What is the true value of free?

• To a budget conscious family, free stretches the grocery budget.
• To the single mom, it can be the hot meal for breakfast,
• To the business owner, it can be the draw to purchase more than one product.
• To the home based entrepreneur, it can cost your business hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the term of your business.

For years, as home business owner, I was always seeking meeting rooms, particularly the free meeting room. Because I wanted to be a leader that led by example, I thought by showing my team there were places to host meetings and did not have an out of pocket investment, I was helping them to pave the way to leadership. Unfortunately, that investment turned out to be the most damaging investment of my business.

Open your mind and let’s walk this journey together and recognize how free can cost you.

Meeting room number 1. Local coffee shop, essentially there are big box and local coffee shops. Free wi-fi and sometimes password protected wi-fi, but who is sitting next to you as you key in your password. The scanner that is sitting in the backpack drawing in your information and the recorder that is recording your business meeting. Since you are a regular, they know that you meet your new clients there weekly. Your calendar is clock work, but you are not gaining new business. Occasionally, one will sign the new contract, but you cannot make the close on the sale. After the first few, you start to change your approach, scanning books for ideas and redirection, then you begin to question 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 in use by another meeting that is running over. By the time the staff cleans up the room and refreshes it, you are 20 late into your preparation and you have reserved the meeting room for two hours. Guests begin to arrive and the server enters the room to take beverage orders. Presentation begins and they arrive with the beverage orders, only to start over again to take appetizer and menu orders. Within 15 to 20 minutes, they arrive with appetizers, then in 10 to 12 minutes start to arrive with food orders. During the time, there is conversation that is taking place and the attention is focused on the server, not on your presentation. Between 15 and 25 minutes after the food has arrived, they return to refill beverages and begin to clear plates, only to return to see if anyone wants dessert. Your 2 hour presentation that you have carefully prepared has not been given the full attention that you desire and less than 1/3 of the room will even remember ¼ of the presentation. Questions at the end will be skipped because they will have missed some of the critical points that you focused on.

Meeting room number 3. Grocery store loft. Sunday afternoon while patrons are enjoying lunch. Children are playing in the play area while children’s music and videos are playing. Sure there are multiple areas to meet, but signs everywhere asking you to “refrain from engaging in solicitation or distribution of literature, business or other group meetings, or other conduct which might bother other customers.” For a party plan business where recognition is essential to teams, your excitement may involve staff as they ask your group to refrain from being too loud. For the client that wants to hire you to increase their social presence, you are inviting them to meet you in a grocery store.

Meeting room number 4. The local deli. Simply grab lunch and have your business meeting. No interruptions from staff, you are responsible for cleaning up your plates. Your client is paying you to help them increase their business exposure, organize their time, coach them for new business ideas, brainstorm and more. Then the moment that the person sitting at the next table is typing as quickly as you can talk, pausing when you pause, leaning closer when you get quieter. Your business is valuable and you just gave away an hour of free to a stranger when your paying client just paid you top dollar for information that is suppose to bring in more business.

Finally meeting room number 5. Your living room, your home office, your basement. Welcome stranger into your home. Without asking for criminal background check, everyone has a past. Most professionals are doing business with legitimate business people, however, there is always a chance. As parents, we teach our children not talk to strangers, yet we invite strangers into our home. If your children happen to be home, the next polite step would be for the children to say hello and quietly go play. The stranger has just learned that you have children, where the playroom is and if you have a pet and the size of the pet. There are the precious family pictures on the wall, your address, everything about you is exposed in the presence of someone you don’t know. The layout of your home from the moment they walk into the door unless you have a separate entrance. In business, we want to trust everyone who 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 take away business. When you walk into an establishment and take advantage of the free meeting room, there are expectations. Food purchases, they may say no purchase required, but they will be disappointed and will begin to recognize your monthly call and tell you the room is not available especially if you are not making a food purchase. They may offer free with a minimum food purchase.

Free can be swapping products for the use of a meeting room. In the end the cost is still an out of pocket cost for you.

Free is great until the local baseball team shows up for pizza and ice cream.

Free is the lost business that someone else gained. Your public meeting just opened up the door to another competitor who just heard your price quote and the gathering of information is instrumental to their boss and paycheck.

Free offers you nothing in return.

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