We spend a lot of time writing about what you should do to build your brand, make more sales, and build stronger relationships. In theory this makes sense, but in practice, we understand that there is a very tempting word out there on the Internet that can derail all of your hard work without you even knowing it. That word? FREE.
Giving into the temptation to use “free" tools to get your business cards printed, your logo designed and your website built is the fastest way to broadcast that you’re an amateur.
I’ll dive into a few very important reasons why free tools are never really free, but the bottom line for everyone is that there is real value to be had from paying for quality, professional services.
Your image is everything when you’re meeting someone for the first time. How much value will they see in your work when they turn over your business card and there’s an ad for the printer that says, “Get your free business cards at _____________"? If they see that you don’t even invest in your own business, why should they?
The myth of the free business card
Since I used this as my first example, let’s start here. We’ve all seen the offers - and in case you haven’t, I’m not going to name any names since this whole post is about resisting the temptation they provide – for “FREE" business cards printed and delivered to your door. It seems so convenient!
But the worst part for me is that most of the free providers will show you what your card is going to look like, including a message on the back that is essentially an ad for THEIR company. Which means that in order for you to get your cards printed for free, you actually have to make the choice that you’re okay with that. You should NEVER be okay with that. This is your card. This is your image. If you don’t protect it, no one will.
The myth of the free website
Mistake number one that many business people make is thinking that a free web template is the same thing as a free website. Sure you can plug in as much content as you want, and you can even upload images and change your navigation. But without even a basic level of design and development, you have a site that more clearly communicates your amateur status than your message and brand. You're announcing that your business is merely a template – a copy and paste effort.
And then, much like your free business card, at some point you’ll notice a message at the bottom of your site that says something to the effect of “This site powered by (insert name of free web tool provider)." You know how you get rid of that? Yes indeed, by paying for an upgraded package.
Current statistics about web usage make it clear that the average visitor to a site makes a decision about the legitimacy of the business within a matter of seconds. Can you guess what their biggest indicator of quality is? Design. When you present a template that anyone else can download, set up on a server and dump content into, you’re telling visitors that there’s nothing special about you and that there’s really no reason to stick around.
The myth of the free logo
This one is huge. Really, it’s a bigger issue than the cards and website combined. Your logo should be a symbol of your brand, not just a swirl of color or clip art you downloaded or picked out of a Word file.
While I’m on the subject, one very important consideration here is that finding an image on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free for you to use. The same goes for clip art. More often than not, images and art files are copyrighted and use restricted to varying degrees. Not knowing where to look for that information could make you liable for using them without permission.
But that’s not even the most important reason to avoid clip art and free designs. If you’re a fledgling company or even a small business with a successful track record, your brand recognition may be slim at best. Using a design that is available to everyone does nothing to help you stand out. In fact, it does more to hold you back. That split second judgement by your visitor should be, "Wow! This is impressive, distinct, created with intent." But when you go for free, the typical response is, "This isn't a real business. It's generic, auto-generated nonsense. Back button!"
Free can be very expensive
It should be apparent by now that the general theme I’m trying to communicate here is still a strategy to help you stand out by not doing what everyone else does. Building value in your own image, or that of your business, starts with an investment.
You’re going to be investing a lot of time. You’re going to be investing a lot of knowledge. So why would you stop short of investing a little money when it’s paying for tools that will often introduce you to a prospect before you ever meet face-to-face?
Don’t let a free price tag cost you valuable opportunities, a reputable brand, and those priceless first impressions.