Free Pens and Free Money

Bob enjoying some free time in the Air Force barracks. Sometime around 1950.

“I’ll take a free sample!” was what my dad always replied when you asked if he needed anything while you went out to the bank.  He loved free things.  He and my mom would plan their grocery trips around lunchtime and nibble on all the free samples.  Sometimes it was enough food that they could skip lunch altogether.  Asking for a free sample from the bank was his joke that maybe, someday, they would give out dollars as free samples.

When dad went to the bank, he got the next best thing to free samples, free pens.  He would come home with  5 or 6 from each trip.  When all the pen-holders at his house were filled up, he would hand me a bunch wrapped in a rubber band whenever I visited.  It didn’t matter that they were crappy pens that couldn’t retract the inky point and they ran out of ink quickly.  They were free so he was taking them.

I learned what could get in the way of this mindset when I started my massage business.  A friend hosted a “success workshop” at her business which sounded intriguing.  It had a price of $25 if you bought a ticket in advance or $30 if you paid at the door.  Usually, I took the discount, but not this time.  I couldn’t  decide if I was going or not.  That evening I showed up, paid my $30 and sat in a circle on the floor of a yoga studio.

The teacher put a $20 bill in the middle of the floor, said anyone was welcome to it, and then proceeded to talk about everything except that $20.  After about ten minutes, one man went to the middle, grabbed the money, and sat back down.  Then, the teacher told us the lesson.  When you see or hear of an opportunity, act on it.  If there’s an offer of money to be had, go for it.  Then, he told the man that he could keep the $20.  I was dumbfounded. Teachers use these kind of things to illustrate a point, but that guy was rewarded for acting first!  The teacher didn’t want the money back.  It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

On the way out, the teacher asked me what I did.  I was still working a desk job to pay the bills while I built my massage business. I joked, “Do you want to know what I do to make money or what I really love to do?”  He was dead serious when he replied, “I only want to talk about what you love to do.”

It turns out that he was a business coach.  I was impressed so I worked with him for a few sessions.  He helped me discover that I had trouble marketing my business because I was afraid of being seen which could possibly lead to being rejected.   So, I was really afraid of being rejected, which is a common fear.  Once I knew that, I realized how unreasonable it is to have everyone like your work.  If only a small percentage of people heard of me and became regular clients, that’s all I needed to have a financially successful business.

I also didn’t forget that my fear cost me $5 that night.  Sure, it’s a small amount of money, but wouldn’t you rather learn your lessons on small stuff instead of big stuff?  My fear of being rejected was why I couldn’t commit to going to the class ahead of time.  Subconsciously, I knew that if I went, it would help launch my massage business and then a few people might not want to be my clients.  Now, my rational mind knows that I can handle that rejection.  In fact, I want that rejection.  I couldn’t possibly massage everyone!

I take a free pen here and there from places like a liquor store, a bank, or a hotel.  It’s like that $20 in the middle of the circle.  It’s free for whoever gets it first.  Businesses want you to have their pens.  It’s one way to get the word out about them.  Taking a free pen helps you remember the business name, contact info, and your experience there.  But for me it’s also a way to remember my dad.