I’m not always a fan of “free” when it comes to running my business. Getting things for free feels nice, but it’s not necessarily effective. “Free” always comes at a price. It’s just not always all that visible when money isn’t directly involved.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many free tools you can use for your home business that are very much worth it, such as the Open Source tools I mentioned in a recent post. But if you rely on free things in the wrong areas, you’re asking for trouble.

Free Goes Poof!

One cost of using any free tool for your home business is that it can go away at any time. If you’re relying on it, that’s a huge potential problem.

That’s the big problem with free blogs such as WordPress.com, Tumblr and Blogger. Do something wrong and your blog is gone. Don’t do something wrong, and sometimes it still vanishes, and you don’t always get a warning or a chance to move your data elsewhere.

Free tools vanish often, even when they’re supported by big companies like Google. Right now, Google Wave, Knol and Picnik are scheduled to be shut down within a few months. Sometimes, as in the case of Google Wave, development stops more than a year before the final shutdown. Tools supported by smaller companies can also vanish or cease development.

What Are You Giving Up For Free?

Free means only that you aren’t spending money for the product. There’s often a different cost for you.

Information is a big one, and it’s why you need to read the privacy policy and terms of use for any free products you use. You want to know what will happen to any information that passes through that tool. Most are respectful of privacy these days, but it pays to check.

The cost is usually that you are exposed to advertising. I personally don’t find it to be too big a deal, so long as the ads don’t get in the way of the utility of the tool. We all have to make a living somehow, and providing something free with no way to earn any money at all doesn’t help.

For free blogs, the cost can be whether or not you can earn money with your site. Some don’t allow you to commercialize your blog at all. If you can’t make money, it’s not a business, it’s a hobby.

May Not Work as Well as a Paid Tool

Sometimes the free tool is indeed the right tool for the job, but other times you really need to use the paid tool. You need to consider the flexibility you need.

Free blogs are a great example of this. It’s quick and easy to put up a basic Blogger blog. The problem is that it takes more effort to make it look professional, especially if you don’t even spend money on your own domain name.

Putting up a WordPress blog on paid hosting (rather than a free WordPress.com blog) takes a little more time and has monthly costs, but you get a tremendously more flexible blog with more themes and plugins available, so that your blog can have the look and options you prefer.

Free can be amazing, of course. Google Analytics gives you a tremendous amount of information about traffic to your website, yet it’s free for most users. Some do have concerns about how much information Google gets by providing such free tools to so many websites, but most find the advantages sufficient to use them anyhow.

Use Free Right

The big thing you need to remember is to use free right. If you want to have a home business and take it seriously, spend a little on it. Get a domain name and pay for your hosting. Domain names are cheap, and it’s easy to find hosting for less than $10 a month. That’s not much money at all to risk, even knowing that you may not earn anything for a while. Going with the free option may slow you down and make it harder to start your business right. Save free for the areas where it won’t hurt you in the long run.