Ever heard the old saw “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”  This has a lot of wisdom for uISVs, who often are their own worst competitors.  We’re all sitting by the side of the road with a big sign saying “Get your free milk!”  Sometimes somebody ambles down, sees our sign, and says “Sure, I’ll take some free milk.”  And then he drinks it and leaves before we can even tell him how well-tempered of a cow she is.

I am not in the business of giving away milk, or selling cows.  My philosophy with Bingo Card Creator is that I give away cookies.  Because really, milk is a lovely drink but few people get up in the morning and say “I think I’ll go take a stroll around the neighborhood to find an independent farmer to buy milk from”.  Now cookies, on the other hand, put up a sign saying free cookies and you’ll be out of them before you can say boo.  So here’s me, sitting by my free cookie sign, with constantly pulling more out of my infinitely deep cookie jar.  And along comes a customer.  “Did I hear right about the free cookies?”, he asks me.  Yep, certainly sir, chocolate chip and absolutely delicious.  Have four, they’re small.

My customer spends several minutes going through my assortments of free cookies.  He can’t get enough of them.  And then he starts to get thirsty.  Pack down 3 dozen cookies and you’d be thirsty too.  Then, he notices a sign next to one of the cookie plates: “Feeling thirsty?  I bet you’d love some free milk.  Happens we have that, too.  Its right around the shed.”

So the customer runs around the shed and meets Betsie.  Betsie is wearing a sign saying “Hideho, looking for milk?  My name is Betsie and I’m your free dairy cow.”  And the customer has died and gone to heaven.  Not only is he stuffed full of cookies but he now has a free cow.  All he needs to do is sit down and milk her to finish his immediate need, then he can take her home.

So he sits down on the stool, and then realizes “Uh oh, no pail.”  Then he looks up and sees “Need a pail?  $24.95, less in quantity.  Ask the Cookie Guy.”

The cookies are the free sample cards I give out.   My target user is out on the Internet looking for an activity to do to teach something: maybe sight words, maybe phonics, maybe multiplication tables.  She (and she’s almost certainly a she, because she is teaching grade school) came to my site because I offer free activities to do exactly what she wants to do.  One mouse click later and she’s got a bingo card in front of her (I love you, Adobe Acrobat, thank you for being installed on every computer I’ve ever seen).  She can get eight the same way, and the last four all come on a single page so she realizes that I have that key feature.

Then, I ask her if she wants more cards from the same set.  Of course she does, because she has more than eight students.  Thats where she meets the cow — my free download.  A cow is a much bigger commitment than a cookie — my customer might even have to install the Java runtime (a 20 minute process if she’s on dialup).  But its a free cow, and it promises over a dozen cards to a thing which she was looking for and which she knows I can deliver (she’s got the proof literally in her hands by this point if she printed the PDFs).

So she sits down through my install process (if you’ve got Java, thats somewhere in the vicinity of five mouse clicks.  The program opens up directly into a free trial notice, then the main screen gives her instructions on exactly her use case — click open, click this folder to find your activity, click print.  She probably immediately prints one card to test and, sure enough, it works perfectly with no configuration.  Then she clicks print again and schedules one for everybody in her class.

And thats where she realizes that she has no pail.  A popup hits and says “This trial version is limited to printing 15 cards from any particular list.  You have printed 1 card, so your request of 22 cards puts you over the limit.  Would you like to register your software right now to be able to print as many cards as you want? YES / NO”.  Clicking on yes takes her straight to purchasing options, where I tell her for $24.95 I’ll sell her a pail that will hold all the milk she can handle.

I anticipate this process will generate a heck of a lot more conversions over time than actually selling to people who know they’re in the market for “make my own printable bingo cards”.