Should Wi-Fi freeloaders be kicked out?

So, it is finally here. No "free lunch or latte". Starbucks is making a move to limit free Wi-Fi and get freeloaders to leave and increase table-turns. Others may follow. Panera has had a policy of limiting access during peak times. Should we be angry? Absolutely not. As a business owner, you have one obligation; provide a good product or service. Free Wi-Fi is not a product or service. It is convenient and at times a lifesaver. Convenience is not free. If you've ever attempted to find a seat in a crowded Starbucks, you're out of luck. Look around and observe the highly focused occupants with their oversized earphones, stack of books and cellphones, going about their "business" with total indifference. You will rarely if ever see an empty coffee cup or crumbs on that table. Let's not mention those who dare bring a slice of pizza into the coffee shop so they can watch YouTube for free.

Offering free Wi-Fi to entice customers is a good idea. Letting them rob you of revenues is not. Enough is enough.

Serial networkers have made Starbucks and Panera their home away from home. No Diner will ever put up with a one-hour sit-down over a mere cup of coffee. If you're going to conduct business in a place that offers Wi-Fi, you need to purchase something in return. It is the right thing to do. I don't know many networkers who occupy those seats who are willingly offering their services for free.

There should be a minimum purchase to enjoy the privilege of free Wi-Fi. A $5 coffee gets you 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi. A $10 purchase gets you 60 minutes. There are plenty of tools that can manage this process for any business. Someone just needs to have the guts to change their policy. No worries, we've proven that the process works.

When we hold "free" networking events with drinks and some food, we are overrun by freeloaders.  When we have a symbolic cover charge, we have great events. The higher the price tag, the better the quality of attendees. So Starbucks or other shops that are overrun by freeloaders need not worry. The empty seats will invite the serious business crowd, those with integrity and respect that we have no right to take advantage of someone who is providing us with good service.

Remember the sign "Restrooms for customers only" and the big key tied up to a huge sign that you must ask for in order to use the restroom?

"Wi-Fi for customers only. Minimum purchase $5 for up to 3o minutes, or buy a 30-minute Wi-Fi card for $5". Either way, the owner and those of us that need a break and a latte win.

So what can we learn? Evaluate your "free" offers and question what you're getting in return. There is a misconception that free is good. Or that free increases traffic. Interestingly, using the word "free" in an email is a guarantee that you'll wind up in Spam. Wonder why?

The best customers are those who recognize the value of an "exchange" -- I have a problem, you solve it, I pay you.

But, what if I don't know you, don't trust you or I'm not sure? You have to earn my trust and my business. Why do so many business owners think that by offering a "free" product or service you overcome these challenges? "If I can get you to try me, you'll like me". Not a bad assumption but my point is: If I can get you to pay for the "trial" you will appreciate it a lot more. Why? We take "free" for granted. How many times have you asked for and received free samples. Chances are, they are still in their original box. There is no perceived value for "free".

But, if I paid for my sample, I will make sure that I use it. And if the product is great, I am going to buy it. So, the probability of  a "sale" increases when there is an "exchange", not when it is free. This has been proven time and time again, yet, we continue to dismiss this fact.

So why is free so popular? Because it is the easy way out. Identify the value you provide and convincing prospects why they should buy from you is hard work. With free, you think that don't have to do anything. Everyone wants free, they'll coming running in.

We provided many free samples throughout my career. We've also done a great job following up on them. The answer we heard more often than not was "Oh, I did get it thank you very much but I've been so busy I didn't even get a chance to look at it". So we stopped offering free samples. We charged for shipping, it's only fair. You get free product on our dime, but you pay for shipping. Yes, that worked better than "free".