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

When Google told some small businesses in January that they would no longer be able to use the customized email service and other workplace apps for free, Richard J. It felt like a broken promise for Dalton Jr., who has been managing the academic test for a long time. – Prep company in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“They’re basically empowering us to switch to something paid for after joining this free service,” he said. Dalton, who set up the first Google Work Email for his business, Your Score Booster, in 2008.

Google said longtime users of what it calls its G Suite Legacy Free Edition, which includes apps like email and Docs and Calendar, had to start paying a monthly charge, typically about $ 6 for each business email address. Businesses that do not voluntarily switch to paid service by June 27 will automatically be moved to one. If they do not pay by August. 1, their account will be suspended.

While the cost of paid services is more of a nuisance than a severe financial blow, small business owners affected by the change say they are disappointed with the way Google has handled the process. They can’t help but feel that a huge multi-billion dollar company is squeezing the little ones – some of the first businesses to use Google’s apps for work – for just a few bucks.

“I found it unnecessarily small,” said Patrick Gant, owner of Think It Creative, a marketing consultancy in Ottawa. “It’s hard to feel sorry for a person who has long since got something for free and is now being told that he needs to pay for it. But there was a promise. That’s what makes me decide to go with Google against other options. “

Google’s decision to charge organizations that use its applications for free is another example of its search for ways to make more money from its existing business, such as sometimes placing four ads instead of three in search results and jamming more ads. In YouTube videos. In recent years, Google has aggressively pushed businesses to sell software subscriptions and competed more directly with Microsoft, whose Word and Excel programs dominate the market.

The initial deadline of May 1 was delayed, after many long users about the change in paid service. Google also said that people who use the old account for business reasons can continue to do so for free.

But some business owners said they struggled to stay in touch with customer support as they considered paying Google or leaving its services. As the deadline approaches, six small-business owners who spoke to The New York Times criticized what they say is confusing and sometimes obscure communication about service changes.

“I don’t mind if you fire us,” said Samad Sajanlal, owner of Supreme Equipment Company, which provides software consulting and other tech services in McKinney, Texas. “But while you’re still deciding whether you really want to get us out of the first place, don’t give us an unrealistic deadline to go and find an alternative.”

Google said the free edition does not include customer support, but offers users multiple ways to stay in touch with the company to help them transition.

Google launched business apps like Gmail in 2004 and Docs and Sheets two years later. The search giant was keen to adopt its work software for start-ups and mom-and-pop shops, so it offered services at no cost and let companies bring custom domains to Gmail to match their business names.

While it was still testing the apps, it also told business owners that the products would be free for life, although Google says that from the beginning, the terms of service for its business software stated that the company could suspend or terminate the offer. Future Google discontinued new free sign-ups in December 2012 but continued to support accounts known as G Suite Legacy Free Edition.

In 2020, G Suite was rebranded as Google Workspace. Most people – the company says it has more than three billion users in total – use the free version of the 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 on the free legacy version from years ago is still in the thousands, said a person familiar with the figure. Who asked for anonymity because the person was not allowed to disclose those numbers in public.

“We’re here to help our customers make this transition, including deep discounts on Google Workspace subscriptions,” Katie Vetty, a Google spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Moving to a Google Workspace subscription can happen in a few clicks.”

Mr. Dalton, who helped Canadian students gain admission to American universities, said Google’s mandatory upgrades came at a bad time. He said the coronavirus epidemic was devastating for his business. Regular tests were canceled at places, some universities postponed testing requirements and fewer students demanded preparation services.

From April 2020 to March 2021, business revenue almost halved. Sales fell another 20 percent the following year. Things have started to accelerate in recent months, but your score booster is still lagging behind in its pre-epidemic performance.

“At the moment, I’m focused on getting my business back on track,” he said. Said Dalton. “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 address for work, and he upgraded the other two accounts to the cheapest version of Google Workspace.

Mr. Ghent’s business is one-person shop, and he has been using Gmail for free since 2004. He said it was not about money. His problem was harassment. He wanted to continue using Google or find another option.

Mr. Gant is still considering whether to switch to Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCloud or ProtonMail or stick with Google. He will decide what to do at the end of the month. Microsoft will spend 100 100 a year on it. Apple will cost 50 and ProtonMail $ 160. Google will give it three months free and then charge the same amount as Apple for one year. Next year, Google’s value will double.

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

When Mr. Sajanlal said to Shri. Jivani or Google will start charging for each of their email addresses, Mr. Jivani said: “Are you serious? Will they start tearing us down? “

Mr. Jivani said it stored transaction data for its 3,000 clients on Google Drive, so it started paying for the company’s services, although it is considering switching to software provider Zoho. Mr. Sajanlal moved away from Google in March on a server hosted by NextCloud.

Stian Oksavik, who is from Loxahatchee, Fla. Has a side business called BeyondBits, which sets up computer networks for clients, moved to Apple’s iCloud service, which already had access as part of an existing subscription package.

Mr. Oxwick said. “They can change the rules again at any time.”

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