Google says it’s time for longtime small business users to pay up

When Google announced to some small businesses in January that they would no longer be able to use personalized email and other work apps for free, it seemed like a broken promise to Richard Dalton, a longtime user who operates a school test preparation company in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“They’re basically forcing us to switch to something paid after they hooked us up on this free service,” said Dalton, who first set up a Google business email for his company, Your Score Booster, in 2008. .

Google said longtime users of what it calls its legacy free edition of G Suite, which includes email and apps like Docs and Calendar, have to start paying a monthly fee, typically about $6 for each. professional email address. Businesses that do not voluntarily switch to a paid service by June 27 will automatically be moved to a service. If they don’t pay by August 1, their accounts will be suspended.

While the cost of the paid service is more of an annoyance than a financial blow, small business owners affected by the change say they were disappointed by the clumsy way Google handled the process. They can’t help but think that a giant corporation with billions of dollars in profits is squeezing the little guys — some of the first companies to use Google apps for work — for just a little cash.

“It struck me as unnecessarily mean-spirited,” said Patrick Gant, owner of Think It Creative, a marketing consultancy in Ottawa, Ont. “It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who has been given something for free for a long time and is now being told they have to pay. But there was a promise that was made. This is what prompted me to make the decision to go with Google over other alternatives. »

Richard J. Dalton Jr., president of Your Score Booster in Vancouver, British Columbia, June 7, 2022. Google is forcing him and other small businesses to pay for email and other apps after more a decade of free use. (Jennilee Marigomen/The New York Times)

Google’s decision to charge organizations that have used its apps for free is another example of its search for ways to make more money from its existing business, similar to how it has sometimes placed four ads above the results. search instead of three and blocked more ads in YouTube videos. In recent years, Google has pushed more aggressively in selling enterprise software subscriptions and competed more directly with Microsoft, whose Word and Excel programs dominate the market.

After a number of longtime users complained about the move to a paid service, an initial May 1 deadline was pushed back. Google also said people using old accounts for personal rather than business reasons could continue to do so for free.

But some business owners said that as they considered whether to pay Google or discontinue its services, they had trouble getting in touch with customer support. As the deadline approached, six small business owners who spoke to The New York Times criticized what they said were confusing and sometimes hesitant in communications about the service change.

Patrick Gant, owner of marketing consultancy Think It Creative in Ottawa, Ont., on Friday, June 10, 2022. Gant said he felt like Google had “dropped a bombshell” on him after promising his services would remain free. (Jessica Deeks/The New York Times)

“I don’t mind you throwing us,” said Samad Sajanlal, owner of Supreme Equipment Co., which offers software consulting and other technology services in McKinney, Texas. “But don’t give us an unrealistic deadline to find an alternative while you’re still deciding if you really want to kick us off in the first place.”

Google said the free edition doesn’t include customer support, but does offer users several ways to contact the company for help with their transition.

Google launched Gmail in 2004 and business apps like Docs and Sheets two years later. The search giant was eager for startups and family shops to adopt its work software, so it offered the services for free and allowed businesses to bring custom domains matching their business names to Gmail.

While still testing the apps, he even told business owners that the products would remain free for life, although Google says that from the start, the terms of service for its enterprise software stated that the company may suspend or terminate the offer in the future. Google stopped new free signups in December 2012, but continued to support accounts for what became the old free edition of G Suite.

In 2020, G Suite was rebranded as Google Workspace. The overwhelming majority of people – the company claims to have over 3 billion total users – use a free version of Workspace. Over 7 million organizations or individuals pay for versions with additional tools and customer support, up from 6 million in 2020. The number of users still on the free legacy version from years ago counts in the thousands, said a person familiar with the count. who requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to publicly release those numbers.

“We’re here to help our customers through this transition, including significant discounts on Google Workspace subscriptions,” Google spokeswoman Katie Wattie said in a statement. “Switching to a Google Workspace subscription can be done in a few clicks.”

Dalton, who helps Canadian students get into US universities, said Google’s forced upgrades came at a bad time. The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating to his business, he said. Sites were regularly canceling tests, some universities were suspending testing requirements, and fewer students were seeking prep services.

From April 2020 to March 2021, business revenues fell by nearly half. Sales fell another 20% the following year. Things have started to improve in recent months, but Your Score Booster still lags behind its pre-pandemic performance.

“At this point, my focus is on getting my business back together,” Dalton said. “The last thing I want to do is change a service.”

So he’s asked his two part-timers to start using their personal email addresses for work, and he plans to upgrade the remaining 11 accounts to the cheapest version of Google Workspace.

Gant’s business is a sole proprietorship, and he’s been using Gmail for free since 2004. He said it wasn’t about the money. His problem was worry. He had to decide whether to continue using Google or find another option.

Gant is still considering switching to Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCloud or ProtonMail, or staying with Google. He will decide what to do at the end of the month. Microsoft would cost him 100 Canadian dollars a year. Apple would cost $50 and ProtonMail $160. Google would give it three months free, then charge the same amount as Apple for a year. The following year, Google’s price would double.

Sajanlal, his company’s only employee, signed up for Gmail’s business service in 2009. Years later, he added his brother-in-law, Mesam Jiwani, to his G Suite account when he started his own business. . This company, Fast Payment Systems, has been helping small businesses in states like Texas and New York process credit card payments since 2020.

When Sajanlal told Jiwani that Google would start charging each of their email addresses, Jiwani said, “Are you serious? Are they going to start scamming us?

Jiwani said he has stored his 3,000 customers’ transaction data on Google Drive, so he has started paying for the company’s services, although he plans to switch to software provider Zoho. Sajanlal left Google in March, setting up his work emails on Nextcloud.

Stian Oksavik, who owns a side business called BeyondBits in Loxahatchee, Florida, that sets up computer networks for customers, switched to Apple’s iCloud service, which he already had access to as part of a subscription plan. existing subscription.

“It was less about how much they charge and more about the fact that they changed the rules,” Oksavik said. “They could change the rules again at any time.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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