What free services really cost you

There’s a pervasive perception that because there’s so much free stuff on the web, everything on the web should be free.

But that free service you so readily sign up for - is it really as free as it seems?

I was at a recent business breakfast, having a chat with a business owner who wasn’t particularly happy with their website.

"What’s the main problem with your existing site?" I asked

"It’s not really delivering clients or enquiries, and I can’t seem to get found on Google."

"So, who provides your existing website?" I asked.

"I built it myself using Wix. It’s free, you know," he said, "and I’m really proud of how the site looks. I put a lot of effort into uploading photos of our new premises, and our mission statement is very powerful."

"OK - sounds fair enough. What about search engine optimisation?"

"I’ve signed up for a free keyword suggestion tool, then I use those words and write my website content around them. I’ve also heard those radio ads from an SEO company that guarantees 100 page one search results and an explosion in new customers. Their claims sound too good to be true, so I’m not sure I trust them. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’d have to pay for it."

"What other online marketing do you do? Newsletters, perhaps"

"Well," he said, "I use MailChimp occasionally to send out brochures. It’s free, you know."

"And social media? Do you put anything on Facebook or LinkedIn, for example?"

"Yes - I use Facebook. It’s free, you know."

"Uh huh", I replied, starting to see a picture emerging. "And what about your emails?"

"Well, I have set up a few gmail addresses and I use those. They’re also free, you know."

Curiosity got the better of me, so I just had to ask: "How do you keep track of your contacts?"

"I use Outlook. It’s free with Microsoft Office."

"Does your business ever run events?"

"Yes - I run a sales seminar every month. I use TryBooking. It’s free, as long as I don’t tell them I charge attendees."

"Well, what about document management for your business. Do you need that, too?"

"Well, I keep it all on my laptop. When I need to share it with anybody else, I email it or use Drop Box. That way it’s free."

"Do you have a backup system for all your business information?" I asked.

"Yes - I bought one of those external hard drives at Harvey Norman. It only cost me about $80, and it came with free backup software. I’ve been using it for the last few years whenever I need to do a backup. It can’t back up the newsletter contacts or my seminar attendees, though."

Aahh! I thought. I see this guy has a big problem I can easily make disappear. "So, in fact you have several different databases to deal with. How do you manage to keep the information all synchronised?"

"Yeah," was the reply, "that’s a real problem. I have to copy information out of each system and paste it into the others. Sometimes I export the data into Excel and copy and paste from there. It takes a lot of time, but it seems to work pretty well as long as I remember where I made the latest change."

Sensing the perfect opportunity, I asked "Wouldn’t it be much simpler if everything was all in one database, on one platform and fully integrated so that if you made a change in one place, it was automatically changed for everything? Because that’s exactly what our platform does, and everything you’ve just told me your business needs is already built in."

"Wow! You can actually do that? That sounds really interesting. How much?"

"Less than $20 per week." I replied.

"No thanks." he said. "Everything I have now doesn’t cost me anything, and I prefer to keep it that way. I’ve already decided to look for a person with computer skills.  I'm planning to employ them full time to keep everything updated."


Sometimes I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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