Five Things Small Businesses Need to Know About Free

person holding a piggy bank

When I first started my virtual assistant business I was on a tiny budget.  Surviving on unemployment and taking part in Maine’s Self Employment Assistance Program meant that I just didn’t have any extra money to invest in my little start up.  Even so, I cut back on the things that I could in order to get a business phone line, a multi-function fax/printer/copier and a couple of business books.  I already had my computer, Microsoft Office software and internet connection, so for everything else I needed I looked for free alternatives.  This is what I learned about using free for business.

  1. You get what you pay for. Yes, it’s true I felt I had little choice but to look for free alternatives to things like Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat, and marketing training.  Yes, I was able to find alternatives out there for free, but I quickly realized there was a reason they didn’t cost anything.  Although they did the job they were supposed to, they didn’t do it quite as well as the real thing. In some cases, it required a combination of free programs to get the result I needed.  And those free downloads were often hiding spyware and adware.  The training material, although giving some free ideas, never really gave me all the information I really needed or wanted to take my business to the next level.That information was held back for the people willing to pay.   I even went with a free website for a short period of time, but hated the limitations. I quickly realized it was easy for potential clients to tell it was a free website, which came off as pretty unprofessional.  Who wanted to do business with me when I couldn’t even invest in a real website for by business?
  2. You don’t value free. The free training programs and informational eBooks that I downloaded often went unread. I frequently ignored the suggested activities.  Compare that to the programs and books that I paid for and you’d find that when I paid for something I followed through.  Everyone else tends to react the same way.  When something is free or extremely low cost, subconsciously we disregard it as not being worth much.  So even though we think we appreciate the free things, in reality we don’t attach much worth to them.
  3. Free costs a lot of time. Not only does it take a lot of time searching for free stuff, using free stuff usually meant it took longer to do things. This was especially true when searching for free information as opposed to paying for it.  The free graphics program I used required more steps to the desired result than a purchased one would have.  The free WordPress theme required more time to learn how to change headers and colors than a purchased theme did. And to top it all off, I was never completely happy with the results that free brought me.
  4. Free can cost your business reputation. What happens when the document you created in free software can’t be opened by the client, or worse, the formatting is skewed completely when the client opens it. What if the free information you found on a subject was totally false?   That’s when depending on free can seriously hurt your business.
  5. You should upgrade from free as soon as possible. Over the years I’ve steadily dropped the free programs and stopped expecting information for free. I purchased my domain, hosting and use a premium (paid) theme for my website(s).  When my Office Suite became painfully outdated I opted for Office 365 at a monthly subscription price and did the same recently for my Adobe Acrobat, upgrading to the Creative Cloud that includes Photoshop, Illustrator and more.  I’ve moved from free to paid with software, books, ebooks, courses and membership sites that have given me access to solid, dependable training and help.  I believe that each and every investment I’ve made was rewarded by increased success.

Free can have a helpful place in a start-up’s life cycle, but if you’re beyond the start-up phase and struggling to grow, it could be your attachment to getting things for free that’s holding you back.

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When
you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay
too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you
bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.”- John Ruskin


Tina Marie Hilton provides online technology services to forward thinking businesses. She writes on her Tips from T.Marie business blog to share insight and information with other small businesses and entrepreneurs. It also makes her feel like that certificate in creative writing isn't going to waste completely.


  1. Tammy on February 2, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Love it!!! Love the picture, it says it all. Thanks Tina.