What Is The Real Cost Of "Free" To Your Home Business?

How much can you afford to spend on your home business? Many people can’t afford to spend a lot, which is why freebies are so popular.

But there’s a potential cost of “free.” It’s not always the best choice for growing your home business. “Free” tools can cost you a lot of money that you can’t see directly. And that’s the price you pay for it.

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.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many free tools you can use for your home business which are very much worth it. Many open source tools are wonderful. I use WordPress software for my blog, which doesn’t cost anything, but I pay for my hosting.

But if you rely on free things in the wrong areas, you’re asking for trouble. There are a lot of great reasons to pay for higher quality tools.

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. You may not remember Google Wave, Knol, or Picnik, which shut down years ago, but you probably know about Google+. The consumer version of that will shut down in April 2019.

Tools supported by smaller companies can also vanish or cease development. Lots of free WordPress plugins are developed for a time and then abandoned, even if they developed a pretty good following.

This isn’t to say that paid tools don’t disappear. It’s just that developers have a greater incentive to keep working on them when they’re making money.

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Free Tools Are Developed More Slowly

When a tool is free, it is often developed and updated more slowly. Once again, there’s less incentive for the developer to keep the tool updated.

I’ve used Gimp for years, for example. It’s an excellent tool and it can do many of the things Photoshop can do. But it is very slow to change. This means it takes just about forever (or so it feels) for new tools and features to be added.

Paid tools are more likely to have people dedicated to keeping it up to date.

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 significant hidden cost, 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.

One cost may be 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.

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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.

Paid tools generally offer more features. This is why many have a free version and a paid version. The free gives you a taste of what you can get, and gives you the confidence that the paid tool is what you need. That’s a good thing.

Consider Tailwind, for example. They give limited free access to Tailwind Tribes as well as to their pin scheduling tool. Using the Tailwind free trial was enough to get me to pay for the whole thing. The paid version of Tailwind also has a wonderful analytics section that can help you figure out what is and is not working in your Pinterest marketing.

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.

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Support May Be Lacking

A lack of support when you have problems is a serious problem with many free home business tools. When you have a problem, you want help fast, and sometimes that’s just not available with free tools.

This isn’t to say you get perfect support with all paid tools, of course. It can take a long time to get help with some of them as well. But your odds are better.

Free Marketing May Be Slow Marketing

One of the great things about social media marketing is how much of it you can do for free. You don’t have to pay to pin on Pinterest, post on Facebook or Instagram, and so forth.

The price you pay is in how long it takes to get that marketing going. You don’t start out with a following on any of the social media websites. You have to build it.

If you want your marketing to go faster, you probably have to pay for it. Once you know what you’re doing, doing paid promotions of your social media posts can greatly improve your results. There’s a learning curve, and it can get expensive. But once you know what you’re doing, you should be able to make it worth the expense.

One thing you should not do is pay sites for followers. Many of these sites don’t give you high quality, targeted followers. Some are even against the TOS of the various social media sites.

Sure, having a large number of followers looks good, and if you’re trying to get paid to post for other people you need a lot of followers. But if your followers aren’t engaged with your content, they’re worthless. Don’t pay for something that doesn’t help your business.

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. I do a lot of my rough drafts for blog posts in Google Drive, which doesn’t cost me anything, but means I can work on them anywhere, and on a range of devices. If it were to disappear, I wouldn’t suffer from any significant problems.

Free trials are almost always worth it if you’re considering a tool or training. They’re often the best way to find out if what you’re considering will be worth the money.

There are any number of free tools that are worth using, so long as you understand the risk. If you’re relying on something free as the base of your entire business, make sure you know what you’re going to do in the event that it goes away.

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When Is Free A Good Idea?

Free is a good idea when there’s too little to be gained by paying for a tool. If you can get all the functionality you need for free, and it won’t endanger your business should the product vanish,

There are lots of products, tools and training that qualify. Here are some that I like.

Productivity And Scheduling

Business And Financial

Office Alternatives

Graphic Design

Many of these tools have paid upgrades, but the free versions work well enough for most needs. When you need more features, power, or speed, upgrade or find a better solution!

Tools Worth Paying For

There are other things you absolutely should pay for. These are the things that will help you grow your business more quickly and effectively. Going with free alternatives can make it more difficult to have a successful business.

Yes, some people do very well building a business entirely for free. But for most of us, paying for the right tools is far smarter.

Website hosting, for example. I’m on A2 Hosting right now, and I like it quite well. I’ve always paid for hosting because I prefer the flexibility it gives me.

I also pay for both Hootsuite and Tailwind. They make my social media marketing much easier. Not everything I do on social media is scheduled – you should never forget the social side of social media – but a significant amount of it is.

Advanced training is something else you should pay for. You may be able to get the basics for free, but if you want to learn the bigger secrets, you’re probably better off paying for them.

If you want to be a virtual assistant, for example, you should consider signing up for the Horkey Handbook. It will help you learn the things you need to know to become a virtual assistant. Sure, you could figure much of it out on your own, but it’s faster to learn it from someone else.

What are your favorite free tools? Which tools are worth paying for?