The Cost of Free (gratis)

The main reason I write this blog is to document our adventures with creating a profitable company around open source.

When it comes right down to it, there are two ways to increase profits: sell more or spend less. The spending less option is something that we have a bit more control over, so we always try to manage costs.

One way is to leverage a lot of free (gratis, as in “beer”) resources on the Internet. Instead of buying a fax machine and a separate phone line, we have always used the free eFax service.

I even felt that eFax was better than “normal” faxing since it shows up as an e-mail attachment. No matter where in the world I happen to be I can get it and it is easy to file as well.

We don’t receive that many faxes, but the ones we do get tend to be important things like purchase orders, so we need it to work.

It was just one such purchase order that failed to arrive yesterday when I realized that eFax, with absolutely no warning, had disconnected our number. Since we had the free version, there is no way to reach a human, and my e-mails seem to have gone to that great mail server in the sky.

Looking back through my records, it looks like we signed up for a free eFax number in January of 2004, so maybe they limit it to five years. In any case, I’m not sure why they didn’t try and contact us. It would seem that they offer the free version in order to promote their paid offerings, and had I been told that the free service was going away I might have been tempted.

Since we were so unceremoniously dumped, I asked Jeff to find another solution and he was able to get a similar service from our SIP provider.

As a services company, we work extremely hard to make our clients happy, and this illustrates why. I happily used eFax for five years, and all it took was one serious lapse in service for me swear them off forever. While it didn’t cost me anything for the service, it will cost me should I decide to reprint our business cards and it will cost me in time to correct the number on all of our other materials.

Despite that, if I had to do it over again I probably would. The only thing I would change is that I’d leave the number off our printed materials, then the cost would have been much, much less. I’ll leverage free (gratis) whenever it makes sense, but I definitely try to limit it to things that aren’t critical to my business. This is much different than the free (libre) software on which I base my business. Vendors are always changing the rules so I’ll stick with that “free” for everything that is critical to my business.

3 thoughts on “The Cost of Free (gratis)

  1. Funny, I just canceled my paid eFax service this week, via their chat function.

    So I’m curious: did you refuse to re-enroll with eFax primarily because you were pissed off? Or because the replacement deal was actually better?

    My type of paranoia lets me put up with a good bit of inconvenience/annoyance in one area if I can preserve my confidence in another important area.

    [That said, I really need to change web hosts.]

  2. @marsosudiro: I was never asked to re-enroll, or enroll for that matter. I got one of the free fax numbers they hand out back in 2004 and it worked fine until this week. Not sure why it stopped working. But because they so abruptly ended my service (with no notice) I won’t use them.

Comments are closed.