Mike has made a reputation for himself for being able to 'blag' almost anything from companies rather than having to pay for it. In his new Kindle e-book Free Stuff Everyday (available from the Amazon Kindle Store) he explains how anyone can follow in his footsteps.
ND: Welcome to my blog, Mike. Could you start by telling my readers a bit about yourself. How did you first become a 'freebie-seeker'? And what are the biggest or most unusual freebies you have received to date?
ME: It all started when I was writing a video game website in my spare time. I was asked by a company if I'd like a free game in return for a review. I accepted the game, wrote an honest review, and this taught me the concept of offering something to companies that wasn't money, in return for a free product. Within a year I had over 100 games, simply by asking companies for them.
It was around this time I realised that companies want to give their products away. Not all of their products, naturally, but by giving away their products to a select group, they can use this group to build up their brand experience and gain valuable product feedback. It's much more valuable if a friend recommends a product to you, than the company themselves. By giving products away these companies are creating brand advocates who can spread these messages.
This realisation evolved into a blog where I would review any product I was sent, and I then developed other ways people could get free things, such as by product testing, filming videos or taking photos. Even something as simple as setting up a book club with friends works very well.
I've covered pretty much everything from getting my entire Christmas for free two years in a row - the tree, food and all the presents - to a kitchen sink (yes, really!). I've tested Xboxes, cosmetics, kitchen goods, designer trainers, and luxury days out - all based on the principle of offering something simple to companies in return.
ND: Tell us about your e-book, Free Stuff Everyday. Are the methods you suggest legal and ethical? And could anyone apply them, or do you need to be a certain type of individual?
ME: Free Stuff Everyday is the combination of four years of 'blagging' experience. Having tested a lot of different concepts, I've been able to distill this method of getting free stuff down to nine possible strategies, of which the book includes 90 examples. Whether you're confident or shy, I've researched an option for everyone. Contacting companies is the part that scares some people, but I do most of my blagging by sending emails, and rarely have a phone call with a company.
When I started blagging I was very shy, had little confidence and wasn't sure what to do. I'm not a celebrity, and don't get anything free due to status. I'm just a normal person trying to save money, and this book is designed to appeal to anyone in the same boat. Of course, if you read the book you'll have an advantage with chapters to give you extra confidence when emailing companies, and I'll arm you with killer offers that will make companies want to send you stuff.
In addition, throughout my entire time trying to get freebies I have had a day job as well. So the tips are designed to work around people's everyday lives. I've included a 30-day plan, which sets out the first steps for anyone who wants to get started, and that's based on 10-30 minute sessions each day.
The book contains a chapter of rules to keep all prospective blaggers safe and legal. Although I got a lot of freebies by writing about them, I always told the truth - if a product was rubbish, I would say so. This is no different to a company sending a product to a newspaper for a review, and I'm up front with every company that I can't return any samples. Honestly is the best policy.
Incidentally, I know your blog has many readers outside the UK, so I'd like to confirm that it's possible to use the tips in my book anywhere companies advertise their products. My solutions are based on gaining freebies by talking about products, which is a universal concept. Of the people I have helped through my blog, 35 percent are from the US and Europe - so the tips are very accessible worldwide.
ND: What made you decide to self-publish Free Stuff Everyday as an e-book?
ME: All of the research I did into print books through providers like Lulu seemed to create a false economy. If I sold my e-book at the same price it is now, in print form, I'd lose £2 on every copy. It didn't seem right to boost the cost of the product, simply because I was being punished with high distribution costs solely for being a self-published author. I'm not averse to the idea of publishing a print copy via a traditional publisher, which would work out a lot cheaper for the readers, but as I'm impatient and wanted to get straight to market, I went with the e-book format initially.
The other main advantage is that I can tweak my e-book at any point and then it will get updated straight to the readers. As my book is a how-to guide, it lends itself well to regular updates. I've already had requests from readers who loved the book but wanted extra explanation in key areas. This way I can provide extra content within 48 hours, and I don't have to wait for a second edition to give loyal readers some bonus content. In addition, when I do publish a print version, it'll have a lot more valuable content.
ND: How did you find the process of preparing your manuscript for the Amazon Kindle? And have you any hints or tips you could pass on to readers who may be thinking of publishing a Kindle e-book themselves?
ME: I originally wrote the book as a PDF and tried to sell it direct to people through my website. This didn't seem to work, as I think people are sceptical of scam e-books, and especially giving their credit card to websites that aren't typical shopping portals. I'd heard a lot about the Kindle, so decided to move my e-book to this format, so people could buy it from an authorized dealer and feel safer that they were dealing with a brand and shopping cart system they already understood.
As a UK author, Amazon was the easiest platform to work with. It's format is the closest to a word doc, and you don't have to go through long-winded US tax form filling, as with the iBookstore. Converting my word document to Kindle format took about four hours, and I got most of the work done by converting my Word file to a Web Page (File; Save As; then choose Web Page from the drop-down). After that I mainly removed the table of contents, hyperlinks and headers, as these weren't supported.
If you're curious you can register for an Amazon account in minutes and see a preview as it would appear on a Kindle. Unlike print, the Kindle can scale content in multiple sizes, so you can't be too precious as to where content ends on a page, as it constantly shifts. Instant previews are a great way to check your book will be viewed well. Even if you don't own a Kindle, there's no reason you can't publish on the format.
Don't bother with the default book covers on Kindle. Be sure to invest in a good design. I actually purchased my cover for $5 dollars from the website fiverr.com. You can find people willing to do things for $5 and I was very impressed with the final cover. It saved my about four hours of Photoshop work, and if you have no design experience it's a real life saver.
The only other thing I would suggest is that you over-estimate the time needed for formatting. There's a lot of badly formatted books in the Kindle Store, and they make the rest of us look bad. In addition, readers can get samples of every book for free. Poorly formatted books make a bad first impression, so for extra sales get the formatting right.
ND: One question I like to ask all my interviewees - could you tell us three of your favourite websites, and why you like them?
ME: For deals online there's really no better website that Hot UK Deals. I try to avoid using coupons and vouchers, as I'd rather ask a company for something free instead - but if you are in a rush and need to save money, they can pretty much find you a deal on anything.
Seth Godin's Blog is another big favourite of mine. Seth is a marketing guru whose books taught me many of the best business tips I know. His blog is essential daily reading for anyone who wants inspiration at work.
I can't forget my videogame past, so Eurogamer is another daily visit. I rarely read an entire article - usually I skim the content and check the new review scores to find out what's worth trying to blag. I'll alternate between this and Digital Spy (a great site for news and views on UK TV shows) pretty much every day.
ND: Finally, where does Freebieman go next? Do you have any further writing or publishing projects in mind?
ME: Alongside my day job, I'm fully focused on updating the Free Stuff Everyday guide at the moment, and am collecting reader feedback to make it even better. There's my day job too, which is where I get to put online marketing to the test, and that's a great place to work. I'd love to talk at seminars, conferences or even on TV shows, and this is something I'm working towards this year.
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Many thanks to Mike for answering my questions in such comprehensive and interesting detail. I would just like to add that I have read Free Stuff Everyday myself and found it both interesting and inspiring. You can read my review if you like via this permalink.
If you don't have a Kindle, by the way, you can also buy Mike's e-book in a range of other formats (including PDF and Epub) from Smashwords.
For those who would like to know more about him, Mike Essex works as a search specialist for digital marketing agency Koozai and is a self-published author of the Free Stuff Everyday guide. His personal blog is Mike Essex.co.uk and he is happy to receive emails at any time.
In addition, if you have any comments or questions for Mike, as ever, feel free to leave them below.
Publicity photos provided by the author.