Free is usually worth every penny

free software

Free is usually worth every penny. Particularly when it comes to business computing.

Here’s an example for you. I was asked recently about a “free” online invoicing application. A business owner insisted she wanted to use this “free” solution instead of Quickbooks Online.

First question I had is why is this software free? Software is usually free because it is a limited feature version. It’s a teaser to get you to fork over for the full version. Free software is usually not scalable which means it won’t grow with your company as you add employees and more clients.

The other reason why software is free is because the company is harvesting your data for advertising. A classic example of this is the free version of gmail. Google sells advertising to you and your clients based on the data in your emails.

Third reason why software is free is that the company is new and trying to build a database of folks to sell to.

But remember software is never free. Someone has to pay the developers, the testers, the support agents, and they have to pay for the servers that host it and the bandwidth. And if they don’t start making money, the software will disappear quickly quite possibly with your business data.

Let’s go back to my example of the free online invoicing solution. I did set up a test account so I could poke about. First I noticed that it was not scalable. Only one user per company account. Second, while you could export your invoices and estimates (presumably to import into a proper accounting program) you couldn’t export your client data or synchronize that data with your other programs.

Third, the young company that offers this service doesn’t have a paid solution. So no revenue stream to support the software, the cloud hosting and employees. How long are they going to last? How long will can they pay their technical support employees to fix your problems? Their privacy policy stated they would never sell your data but without a revenue stream how long can they continue to do that? Seriously you have to ask yourself are you willing to build an important business process supported by a company that doesn’t make money?

Before you go ga-ga over some free software for your business, ask yourself is it scalable? How is the company providing the software making money? If it’s for an important business process (like invoicing), how much are you willing to invest? Does it integrate with your existing software and business processes?