Google Says It’s Time for Longtime Small-Business Users to Pay Up

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When Google told some small businesses in January that they would no longer be able to use the dedicated email service and other workplace apps for free, Richard J. Dalton Jr., a longtime school test user, felt it was an unfulfilled promise. prep company in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Essentially they are forcing us to upgrade to something paid after getting us hooked on this free service,” said Mr. Dalton, who first set up a Google work email for his Your Score Booster business in 2008.

Google said longtime users of what it calls its free version of G Suite, which includes email and apps like Docs and Calendar, had to start paying a monthly fee, typically around $6 for each worker. E-mail address. Enterprises that have not voluntarily switched to a paid service before June 27 will be automatically moved to one. If they don’t pay by August 1st, their accounts will be suspended.

While the cost of a paid service is more of an annoyance than a major financial blow, small business owners affected by the change say they were frustrated by Google’s inept approach to the process. They can’t help but feel that a giant company with billions of dollars in profit is squeezing little money out of the little guys—one of the first companies to use Google apps for work.

“It struck me as too petty,” said Patrick Gant, owner of marketing consulting firm Think It Creative in Ottawa. “It’s hard to feel sorry for a person who has been getting something for free for a long time, and now they tell him that he has to pay for it. But there was a promise that was kept. This is what prompted me to make the decision to choose Google over other alternatives.”

Google’s decision to charge organizations that used its apps for free is another example of looking for ways to get more money from their existing business. more ads in a YouTube video. In recent years, Google has been pushing enterprise software subscriptions more aggressively and competing more directly with Microsoftwhose Word and Excel programs dominate the market.

After a number of longtime users complained about the switch to a paid service, the original May 1 deadline has been pushed back. Google also said that people using old accounts for personal rather than business purposes can continue to do so for free.

But some business owners said that, when debating whether to pay Google or cancel its services, they struggled to contact support. Ahead of the deadline, six small business owners who spoke to The New York Times criticized what they called confusing and at times hesitant messaging about the service change.

“I don’t mind if you kick us out,” said Samad Sajjanlal, owner of Supreme Equipment Company, a software consulting and other technical services company in McKinney, Texas. “But don’t give us unrealistic timelines to go and find an alternative while you’re still deciding if you really want to kick us out.”

Google said the free version does not include customer support, but it does provide users with several ways to contact the company for help with the transition.

Google launched Gmail in 2004 and business applications such as Documents and Spreadsheets two years later. The search giant wanted startups and family-owned stores to adopt its working software, so it offered the service for free and allowed businesses to bring custom domains to Gmail that matched their company names.

While he was still testing apps, he even said business owners that the products will remain free for life, though Google says that from the start, its business software terms of service said the company might suspend or terminate the offer in the future. Google stopped new free signups in December 2012, but continued to support accounts for what became known as the legacy free version of G Suite.

In 2020, G Suite was renamed to Google Workspace. The vast majority of people – the company says the total number of users exceeds three billion – use the free version of Workspace. More than seven million organizations or individuals pay for versions with additional tools and customer support, up from six million in 2020. The number of users still using the free legacy version from a few years ago is in the thousands, said a person familiar with the count. who requested anonymity because the person was not allowed to publicly disclose those numbers.

“We’re here to help our customers with this transition, including big discounts on Google Workspace subscriptions,” Google spokeswoman Cathy Watty said in a statement. “You can switch to a Google Workspace subscription in a few clicks.”

Mr. Dalton, who helps Canadian students get into US universities, said Google’s forced upgrade came at a bad time. According to him, the coronavirus pandemic has caused serious damage to his business. Venues regularly canceled tests, some universities suspended testing requirements, and fewer students applied for prep services.

From April 2020 to March 2021, business revenue has almost halved. The following year, sales fell another 20 percent. Things have picked up in recent months, but Your Score Booster still lags behind pre-pandemic performance.

“Right now, I’m focused on rebuilding my business,” Mr. Dalton said. “The last thing I want to do is change the service.” So he asked his 11 part-time employees to start using their personal email addresses for work, and he upgraded the remaining two accounts to the cheapest version of Google Workspace.

Mr. Gant’s business is a one-person store, and he’s been using Gmail for free since 2004. He said it wasn’t about the money. Trouble was his problem. He had to decide whether to continue using Google or find another option.

Mr. Gant is still debating whether to move to Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCloud or ProtonMail, or stay with Google. He will decide what to do at the end of the month. Microsoft will cost him 100 Canadian dollars a year. Apple will cost $50 and ProtonMail will cost $160. Google gave him three months for free and then charged him the same amount as Apple for a year. Google’s price will double next year.

Mr. Sajjanlal, the sole employee of his business, signed up for the Gmail business service in 2009. Years later, he added his son-in-law Mesam Jeevani to his G Suite account when he started his own business. This company, Fast Payment Systems, has been helping small businesses in states including Texas and New York process credit card payments since 2020.

When Mr. Sajjanlal told Mr. Jeevani that Google would start charging for each of his email addresses, Mr. Jeevani said, “Are you serious? Are we going to be ripped off?

Mr Jeevani said he stores transaction data for his 3,000 customers in Google Drive, so he started paying for the company’s services, although he is considering switching to software provider Zoho. Mr. Sajjanlal retired from Google in March, having set up his work email on a Nextcloud server.

Stian Oksavik, who has a side business called BeyondBits in Loxahatchee, Fla., that sets up computer networks for clients, switched to Apple’s iCloud service, which he already had access to as part of his existing subscription package.

“It wasn’t so much the amount they were charging, but that they changed the rules,” Mr. Oksavik said. “They can change the rules again at any time.”

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