“The best things in life are free… But you can keep them for the birds & bees… Now give me money (that’s… what I want) that’s what I want…”
“Your love will give me a thrill… But your lovin’ don’t pay my bills… Now give me money (that’s… what I want) that’s what I want…”
“Money don’t get everything, it’s true… What it don’t get… I can’t use!… Now give me money (that’s… what I want) that’s what I want…”
Everybody loves free stuff! *FREE* *STUFF*!!! 😀
How free is “free”, though? Did you ever stop and think about how much free stuff costs you? Right now, you’re thinking “A-DUH!… It costs me NOTHING, by the definition of FREE!”. So let’s take a look at why some “free” things cost you more than the money you SHOULD have spent on them.
While you think about that as we go through a few examples, consider whether your BUSINESS can afford to utilize “free” goods & services.
Enhancing functionality or productivity
A few weeks ago, I wanted to enhance the functionality of my computer/music/editing setup. I knew exactly where I was and where I wanted to go, but I wasn’t sure about which software I wanted to add to my system.
The first thing I did was think about it myself. Let’s say I thought about it for 10 minutes. I decided that I didn’t have the information “on me”, so I started searching the net.
There are lots of people in Google results that don’t know what they’re talking about, which is what some people say about my dating advice blog, but that’s neither here nor there. 🙂 Searching Google didn’t help me much, because there weren’t people already doing what I was planning to do, so I didn’t consider any of them AUTHORITIES on my particular situation.
Let’s say I spent about an hour (I probably spent more than that) on searching the net. I came away with a good idea of what the most common software was that people were using to their satisfaction.
Next, I hopped on Twitter and tossed a question out to whomever happened to currently be paying attention out of my 2206 followers. Relatively quickly, I got an answer from Rob Blatt, which confirmed what I had gathered from my Google searches. The difference is that I know that Rob knows what he’s doing and I trust his opinion when it comes to things that he’s already done that I’m currently trying to do.
The time I spent on Twitter was the amount of time it took me to think up the post, post my question and read Rob’s response. Let’s call that 5 minutes, though it was probably less.
What to do with the info?
By now, I’ve spent an hour and 15 minutes on this issue, buy my own guesstimation, and I have EXACTLY the information I need to move forward and BE PRODUCTIVE with my time……. EXCEPT…….
The information I received indicated that I needed to PAY for the software. *screeching tires*… This is where we get to the point of this post. 🙂
Option #1 would have been to spend the money and move forward with the added functionality and productivity that I KNEW was right there in front of me.
Option #2, which obviously I TOOK, or else I wouldn’t be able to write this post, was “There’s got to be a better way!… Now that I know the functionality I need, there has got to be a *FREE* software solution to this!”
Stop being cheap!
I’ll tell you right now why I selected the wrong option. The software that I needed cost < $50. I had already spent more than an hour researching & asking around. Let's say I made a plan to only spend 45 minutes trying to find a free solution. That means I've taken myself out of the game for two hours in return for ~$50. I can't do ANYTHING other than search for this "free" solution during that time. Not only that, but I STILL don't have the enhanced functionality I wanted for my system until I solve this issue. Of course... I did NOT put any type of time limit on figuring this out, and I actually DID find free software that does a limited amount of what the software I should have bought right then and there does. This turned out worse for me instead of better. I ended up adding the time that I wasted trying to make it work properly to the time that I wasted searching for the software I was utilizing. In fairness, I did end up with a really good and free solution to a side-issue function that I wanted to add, and I'm going to use that solution going forward, but the point is that I never found anything better than or even COMPARABLE TO what a) I figured out from my research on the net, and b) what someone who knows TOLD ME I should use. Ultimately, you may as well say I paid myself McDonald's wages to NOT find what I needed AND to end up paying for what I already knew could have hooked me up from the giddyap.
How does this apply to my business?
Hopefully, in my tale of wasted time, you saw a parallel to something that YOU wasted time on that was key to your business. Maybe you thought you knew how to shoot, edit and compress video for the web, but you found out you were wrong. Maybe you thought you could DiY (do it yourself) when it comes to website creation, but you found out you were wrong. Maybe you thought you could create a professional-looking sign for your office….
Whatever it is, when you’re considering cutting corners, make sure you consider whether your business can afford that or not. What does it end up costing you down the line? If the answer is “nothing”, then you’re golden. In my case, I got SOME of the functionality I needed, but ultimately realized it was too much of a hassle as well as a time sink that might have led to absolutely nowhere anyway to try to get the entire functionality of the recommended software.
Another business example
A client of mine wanted me to pick up (continue working on) a project that someone else had started. The had already made a completed video and he wanted to make some changes to it. The way the project was pitched to me, it was simple enough, so it was going to be inexpensive. All I would have had to do is plug in the external drive my client supplied, which had the project files, the video & audio files and the finished video on it, open the project, make the changes and output a new video. Piece of cake.
Except….. When I opened the project file, there weren’t any video files to be found on my client’s drive. Final Cut searches for footage when you open the project and then gives you a list of files it can’t find, complete with their last known location. Every file in that list said “Macintosh HD:”, which meant that whomever my client had ?hired? (read: Probably got to do the work for free) had loaded every single second of video to their INTERNAL DRIVE instead of the external drive that I now had attached to my computer.
Obviously, whomever started the project didn’t know what they were doing AT.ALL. Notice how all of a sudden, there’s a cost to “free” stuff? Not only should they have loaded the footage to the external drive, but they STILL could have consolidated all the footage to the external before handing it off to my client, so they blew it TWICE!
So when I inform my client about what happened, his response is “Well… I have the tapes right here, so we can reload the footage”. Now, not only did his cutting corners have him walking all over creation with a drive he didn’t know was completely empty, but now the specs of the job have changed. Now I have to charge him for the time it takes to load all the necessary footage from four one-hour tapes. He’s just added (at most) 4 hours worth of my time to how much making a change is going to cost him, because he didn’t hire a professional to begin with (he said after the fact that it had been a student who did the original work for him and gave him the drive).
Insult to injury
So now, while my client’s project costs are doubling… I decide to sample a few random clips from the timeline. The information about where a video starts and stops is in the project file, but it won’t actually show you anything without an accompanying video file. You can still get a lot of information from the clips in the project, such as how they were loaded. This is important for when you want to do a reload or change the resolution of a project or send the project itself to another location so they can do a reload using the actual tapes.
So I click on some random clip, and look for the tape name (reel name). The reason you need to fill in the tape/reel name when you load tapes is that if you’re not using a format that lays down timecode that you get to specify yourself, every. single. tape. you. give. me. will have the exact same timecode on it, generally from 0 minutes to ~62 minutes. This particular project had four tapes associated with it, so I should have seen something indicating Tape 01, 02, 03 or 04.
What I saw was “001”. I clicked on another absolutely random clip and checked it… “001”. Another one… “001”. “001” is Final Cut’s DEFAULT reel name. If you FAIL to designate reel names for your tapes, everything you load ends up with the same name. Same thing happens if you change it once and then forget to do it again while you’re loading.
What this means is that the tapes you have in your hands are absolutely useless, because when you go to reload the footage, the only tape Final Cut’s going to ask you for is “001”, which actually refers to any one of your four tapes, but FCP will be content to make your entire video out of one tape, because it can find the timecode it’s looking for from whatever tape you put in.
So now, it’s literally impossible to “make changes” to this video. The only thing that can be done is to start over from scratch, load all four tapes (4 hours), and build the video by A/Bing it against the finished video that was already on the drive. A project that “on paper” was going to take a couple of hours to complete is now looking at a couple of days, which is completely outside of the client’s budget range, so project = FAIL.
Starting to see some costs now? 😀
Business costs vs. social costs
So… “Free” isn’t always free. Actually, there are times when “free” is actually more expensive than going ahead and spending your money on something or someone that you know is more advanced than you are at whatever you’re trying to do.
Sometimes, you end up spending time learning, researching and doing trial & error that you could have used to make money doing business. Sometimes, you end up with your project going down a dead end street, where it’s going to cost you more to fix it than to start all over. Sometimes, you end up with inferior goods or services. Sometimes, you end up missing your deadlines, because people didn’t know what they’re doing when they told you they did.
Sometimes, you get up to give a presentation and nothing shows on the screen, because you thought you were going to have wifi so you didn’t bother to bring all your files with you on your computer. Sometimes, you shoot really beautiful HD video and when you compress it for the net, it looks like garbage and it’s too late to try again, so that has to be the representation of your company’s best effort and potential.
Those are all business costs. Next time, we’re going to think about what it costs you socially if people start to perceive you as someone always looking for a handout.