Sometimes you get what you pay for

Free may come with a price attached

I love technology – sometimes for what it does, sometimes for what it can do for me and sometimes just because it’s cool.

I also love free opensource software and I have used a ton of it to really good effect – in business or just for fun.

I’m not going to list all the excellent free open-source software available on the internet – there is simply WAY to much to even scratch the surface. (Although I can tell you that WordPress is definitely one of my favorites!)

What I would like to touch on is the price you sometimes pay for ‘Free’. If you are a techno-guru programmer extraordinaire (I’m not that guy) you may be perfectly happy taking the time to correct something that isn’t working in the original author’s source code. Perhaps you even contribute your ‘fix’ or improvement back to the community – and that’s great.

But sometimes, especially for small business owners, we equate ‘free’ with inexpensive. Warren Buffet said ‘Price is what you pay, value is what you get’. In the free open-source software community you pay nothing – and sometimes that’s also the value that you get.

So let’s take the example where you – as a new business owner – decide to make use of free open source software because you have tons of time but little or no cash. In the beginning this may seem an excellent trade-off – and often it is – notably when what the software does is exactly what it says ‘on the box’.

The trouble starts when what’s on the box is a far cry from what the software actually does and how it does it. There is an oft overlooked factor – ability and use-ability but that’s the topic for another day.

I’m not trying to bash any developers out there – I make use of a LOT of free, open-source software that works tremendously well – and which I am grateful for and in some cases cannot do without.

But back to what happens when the problems start. Essentially you have a handful of choices, usually;

  • Fix it yourself (skill and complexity dependent) – but this takes time
  • Contact the developer in the hope that he/she has a fix or that enough people are having the same problem to justify the developer getting the fix done and done quickly.
  • Search the web to see if someone else bumped into the same problem and came up with a work-around or solution. Many free open-source software products offer a paid-for ‘Pro’ version which typically includes some extra features and formal support where the non-paid-for version either has little or no support or just the support of the community that makes use of the product.

What you cannot do is demand service, or a refund. After all you didn’t pay anything for it…

Does that necessarily make the corollary true? Do products work and is support perfect simply because you paid for a product? Certainly not. There are no doubt plenty of companies out there charging for products which don’t quite do what they are advertised to do and where the pre-sales service is terrific but where the after-sales service is downright poor or non-existent.

Generally however, great companies that back a good product from which they make money care enough not to leave you high and dry and because you are a paying customer you do have some rights on which you can rely – in fact you may even have the law on your side.

So, take the time to consider your options, do enough research to satisfy yourself and then make an informed decision remembering that you are always likely to be swapping one asset class for another, usually along the lines of:

  • Free product = potentially higher cost in your time but zero cash; or
  • Paid for product = Less of your time, more of your cash.

Remember – ‘Free may come with a price attached!’ So carefully weigh up which asset you prefer to trade with – your time or your money and then pick a ratio that works for you.

Here’s to your business prospering!

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