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Stay clear of using the F-Word in business!


Yesterday morning, I spent some time with local business people when I attended a Business over Breakfast networking event. One of the interesting things I learned was the inherent hatred for that F-Word!

I've never been to a networking event of this type before, sure I have 'networked' at seminars and meet-ups but never attended a structured event designed solely to give a platform for local business people to offer guidance and advice and mutually help each other out. 

People round a table at a networking eventI was a little bit of a fish out of water, I've always got jobs via word of mouth and through people that I already knew such as previous clients, and usually, the people I converse with are in the technology sector. But this networking event had business owners from all walks of life with different ages and experiences. From mortgage brokers to funeral celebrants and private drivers. Of course, they all had things in common, they all had a business with a product or service and all wanted to make money by mutually helping each other out.

As well as the usual introductions and success story presentations, there was time to chat about things in general, and during this time a couple of the members had become very vocal when someone else used the word "Free"

The response was that you should never use the word "Free". In fact, we don't use that particular F-Word in the room at all, there are much better ways of communicating free services, products or samples. I see free stuff all the time, it always felt like a vibrant selling word to me, but not to these people, and they should know... Some of these people have been in business longer than I've been an adult! 

So what's wrong with the word "Free"? So many people use it, why wouldn't I?

Rethinking "Free"

In the world of marketing and customer service, language is a powerful tool. The words we choose can shape perceptions, influence decisions, and create lasting impressions. The word "Free" is overused on every billboard and banner advert. However, this term can be misleading and may not always convey the intended message, most people understand the adage that there's 'no such thing as a free lunch', so why would they have full trust at this point?

Instead, terms like "complimentary" or "at my own expense" are much better words and phrases for a small to medium business owner or service provider. 

Using the phrase "At my own expense" demonstrates transparency and fosters trust. It acknowledges that there is a cost involved, the word "Free" has no value whatsoever, free literally means that...  So when something is "At my own expense", it means that the business has chosen to bear that cost for the benefit of the customer. This honesty can build stronger relationships with customers, as they feel respected and valued.

For example, if you give someone a search engine keyword audit for "Free" there is no way of them knowing whether there is a cost associated with that, after all, it may be that you as the service provider are getting the audit free and just passing it on to them. But if it's "At my own expense" then there are two things which cannot be disputed: 1. There is a cost to this service or product and 2. The customer will not be paying for it... This time... 

In addition, the word "Complimentary" is also a fantastic replacement for the dreaded F-Word. Offering something as "Complimentary" instead of "Free" frames the conversation around value rather than cost. "Complimentary" suggests a gift given as a courtesy, enhancing the customer's perception of you without the expectation of something in return. This term elevates the perceived value of the offer and positions the business owner as generous and customer-focused.

Of course, there's always the question of honesty. Don't use "Complimentary" if there's a hidden catch. But if you're genuinely offering something of value without expecting immediate financial return, then stay away from the F-Word!

I really could do with your help! If you find this article interesting, could you please do me a favour by either sharing it on your site or on social media. I would love to hear yours and other peoples' thoughts on this subject. And if this or any other content on the site has helped you and you would like to show your appreciation, then you can always buy me a coffee ☕️ It would make the time I put into this more than worthwhile! Thank you 😃