Why giving your work away for free will still make you obscure?

Obscurity is a great threat to those who makes a living through the Internet. Is giving your work away for free the answer to this problem?


Today, as more and more individuals, organisations and businesses are plugged in deeper and deeper into the Internet, the threat of obscurity gets stronger and stronger for businesses, creative artists and writers (i.e. the content producers). As I wrote in Secrets of Tomorrow’s Highly Successful Internet Businesses,

the Internet can bring your business to the world and at the same time, bring competitors from the world too.

As a result, the Internet turns you into a commodity where you have to fight tooth and nail against everyone else in the crowd of producers to get the slightest sliver of attention from the crowd of consumers. That sliver of attention becomes your hope of getting a sliver of business.

Most content producers are brainwashed into believing that the only way to rise up above the massive crowd is to give away the fruits of their creativity and toil for free.

Unfortunately, the reality does not quite work out that way. Why? Firstly, every other content producers are thinking the same way. Hence, this gives rise to the Google Trap, which exacerbates the difficulty in rising above the crowd for everyone. Secondly, as I argued before in my book, The Google Trap, the Internet is not meritocracy. The amount of effort and time you put in creating a great product is not proportional to the attention you will get- in fact, on the Internet, there is no causal relationship between quality and attention (and by extension, getting business/work/sales). If quality and attention comes together, they are usually either the result of coincidence or other contributing factors.

Why is indiscriminately giving your work away for free not the solution to solving your obscurity problem?

Well, the reason is because in today’s era of copious free stuffs on the Internet, overwhelming number of choices and time-pressed way of life, consumers are increasingly unable to remember where they get the freebie from! This is especially true for digital content (e.g. written articles, images, videos). They find what they want from Google, consume the content, and then move on quickly. There is no need to pause and remember who authored the content or bookmark the website- just ask Dr Google again if there is a need to return.

That is a big problem for you. If consumers can’t remember you or your business, you can give everything away for free and still remain obscure. What is the solution?

For starters, you can’t look like everyone else. Your business has to stand out aesthetically. Consumers’ first visual impression of you have to stick in their minds. Since your website is the first contact many of your potential customers will have for your business, it has to stand out. Only then will there be hope of them remembering you.

To stand out, you need the engage the service of a brand identity consultant. A brand identity consultant is more than just a mere web designer. You will not find a good brand identity consultant by outsourcing your web design to the cheapest bidder (see How you can lose by outsourcing to cheap web/graphic designers?). This is the one of the biggest mistake many business owners make. They undervalue visual design so much that they see it as a commodity service. When they engage commodity services to build their businesses, their businesses become commodities. On the Internet, commodity businesses languish in obscurity.

You can get away with looking like everyone else if you already are not obscure. Look at Warren Buffett’s website. It is the most awful website for someone of his stature and authority. But he can get away with it precisely because of his existing brand. But for mere mortals like you and me, even a pretty website is not good enough. When everyone’s website is just as pretty, it is of no advantage to you.

But do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying that giving away your work for free is always the wrong strategy. What I’m saying is that indiscriminate giving away is the wrong way to go- especially when you pay no attention to visual design.


About the author

I am a Technology Consultant, whose passion is to help small businesses reach their full potential through mastery of digital technologies, strategies and marketing.