About free lunches, and why you should offer them

Written by Philipp Steinweber

About free lunches, and why you should offer them

Did you know there’s a Wikipedia article for the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”? There’s even an initialism for it: TANSTAAFL. It sure makes an impression throwing those letters out in a conversation!

But why are we talking about lunch today? Is it because we finally discovered an authentic Indian Restaurant around the corner, with an amazing lunch menu? That totally is the reason! Because sitting there recently, spending very little money on lunch, that well-known phrase came back into my mind: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

While my 6 Foursquare contacts were already recognizing a pattern, and I was collecting new check-in stickers, I was once again struck by that phrase. It originates from the 1930s where it was common for American bars to offer “a free lunch” in order to attract customers who’d spend money on drinks. Buying at least one drink was complementary, and in addition the food was incredibly salty, so people got more thirsty. They had to keep buying more drinks.

So there’s a business model behind “free lunch”. And we’re kind of alright with it.

Tension between TANSTAAFL and hippie abundance?

The hippie in me is of course challenged by that statement. Nothing is free? Come on,we’ve been told there’s an abundance of everything, at least of love and zucchinis (we once grew so many we even made jam out of them).

But even that hippie way of thinking has the aspect of energy that has to be put into something first. Not everyone experiences tons of love or zucchinis – you have to tune in first. It’s a little less esoteric if we look at the animal world. I remember seeing this quote on Facebook one day:


But there’s also an exchange going on in the animal world. They have to put serious effort in, in order not to starve.

So yep, at first sight there is some kind of tension between saying that “nothing is free” and “we live in abundance”. Looking closer we can say: no tension, talking about the same thing!

How can you utilize free lunches?

Assuming your mission is morally aligned with humanity, there’s no need to not utilize the free lunch principle. It’s not something dirty. So as a coach and business owner, you have several possibilities for using free lunches.

The most obvious goal you can utilize it for is ultimately spreading your message, reaching more people and growing your business. Three ideas for doing so:

1. Opt-in bribe

Others do it, we do it, and you should definitely do it too. Give away something great if people subscribe to your newsletter. A small online course, an ebook, a worksheet… whatever your target group needs on the way to solving their problem. Your mailing list will benefit from it, and you might be able to convert some of the subscribers to qualified leads.

2. Free events

Depending how online your coaching undertakings are, this could be either a webinar, free meditation evenings, free women/men circles… whatever your ideal customer requires. For webinars you obviously collect email addresses in the signup process – for offline events you can let a paper list go around where people can enter their details.

Generally there’s a tendency for people who sign up offline to be even more loyal than people who sign up online. Consider doing both!

3. Content Marketing

Give away great content for free. Write blog posts about your approach. Help as many people as you can. And most important: don’t be afraid that people consuming your articles don’t need your help anymore and you’re ruining your business by giving your secrets away for free. People will still reach out to you, with their questions, needing more advice. Promised.

So as you see, there are many ways of giving out free lunches, and getting benefits from them. Over and over again we see that they are working for our clients. Try to apply all three approaches in the long run. Where you best start out depends where your coaching business is currently at. There’s a high chance that you’re already doing some of them. Step back and see if they’re bringing the results that they should be. And tweak accordingly.

Enjoy your meal.

About the author

Philipp Steinweber

Philipp is the founder of Metamonks and Omooni, and passionate about personal growth. On Soulful Hustle he open-sources the strategies and insights learned from his projects.