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Why 'free' isn't all it's cracked up to be

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There are thousands of free online services that small businesses can use, some of these actually useful and valuable.

While free is an attractive proposition, the truth is you usually get what you pay for. As much as paying nothing for something sounds good, there are lots of good reasons to pay for an online service, particularly if it has become a key part of how your business runs.

Here's a good example: One of my favourite services is DropBox, which lets you create an online filing cabinet to provide access via a wireline or wireless Internet connection. As important, DropBox makes it easy to share and collaborate with other people, who can be given access to a particular folder or file.

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DropBox is free until there are more two gigabytes of data - documents, spreadsheets, videos, music, etc. - within your account. To get more storage, you can choose to pay $9.99/month for 50 gigabytes or $19.99/month for 100 gigabytes. In the scheme of things, either option is not expensive compared with value that DropBox provides. As a result, it makes complete sense to pay for an online service.

The same argument can be made for other free other services such as FreshBooks, an online invoicing service that offers lots features but with limits. For Freshbooks, free ends when you want to invoice more clients. Given the service's value, paying a modest monthly fee is a no-brainer.

When you purchase an online service, it establishes expectations in terms of performance, upgrades and customer service. This should be seen as a positive thing because it means the services being used to make your business more productive and efficient have value as opposed to being free services that can be easily dismissed when something new, free and shiny comes along.

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About the Author
Content/Communications Strategist

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a strategic communications and content consultancy that works with start-ups and fast-growing companies looking to drive their marketing, communications and content activities. More

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