This week’s question for Lifehacker’s tech-advice column comes from Nate. While his query is a little business-themed, it’s still applicable to anyone who doesn’t like paying a ton of money for cloud storage— so, everyone.
The Lifehacker reader asks:
“Being a small business owner, I run into the issue all the time of clients and their cloud storage systems. Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, etc. It creates quite the headache to be able to find everything, and it also becomes pretty expensive to maintain a subscription to all of these different platforms. How would you suggest consolidating everything into one main platform, while still making it convenient for my clients?”
The Doctor’s Advice:
This might sound like a silly comment, but here goes: If the clients are the ones with all the different online storage systems, why are you paying for different subscriptions? It’s not like you’re buying an “unlimited” account with Google, for example, that allows you to store anything you want on another company’s Google Drive. Said company runs and pays for the storage, and creates user accounts for others to access it as it sees fit.
Of course, a company might be doing just that and passing the buck along to you — starting at $US10 ($14) in my example—which would better explain your letter. If your clients all have different cloud services, and they’re charging you for a separate user account on each, that adds up.
Assuming you can convince your clients to adopt a new solution for file management — which might involve taking deliverables outside of their control (their cloud storage) and keeping it on a solution you set up — then I agree, it makes the most sense to consolidate everything you’re doing to a single service, rather than having to deal with a bunch of services simultaneously.
If you’re comfortable dealing with a more manual approach, you can always pick up a great NAS box—a network-attached storage device—and use that to host your data. It shouldn’t be that tricky to set up user accounts for your clients and launch some kind of online portal they can use to view, send, and download files. (Or you can grant them access to a simple FTP server, if you want.) You could also setup your own dedicated server, but that’s a bit more complex than a NAS box.
If you’d rather not mess with any of that and just use a cloud service — which will probably guarantee you a lot more uptime, since you’ll have those rarer moments when your office internet connection goes down, the NAS box has to update, etc. — you have an overwhelming amount of options to choose from. I’ve previously covered some of the common consumer cloud options, but cloud storage for small business (and its costs) is a different beast.
Google’s G Suite could work, which starts at $10 per user for a shared pool of 30GB of cloud storage, or $35 per user for unlimited storage (if you have more than five users; 1TB per user if you have fewer than five). If you want others to be able to upload and download files seamlessly in your cloud, you’ll need to create accounts for them—otherwise, they’ll just be able to download files. This could get costly, and not really solve the spending issue you identified in your letter.
You might also want to check out Dropbox’s offerings. For its cheapest business plan — $17.50 per month — you get up to three user accounts and 3TB of shared storage. You can reuse these user licenses as you see fit (as clients come and go), and you can grant your clients the ability to access shared folders and download anything in them. (And they can send new things your way via the File Request feature, or sign up for a free Dropbox account themselves, so long as they don’t blow past the 2GB free limit.)
Heck, you might even be able to just use a cheaper Dropbox personal account, if you don’t need those extra users. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out DBinbox, which you can use to make a super-easy “upload here” form for your clients.
I’m not as familiar with Microsoft’s SharePoint Online offering ($12.70/user per month for unlimited storage), but you should be able to share folders with external clients — and they can then download or upload whatever they want.
I believe they’ll need to make a Microsoft account to do this, but that appears to be the only major restriction? Unless I’m totally misinterpreting this, you could get away with a single SharePoint Online account and grant access to as many external users as you want.
You could also just pass files back and forth via a service like MASV, if you’re sending archives of drafts and finished work to one another. It’s less useful if each client just wants to have a folder they can reference that’s full of everything you’ve worked on together: Old and new projects, invoices, artwork, documents, spreadsheets, et cetera. Similarly, there’s Hightail—also worth considering, with the same kind of limitations.
Those are a few of the options I can think of. Unfortunately, cloud storage can be pricey no matter how you go about it. And I find that cheaper solutions tend to create more headaches—or, worse, can be a lot slower than an established player like Google, or Dropbox, et cetera. Nevertheless, hopefully one of these works for you. Write back and let me know what you picked (or if you need a bit more guidance!)