The high cost of free: Is Google Docs worth it?

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If you own a small-to-medium business, no doubt you have tried to cut your overhead costs by relying on free software like Google Docs to tide you over. But these types of free offerings may actually be costing you or holding you back. Without the security features (encryption, user permissions, etc.) that a paid solution offers and non-sophisticated reporting for your data, you may be getting exactly what you are paying for.

Google Docs may be costing you

So how can something that’s free actually be costing you money? Surely the money that you save by not paying for an online solution will outweigh any minor issues you could have, right? The answer is: not always. While cheap online software could seem like a good value for the money, it could be a real headache and jeopardize your customer service.

When you rely on ineffective software packages, you are hampering your ability to effectively gather and analyze data. This means that you can’t catch emerging trends and will miss out on potential business. It also means that you won’t recognize threats to your business which may end up costing you in the long run.

Security risks of “free” software

A free or inexpensive solution like Google Docs doesn’t come with the security features that more sophisticated packages offer. With fewer security measures in place, your sensitive data and your client’s private information are extremely vulnerable. For example, if you aren’t diligent about checking the sharing settings on every one of the documents, spreadsheets and presentations you store in Google Docs, you may inadvertently open them up to being viewed by anyone with the link. 

Should someone hack into your data in a Google spreadsheet or document, you could lose valuable information that could lead to a breach of privacy. And that could mean your customers either move to a competitor or take legal actions for violations of their privacy.

Controlling access to sensitive data is critical these days. A better alternative to Google Docs is to use a collaboration tool that provide varying levels of user permissions, whereby an admin can determine by individual users or groups who can view (or furthermore, edit) certain information. 

Another drawback of using Google Docs as a collaboration tool is that it’s not immediately apparent when someone has changed a record within something like a spreadsheet. Sure, Google Docs has the Revision History feature, but it has its limitations, and when you’re managing lots and lots of records, that could be disastrous. 

Times, they are a-changing

What’s the turning point in a small business—when do you know that you need to start paying for a solution? The first thing to do is to begin to measure the risks and losses you are already incurring and then compare that to the cost of a robust collaboration tool, like a cloud-based application platform.

Most workplaces are accustomed to having some quirks associated with the online applications they use, so ask your employees to start recording the amount of time they spend troubleshooting your free or inexpensive software.

Work with your IT department to get an estimate of how much time Google Docs is costing you in training, troubleshooting and downtime. They should also compile a report on the security features of all the free or cheap applications in use and assess how these put your company at risk.

You should also ask employees to record each incidence in which failure to access Google Docs negatively affected a customer’s experience. While it’s very difficult to predict how much this affects your business, you can get a general idea of how a free solution is affecting your customer service, which in turn impacts your brand.

Switching to the big leagues

Before making a final decision on whether to switch to a more professional software suite, take a look at the benefits and features that paid software systems offer you in comparison to what you are getting from Google Docs.

How will you utilize these additional features to leverage new business, to expand your business, to improve security and augment your customer service? You will generally find that investing in a quality online solution will deliver an excellent return on investment.

While using free software solutions is helpful for the very new entrepreneur, their usefulness is limited and you must equip yourself with the very best tools to do the tasks that give your customers an excellent experience and enable you to produce a product of the highest quality. Data analysis is invaluable in making you an effective and efficient company. Don’t let cheap or free software lure you into risking your growth and security because generally; if something sounds too good to be true….