s one reader for you.
    Give it a shot. You just might be surprised how addicting it can get.

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