Get All Access for $5/mo

Why Free Apps Can Be Time Wasters, Not Productivity Boosters Five tips for avoiding some of the biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to using low-cost online tools.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Why Free Apps Can Be Time Wasters Not Productivity Boosters

When it comes to business apps, free doesn't always mean best. And they're not always easy or convenient, either.

While cash-strapped entrepreneurs can be tempted by free online apps that promise to simplify any number of business functions, the reality is that many no-cost applications require as much effort as sophisticated enterprise software to set up and use profitably.

Here are five tips for avoiding some of the biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to using low-cost online tools:

1. Don't rush into deploying a free app.
Even if a business function can be automated with a free app, that doesn't mean it should be. Seemingly basic apps such as Gmail or Zoho Documents require a significant amount of work to set up and deploy in an organized, effective way. A more complex, but free app such as, a task management program by San Francisco-based Salesforce, can be overwhelming if you don't have time to manage it properly.

Keep in mind that any tool adds another level of complexity to your company. So before rushing to use a new Web tool, wait until you face a recurring problem. Then invest in a solution that makes sense for your company -- whether it's free or low-cost.

Related: Have an App? Google Has Analytics for That

2. Know what you need.
If you have a significant business problem to solve, resist the impulse to grab the first tool that claims to solve it. Online marketplaces such as GetApp, Google Marketplace and Downloads Marketplace for Microsoft Office are gatekeepers for thousands of business apps, but window shopping isn't an effective way to pick business software. Think of these sites as the final stops before committing to business software -- not the first.

Before you choose an app, ask yourself: "Where does this specific app fit in my business?" Then, get a better understanding of your workflows and what you're trying to accomplish. Several online diagramming tools can help you select the right kind of workflow solution, including Cacoo and Mockingbird.

3. Understand that less is usually more.
Don't be reluctant to start with simple tools, including ones you may already be using. Can any of them do double duty? For example, shared spreadsheets from downloaded premade templates from Google Docs or Microsoft Office can be useful for keeping task and project lists.

Also, remember that using multiple apps requires managing multiple passwords, user identities and administrator accounts, and perhaps worst of all, creates a serious hassle when it comes to migrating and uploading company and employee data.

To keep things simple, use as many apps as you can in the same family of products to simplify and centralize management and the ways employees access them. Google Apps, Zoho and Microsoft Office all have grouped products. Choose a service that offers paid upgrades once your business outgrows the free version.

Related: How Google's 'Content Experiments' Can Simplify Website Testing

4. Ease your team into using new apps.
A tool is only as good as the people who use it. Don't be too surprised if your employees resist using a new tool, especially if it seems to come out of nowhere. Even small changes to your employees' routines can be disruptive and possibly stressful.

Start using a new service with one project or one account and then get everyone's feedback about how the system can work in your shop. If it's a bust, you'll know early and won't face an office revolt.

5. Find out the actual cost of "free" tools.
No matter how little they cost, free tools never really cost nothing. Even if they don't cost you money to use they do require one of your most valuable assets: time.

Plan for how many hours you will need to invest in learning the new tool, so that you can spend the rest of your time most effectively. You'll need to consider the time it will take to choose which app is right, to set it up, to train employees how to use it, handling administration and troubleshooting.

To give you an idea, time managing tools such as Klok and Toggl can show what you and your employees invest in deploying new systems. If it looks like using a new app won't be time-effective for your business then you might want to consider another option.

Related: Want to Get Into the App Business? Try Buying One

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Side Hustle

The Side Hustle He Started in His College Apartment Turned Into a $70,000-a-Month Income Stream — Then Earned Nearly $2 Million Last Year

Kyle Morrand and his college roommates loved playing retro video games — and the pastime would help launch his career.

Science & Technology

Why We Shouldn't Fear AI in Education (and How to Use It Effectively)

Facing resistance to new technologies in the educational process is nothing new, and AI is no exception. Yet, this powerful tool is set to overcome these challenges and revolutionize education, preparing students and professionals for a future of unparalleled efficiency and personalized learning.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Growing a Business

How to Determine The Ideal Length of Your Marketing Emails Your Customers Will Actually Read

Wondering how long your marketing emails should be? Here's what consumers say — so you can send them exactly what they like.

Business News

A Former Corporate Lawyer Now Makes Six Figures on YouTube — Here's How She Does It

Here are the secrets to starting and growing a successful YouTube channel, according to a YouTuber with millions of subscribers.

Business News

Y Combinator Helped Launch Reddit, Airbnb and Dropbox. Here's What I Learned From Its Free Startup School.

The famed startup accelerator offers a free course on building a business — and answers five pressing questions for founders.