What is the true value of free?
• For a budget-conscious family, free expands the grocery budget.
• For the single mother, it can be a hot breakfast meal,
• For the business owner, it may be attractive to buy more than one product.
• For the home-based entrepreneur, it can cost your business hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the life of your business.
For years, as a home business owner, I always looked for meeting rooms, especially the free meeting room. Because I wanted to be a leader who leads by example, I thought that by showing my team that there were meeting places and that I didn’t have a pocket investment, I was helping them pave the way to leadership. Unfortunately, that investment turned out to be the most damaging investment in my business.
Open your mind and let’s go through this journey together and recognize how free it can cost you.
Meeting room number 1. Local coffee shop, basically there are great local coffee shops and coffee shops. Free Wi-Fi and sometimes password-protected wi-fi, but who’s sitting next to you as you enter your password. The scanner that is in the backpack drawing your information and the recorder that is recording your business meeting. Since you are a regular customer, they know that you meet your new customers there on a weekly basis. Your calendar is running like clockwork, but you are not winning new business. Occasionally, one will sign the new contract, but will not be able to close the sale. After the first few, you start shifting your focus, scanning books for ideas and redirects, then you start questioning your decision to become an entrepreneur.
Meeting room number 2. The local restaurant has a free meeting room. You arrive early to set up your presentation only to find that it is already being used by another meeting that is running. By the time the room is cleaned and updated by the staff, you’ve been 20 hours behind schedule and booked the meeting room for two hours. Guests begin to arrive and the server enters the room to take drink orders. The presentation begins and they arrive with the drink orders, only to start over to take the appetizer and menu orders. In 15 to 20 minutes, they arrive with snacks, then in 10 to 12 minutes they start arriving with food orders. During the time, there is a conversation taking place and the focus is on the server, not your presentation. Between 15 and 25 minutes after the food arrives, they return to refill drinks and begin to empty the plates, only to return to see if anyone wants dessert. Your 2-hour presentation that you have carefully prepared has not received all the attention you want and less than 1/3 of the room will remember even ¼ of the presentation. The questions at the end will be omitted because they will have missed some of the critical points that you focused on.
Meeting room number 3. Grocery store loft. Sunday afternoon while clients enjoy lunch. Children play on the playground while children’s videos and music are played. Sure there are several areas to meet, but there are signs everywhere asking you to “refrain from soliciting or distributing literature, business or other group gatherings, or other conduct that may upset other customers.” For a party planning business where recognition is essential for teams, your enthusiasm can get the staff involved as they ask your group to refrain from making too much noise. For the customer who wants to hire you to increase his social presence, you are inviting him to meet you at a grocery store.
Meeting room number 4. The local deli. Just have lunch and have your business meeting. Without staff interruptions, you are responsible for cleaning your dishes. Your client is paying you to help them increase their business exposure, organize their time, train them for new business ideas, brainstorm, and more. Then the moment the person sitting at the table next to you is typing as fast as he can speak, pausing when pausing, leaning closer when he’s calmer. Your business is valuable and you just gave a free hour to a stranger when your paying customer just paid you the best price for information that is supposed to bring in more business.
Finally meeting room number 5. Your living room, your home office, your basement. Welcome stranger to your house. Without asking for a criminal background check, everyone has a past. Most professionals do business with legitimate entrepreneurs, however the possibility always exists. As parents, we teach our children not to talk to strangers, but we invite strangers into our home. If your children are home, the next courteous step would be for the children to say hello and go quietly to play. The stranger just found out that you have children, where is the playroom and if you have a pet and the size of the pet. There are beautiful family photos on the wall, your address, everything about you is displayed in the presence of someone you do not know. The layout of your home from the moment you walk in the door, unless you have a separate entrance. In business, we want to trust everyone we personally invite into our homes, but we also live in a world that is not as safe as we want to believe.
Free is a four letter word that can literally kill your business. When you walk into an establishment and take advantage of the free meeting room, there are expectations. Grocery shopping, they may say no purchase is required but they will be disappointed and start to acknowledge your monthly call and tell you the room is not available especially if you are not making a grocery purchase. They can offer free with a minimum purchase of food.
Free you can exchange products for the use of a meeting room. In the end, the cost is still an out-of-pocket cost to you.
Free is great until the local baseball team shows up for pizza and ice cream.
Free is the lost business that someone else won. Your public meeting has just opened the door to another competitor who has just heard your quote and gathering information is critical to your boss and your paycheck.
Free does not offer you anything in return.