Free vs. paid content

As a membership site owner, how many times have you deliberated over how to determine what content to use for marketing vs. what goes behind the paywall?

I think Callie Willows of Member Site Academy (join if you're not a member!) has given the best one-size-fits-all answer to this: give away the what and the why, but save the how for your paying members.

My interpretation: within your free content, address a problem common amongst your target market and explain why it’s important to solve it. The “problem” could be anything from an inability to balance a budget, to creating a killer drum solo on the fly, to making the perfect hand carved chair... and the list goes on based on your membership.

When someone finds and consumes that content, you know they have the problem. Now you need to paint a picture for them of what life will be like if they can solve it. To do this, you’re going to want to drive home how your membership will fill a higher level need or two along with the practical solution to the problem. See my post here about foundational desires, as defined by Seth Godin.

At the end of the free version of the content, tease the full version housed in your membership, which of course contains instruction on exactly how to solve the problem.

Do not publish that content without a call to action (join now, lead magnet opt in form), a relevant social proof statement, and links to other helpful resources you’ve created related to the topic of the content they're viewing.

If you need a quick solution: strip some paid content down and promote it to your non-subscriber email list, through your social channels, podcasts, forums, etc. and track how many people view the content and click through on your call to action (CTA).

Option 2

If stripping down and reformatting your paid content to suit your prospective members is too daunting, then it’s okay to give away entire pieces for free. And don’t give away tiny common sense tidbits either. You’re going to have to give the good stuff – enough to convince your prospect of your expertise and get them salivating for more.

And don’t be fooled by the old adage "why would they buy the cow if they can get the milk for free?" If you only have one good thing to offer, then you should be offering a course for sale, not a membership.

Consider creating a special instructional video or mini-course, whichever fits your audience, that’s of the same quality as what’s behind the membership paywall. Give it to your paying members also of course, so they feel like what you’re doing is fair; the big no-no would be to take existing paid content and release it for free. That will likely backfire and be viewed as a bait and switch by your current members.

You could also create a one-off webinar or a summit (typically a series of webinars with guests) which could include detailed (relevant to your membership) instruction, social proof (have current members appear as value adding guests), and partner with non-competing industry experts to share audiences.

All content should be reusable and even repurposed for blog posts, podcasts, and future courses.

A solid content piece/series can also short circuit your sales cycle by allowing you to bypass offering a trial. If you’re giving away an on-point example of what you get within your membership, displaying your expertise, working in social proof, and asking your prospect, “if you don’t have everything you need to make your decision about the membership, get in touch”, then don’t offer a trial – ask for the sale!

Have a question? Email me,, and I promise I'll get back to you.