Should they pay for that? 5 Strategies for deciding which of your online content to sell

by | Apr 9, 2020

Let’s face it… The world is a little bit weird right now.

Many of the dog trainers I know have thought about offering online content. Someday. Some of them have even given it a try, previously, with varying amounts of success.

And then COVID hit and suddenly the whole world changed.

As dog trainers, that led to a lot of online dog training “stuff” hitting the market all at once. One to one lessons, classes, training challenges, etc. And that “stuff” came with all sorts of price points as trainers tried to figure out the right pricing strategy.

Some trainers chose a “give it all away” strategy. Their plan is just to create good will for now and hope it turns into paying customers in the future, when life goes back to normal. Some are pricing virtual services the same way they’ve always priced their in-person services. Some are offering huge discounts.

While I’m not going to get into pricing strategies in this post, I think the range of options really shows that one thing is true: No one knows the “right” answer right now.

And there probably isn’t ONE right answer. But there are some strategies out there that marketers have used for a long time to determine what to share for free and what to put a price tag on. So let’s talk about those.

But before we do, let’s just make sure we’re all on the same page about a few terms.

What is “online content?”

There are LOTS of types of online content. Content come in many formats: written, video, audio, visual (pictures/graphics/diagrams), etc.

And when I’m talking about FREE online content I mean anywhere you share those things online without collecting anything in exchange for sharing that information — so you could be doing a facebook live, sharing a pre-recorded video, publishing a blog post, or putting out a podcast.

When i talk about PAID content, I’m talking about anything that earns you income — that could be zoom one on ones, that could be an online “go at your own pace” classroom, it could be an ebook that’s for sale… anything that earns you money without you being in person falls into this category.

There’s actually also a third category — where you provide content in exchange for an email address — that is also valuable to think about, but not the focus for this post.

How to Decide What Online Content to Charge for… and What to Give Away

When the focus of your business is in person, most dog trainers can delineate between marketing and what they offer for sale — they sell dog training services, either in home, or private lessons, or group classes but essentially there’s a person and a dog and they are helping the team learn new skills.

And the first strategic dividing line between what to give away and what to charge for actually parallels that quite closely…

Strategy 1: Pay for Personal Feedback

Our first strategy is one where you give away a lot of online content for free with the understanding that most people can apply it and see improvement, but that only few will be able to solve their problem without feedback.

Then you charge for personalized feedback.

So this means you may post blog posts or facebook videos on loose leash walking, or jumping on guests, or go to mat — but if dog owners want help actually teaching their dogs those skills, and applying what you’ve shared, then they need to pay you for it.

Strategy 2: Pay for the Plan

Our second strategy is to give all the things away for free… but without necessarily sharing them in any particularly order. When you do this, it’s not necessarily obvious how one piece of online content fits with another; over time, perhaps everything is given away, but if someone wanted to solve a problem using your free materials they would need to comb through everything you have on offer (and by that point, everything should be a lot!).

If they want to get to the solution quickly and clearly, they they pay for a course or class that walks them through the pieces in the correct order one step at a time.

This works best for a business that is looking at a long term strategy, rather than thinking short term, and for a business that offers help on multiple topics. So perhaps you share something on loose leash walking this week, and on jumping up next week, and then on barking the next… no one piece is an end-to-end solution. But over the course of a year or more you might actually release all the same games or skills that you might cover in your loose leash walking class or in your polite greetings class, etc. You just don’t share them all at once unless they buy the class.

Why would someone pay for what they can find for free on the internet?

Awesome Creator Academy has a good list, they wrote:

  • Nobody is explaining it a way that is easy for me to follow, I don’t get it
  • The information is too broad and general and doesn’t apply to my specific use case
  • There are questions I want to ask and get a real answer on
  • Because I don’t want people taking my ideas I’m afraid to comment publicly on this
  • What I really need is a sounding board for what I’m considering
  • Even with the information, I want to hear directly from someone who has done it
  • Learning on my own just doesn’t make me feel confident I understand the material

In other words — lots of reasons!

Strategy 3: Give Away What and Why, Sell the How

Our third strategy is the one you’ll see touted most often if you were to google this subject — many marketers say you should give away the what and the why, but sell the how.

Personally, I think this is easier in some industries than others, and can be a little tricky in the dog training world. But there are dog trainers out there who use this strategy with great success, including some big names. A lot of board and train programs use this technique in their ads. They show a before and after video, and people want their dog to behave the way the dog in the after portion of the video behaves.

This same concept can be applied to free content! This strategy means you show the sexy awesome finished product, and explain all the reasons someone should want that, provide what the answer is… and then, if they want that final picture, sell them the steps on how to go about actually teaching those skills to their own dog in a class or via private lessons.

Strategy 4: Give Away A Page, Sell Them the Book

Finally, there’s the “it’s just too big to give away for free” strategy. Think about a topic that’s a big can of worms — sure you can write 800 words or do a short video on one tiny piece of the solution, but there’s just no way you can really teach them what they need to know in those formats.

You just NEED 6 weeks of working with them or multiple videos in a series… in these cases  you can think of it sort of like a book. If we had a book on dog training, sure we could probably flip open to any one page and find something useful and helpful. But we just wouldn’t get the same value as we would from buying the whole book and reading it cover to cover.

So you can think of this strategy as giving away a ‘page’ of content, but making them pay for what amounts to the full book. Note, I’m not being literal here. It could be that this is sharing a single how-to video for free, while having them sign up if they want the full online course of how to videos. It could be showing them a 90-second clip of a solution on your facebook page, but offering the hour-long webinar for sale.

This can take lots of different formats. For example, this post? It’s one of the lectures from my FDSA class on Marketing for Pet Professionals. But just one lecture. One piece of the larger whole.

So the book concept is just a helpful analogy… Give away a page, sell them the full book.

Strategy 5: Give Away the Basics, Charge for the Advanced

The final strategy is exactly what it sounds like: you give away the beginning steps, but if someone wants help with problem-solving or needs more advanced exercises, you offer those as paid products or services.

If you’ve ever seen or taken Karate classes, you can often see the white belts as they work to figure out the basic forms and moves. The black belts are using those same basics, just in much more sophisticated ways. When using this strategy, you essentially give away the ‘white belt’ moves, but you charge for the black belt information.

Why did you do that? Thinking through your options for online content

As we create lots of videos (Need tips on that? We’ve got you covered!) and written content to create paid offerings, it can make marketing easier. After all, now you can just reuse those pieces of content with a few tweaks, and share them for free! But you want to be sure you’re also being strategic about what you offer for free and how you go about it.

All of the strategies above are ways of making that decision — and you’re not limited to just one either (though some work better together than others). You can choose to use one method for some things and another strategy for others. The key is just to make sure there IS a strategy at play… and that you’re not giving away the house, leaving  you with nothing to live on.

And when you DO share something for free, think about what you want it to do for you. Free content should still be working for your business. It can drive leads — sending people to your website, or collecting their email address. It can attract links, shares, or attention in other ways… Or it can work to directly generate revenue (by encouraging people to sign up for more and tying the free thing directly into a paid offering).

Again, the key here is to be strategic.

Final Point: Some People Will Never Buy

Finally, it’s important to note that there will be people who ONLY want the free stuff. That’s okay. They have their reasons.

Maybe they can’t afford it. Maybe they think they know it all. Or, maybe they just aren’t interested in the solution you have for sale. Regardless, it’s going to happen.

Look for whether your content is causing at least a percentage of your audience to buy — that is ultimately what matters. To return to the article from Awesome Creator Academy:

“Part of the reason it is important to grow your audience and build a relationship with them is that you can only reasonably expect 1-4% of those people to ever convert to a transaction, even a modest one.”

Alright, I’d love to hear from you in the comments… How are you dividing up what you offer for free right now vs what you charge for? Let’s talk about strategies, either short term (right now!) or longer term (in the future). What makes sense for your business? I’ll be reading each and every comment and will do my best to respond!


  1. Renee

    I thought this article was very helpful. I am thinking of doing a free Puppy Consult for just 30 minutes to talk about socialization and just a bit about housetraining.

  2. Samuel Mitchell

    I completely understand the struggle of deciding what online content to sell. When COVID hit, I initially chose the “give it all away” strategy, hoping it would lead to future paying customers. However, after realizing the value of personalized feedback, I shifted to Strategy 1 and started charging for individualized assistance. It made a significant difference as dog owners were willing to pay for guidance tailored to their specific problems. Now, I’m considering incorporating Strategy 3, giving away the “what and why” but selling the “how,” to further expand my offerings and cater to different learning preferences.

  3. Read more

    Melissa, your insights into online content pricing strategies for dog trainers, especially during the tumultuous times brought on by COVID, are enlightening. I remember when I first delved into online content for my pet photography business and was torn about what to offer for free versus charge for. Strategy 2: “Pay for the Plan” resonates with me as I often gave away snippets of content, but saved the structured guide for paying customers.


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