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I’ve written before about free resources and how to use them in your business. I even offer quite a few to you, my dear blog readers. Sometimes free can be fabulous, am I right?

Right now, however, I want to talk about the hazards of using free stuff.

Specifically, let’s talk about how free things can cost a lot if they harm your brand. I observed a discussion recently among organizers looking for a free template for a “letter of agreement” that brought up some issues that all new organizers should know about.

A “letter of agreement” (LOA) is the term used for a document that spells out how an organizer and client will work together. The LOA may also be called a “client agreement,” “contract,” or similar term. It usually addresses topics including:

  • Fees, including how much the client will pay and in what increments (by the hour, the day, the quarter-hour, the project, or some other measure)
  • How and when payment will be made, for example, what credit cards does the organizer accept
  • Cancellation policy, or how much notice must a client give to avoid incurring charges for a missed appointment
  • Travel policy, including how far or how long the organizer will travel without charging extra in terms of time or mileage
  • Confidentiality, which addresses under what conditions, if any, the client’s information will be shared with another party

There can be many other points addressed in an LOA. Each one will be specific to how the organizing business operates. And that gives a hint about the trouble with taking a free template off the web to use in your business.

Imagine this

Ms. New is an organizer who, hoping to be cost-conscious in her business, finds an LOA template online and decides to use it in her business. Ms. New’s website is written in a more formal, third-person style. The images on her site are all black-and-white shots with artsy angles and moody lighting.

Her headshot is a three-quarter frame in which she wears a crisp, white shirt and navy blazer. She aims to serve businesses and residential clients who place a higher value on professionalism than on a cozy, personal relationship.

But the LOA she finds is written in a casual, folksy tone using the first-person “I” throughout. It does not address travel except by driving distances, while Ms. New works in a large city, takes public transit, and sometimes flies out-of-state to work with her clients. The LOA addresses credit cards but says nothing about progress payments and other payment issues that Ms. New needs to address with her clients.

When presented with this LOA, the prospective client becomes confused

There is a glaring lack of connection between how Ms. New is represented by her website and how she is presented by her LOA. This problem is not limited to LOA’s, of course. If Ms. New chose a newsletter template with pastel colors and a perky handwriting font in contrast to her black-and-white website, or if her social media posts were populated by sayings that reflect on the life of young mothers at home, the effect would be the same: a message that confuses her prospective client.

We cannot be all things to all people, so we want to create a consistent branding message.

Ms. New intends to communicate to clients that she is detail-oriented, no-nonsense, and skilled at simplifying complicated situations. This is the point of her website and headshot choices. But by helping herself to many free resources from the web, Ms. New has created a mixed message.

To use a food analogy, it is as though she wanted to make an appealing salsa of tomatoes and peppers, but she has tossed in some free chocolate chips and wasabi, besides. Ms. New has thrown a bunch of ingredients into the blender and come up with an unappealing mess.

If you do choose to use free resources, make sure you customize them.

As the award-winning cookbook tells us, you have to adjust the “salt, fat, acid, and heat” to create the appealing dish; Ms. New has to adjust and rework all resources to get the balance that will speak clearly to her prospective client.

Always make sure your forms and documents consistently project you and your brand.

I’ve been asked many times to sell my LOA as a stand-alone product. It’s part of an 80+ page package called New Organizer Essentials that includes checklists and essential forms to help organizers project confidence in the legal, business, and client-relationship aspects of their businesses.

But, because I believe part of the business start-up process means creating and branding our processes, forms, and documents as soon as possible after we decide to start a business, I’ve declined to separate out the LOA.

Yes, free can be fab. But if it comes at the cost of your brand, it’s no bargain.

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