You Can't Be Everybody's Friends

Recently I saw Barry Ritholtz mentioned that he was selling video recordings of a conference he put on for only $69, and some of the people who commented on his site wrote garbage like this:

These people have enough capital to try to trade the markets, but spending $69 for one of the most in depth and most current pieces of information about their livelihood is completely out of the question. Imagine having the gall to register on someone's site to leave a comment like "where can we steal your work from."

And yet this is normal (and expected) behavior on the web, even in fields directly connected money / finance / investing!!!

Every day I get some non-customers who acts that way as well. The noise does wear you down, and it really does highlight the problems with free. When some people get hooked on free they have no end to the demands, and no respect or appreciation for the work.

I personally handle all customer correspondence, which is why I recently had to increase prices to slow down our rate of growth. I am only 1 person. Customers rarely wait as long as a day for a response. This guy never sent in 3 requests, was rude and demanding and demeaning, is not even a paying customer, and expects free phone support for software worth hundreds of dollars that we give away for free.

Why would I care if that guy used our tools for free? Since he is rude I hope he can't use them, such that any competent competitor interested in SEO has a competitive advantage over him. And that guy's rudeness shows that he probably lacks the social skills to be successful on a large distributed social network.

When you chose your customers you are picking how much you will enjoy your job.

There are a lot of potential bad customers like that, and you don't even want to suggest they become a paying customer. The only ways to handle people that are that rude are to either ignore them or tell them off to let them know they are not welcome in your business. If you play nice with a person that treats you like a doormat then it will only get worse in time.

The person who needs a lot of support BEFORE becoming a paying customer rarely becomes a profitable long-term customer. The person who needs a price break today expects a larger one tomorrow. They keep squeezing margins until you are a commodity and the model no longer works. It is just a path to self destruction because if you cater to such people you do not raise them up to your level, you lower yourself down to their level.

This reminds me of an important business lesson from a Dan Kennedy book called The Ultimate Success Secret that a great friend recommended I read about a year ago.

When I first started in the "success education business," one of the few people in the country who was consistently effective at selling self-improvement audiocassette programs direct, face-to-face to executives and salespeople, gave me what turned out to be very, very good advice - he said: "Don't waste your time trying to sell these materials to the people who need it the most. They won't buy it. You should focus on selling to successful people who want to get even better."

Over the years, I've demonstrated the validity of this to myself a number of different ways. And I've developed an explanation for it. There is what I now call "the self-esteem Catch-22 loop" at work here: in order for a person to invest directly in himself, which is what buying self-improvement materials is, he has to place value on himself, i.e. have high self-esteem, but if he has such high self-esteem, he is probably already doing well and does not have a critical need for this type of information; he will get marginal improvement out of it; but the person who needs it most does not place much value on himself, i.e. has relatively low self-esteem, which prohibits him from buying, believing in or using self-improvement materials.

I used to be all about making everything (or as much as possible) free because I liked helping people, but really most people won't act on advice or respect it much unless they pay for it. Human nature is what it is, and there is no point fighting it. ;)

At some point we may need to test moving from offering any tools for free to making everything paid just to filter out that noise. Such a move would likely cost us exposure, but most of that exposure is not leading to any tangible business anyhow.

Published: August 5, 2009 by Aaron Wall in marketing


August 5, 2009 - 12:46am

Not for nothing, but this is the most enjoyable piece of reading I've done in some time (and I do a lot of reading). We try our best to apply this methodology when picking the clients that we'll work with at my agency, but admittedly, we sometimes fall short (and almost always regret doing so in the long run).

Still, your advice rings true, whether you're selling something that costs 2-3 figures or 6-7 figures.

Well done.

August 5, 2009 - 1:40am

Fantastic Article, I know exactly how you feel :) I also do all my own customer support and sometimes it can be a real pain in the butt.

I used to accomodate to demanding / rude customers but in the past 3 months or so I've simply reverted to telling them I can refund them or they can calm down. If they are still rude I refund them and ignore them.

Luckily these customers only represent 1-2% of my customers.

IMO Giving away free info is still a great idea as it is by far the best marketing mechanism out there and ditching it because 1-2% of your customers are rude is really throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

- Tim

August 5, 2009 - 3:06pm

But 1 to 2% of customers being rude is not the big issue for me. It is more like 5% to 10% of the people who contact me who are not yet paying customers that act like total jackasses.

August 5, 2009 - 6:04am

Hey Aaron, I used to hate dealing with those type of people. You know raise your prices. After selling on the internet, found that many people think that as a buyer they are owed more than what is described. I was a big time seller on the internet and when I would get negative responses like that, I was not as polite as you. I would write back and say thanks for the input! You are a 'great' person with kind words. (sarcasm)

August 5, 2009 - 8:39am

I can only agree. My best customers have already perused my site for hours, learning stuff. Then they make a decision and pay upfront (for a template I supply). They're minimal trouble and use their initiative (which is essential for any one-man-band business which most of them are!).

The worst customers (or potential ones) are ones looking for a "magic bullet solution" - they want minimal effort for high returns. And they want to invest as little as possible into this mythical "magic bullet".

These people shouldn't even be thinking of running a business.

August 5, 2009 - 2:15pm

Great post. When I was freelancing, I had a policy "no jerks." I would tell people up front that I wouldn't work with them if they were a jerk. Sometimes I didn't get the business, but rarely did I have to work with people I didn't like.

August 5, 2009 - 2:27pm

I would be really sad to see your free tools move behind a veil, Aaron. They are truly great things you offer, and I'd hate to see you change your mind about the value in offering these for free.

August 5, 2009 - 3:10pm

I agree, I like helping people too but nobody respects something that is free.

I guess they only value it if they have to pay for it. The word "value" here is ironic in this context.

August 5, 2009 - 5:20pm

You've probably got enough exposure on these tools to make them paid now. Go for it, raise the bar to entry even more :)

Jim Spencer
August 5, 2009 - 6:17pm

I was told years ago that " free has no value ". It is tempting to run counter to this truism as a business and as a consumer, but it rarely works out as expected.

A possible interrum step from free to paid tools is to require a complimentary (yeah, I just couldn't type out "free")registration or subscription to a newsletter to gain access to the free tools.

If the folks bugging you are small fries, then consider pay per use. Small payment for 24 hours of use or similar.

Good Luck thinking this through Aaron. You have always provided value to me. Lots O Value!

August 5, 2009 - 7:07pm

Hey Aaron, here's a freebie...

On this page:

...if you add wmode="opaque" to your flash elements (video players) they won't overlap the bottom subscription banner as the page scrolls.

August 5, 2009 - 7:19pm

thanks for the helpful tip Chuck :)

August 5, 2009 - 9:08pm

Hiring new people and keeping up the good work needs profitable business products. Aaron's team is doing it right !

Selecting the good customers over the bad ones: 80 per cent of the profit comes out of 20 per cent (or less) of the customers.

Get rid of the bad ones, and make your real Customers and friends happy..


Thank you Aaron for your work,

Lee B
August 5, 2009 - 10:52pm

You cannot please everybody!!! Being in service oriented jobs for over 25 years I can attest to this first hand!! Good advice to not waste your time on the people who complain about the support they receive when they encounter problems with a FREE product!!! Some people will not be happy no-matter what!
Keep up the good work!

August 5, 2009 - 11:45pm

Excellent article Aaron. And very funny video too :)
Whenever I see a potential client becoming overly demanding, I try to steer away by saying I'm too busy with other projects. It helps cement in their minds that they likely wouldn't be able to afford me. So either they pony up (which they never do) or just leave me alone :)
Also, I really think you should put your tools under the paid tools category. They are just too good to be given away for free. Besides, you don't really need them for exposure. We're your exposure! :)

August 6, 2009 - 2:37am

Agree with Keemo - nowadays, I just drop a quote price on these types of people, and they ALWAYS disappear.

Such a simple rule : good customers respect others, bad customers show little or no respect. Why serve someone who in turn shows little or no respect to you? That's a dumb move.

jeffreynew, I can't tell if your comment is a joke or not....

August 6, 2009 - 1:23pm

jeffreynew's comment looked sorta spammy so I deleted it. I don't think it was a joke...just representative of the 99% of the market that you don't want to serve ;)

August 6, 2009 - 6:01am

I’ve written emails to Aaron few times and every single time he’s surprised me with a lightening fast reply and every time my reaction has been like: omg – how can he manage it so efficiently ?

Dude, ignore the hurtful ones for as they say, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.

Joseph Ratliff
August 6, 2009 - 10:32pm


I agree with you.

"Free" has to be managed carefully if you use it in your business. The Internet makes it challenging for sure to manage "free".

The expectation that something be "free" is only be generated when similar items or services have been given for free in the past (or it has been stolen)IMHO.

August 8, 2009 - 4:25am

Thanks Aaron, I love the vid! Funny stuff and yes there are certain types of people you want to watch out for and you don't want to have be your clients.

Also I love the customer video you put on the site Aaron! It's really great to hear others talking about the paid membership. I've been a fan of SEO book for a long time and have not avail myself of the paid membership but I think it's about time I join the crew. Hope to see you on the forums soon!

- Sean

August 8, 2009 - 6:03pm

Look forward to seeing you join Sean :)

August 14, 2009 - 11:08pm

I just wanted to add my $0.02 to the whole conversation.

Truth is, if you want to help people, even your friends? Charge them.

It sounds weird, but I've noticed this in business. When you undervalue something, you don't appreciate it and in some cases like educational material you don't even benefit from it.

If you spend $97 for an ebook, you'll read it cover to cover and try and get your $97 bux worth or justify a refund...

Truth is.. If someone GIVES You their product (like stompernet did for me years ago..) they collected dust on my shelf...

PAYING for their newer version a few months ago found myself actually reading everything they had to say... what a concept!

Bottom line, free doesn't really help anyone!

February 5, 2010 - 1:41am

Having Worked in retail and online reseller environments for 10 years, this is very true.

The people who want something for nothing end up costing more and killing profit. They're also mostly pain in the arse's.

The people who are happy to pay the retail price, or accept a nice reasonable offer, are generally happier customers, will come back again, and treat your fairly.

It all comes down to Mentality. People who want something 'Cheap' generally (not always) have very little conceptual awareness of how a business runs and operates.

People who like to spend money on quality items, don't over haggle or are happy to pay retail price, generally run their own successful businesses.

Disclaimer : It's not black and white, but it sure comes close ;)

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