A woman stands in a workshop, leaning against a chrome-topped counter and looking down at the electronic tablet in her hands. She has long brown hair and wears a black T-shirt under a brown leather work apron. Behind her is a wall covered with mounted and hanging tools, including wrenches and hammers. The silver spokes of a bike tire sits on top of the counter.
In the world of tech, there's often overlap in functionality among various tools. Before you invest in a new software, see if something you already use can do the same thing. — Getty Images/Maskot

Dozens of software providers offer free versions or free trials of their tools to give business owners a chance to try before you buy. Some of these “freemium” options give you a full preview of the platform for a limited time; others offer free access for life—for a limited set of features.

At some point, you may start to wonder if it’s worthwhile to upgrade to a premium or paid plan. Before you decide to invest in a tech tool, consider these questions.

Have your business needs outgrown the free plan?

Free versions of software are great—until suddenly, they aren’t. Whether you have added more users, need more features than the free version allows, or exceed the duration of your free trial, there comes a moment when the free plan just won’t be sufficient.

“The first clue that your needs exceed what's offered for free is some version of the message, ‘To access that feature, purchase our premium level,’” wrote LegalZoom.

If you and your team find yourselves repeatedly bumping up against a payment gateway in the process of using an app or tech platform, it could be time to make the upgrade. This is a sign of a business need that isn’t being met in your current tech stack.

Have you considered your future needs?

While repeatedly coming up against a payment gateway signals a current business need, it doesn’t necessarily indicate a long-term solution is missing. Is the business problem you’re trying to solve something temporary, or part of your long-term business trajectory?

“Companies often focus on solutions to their immediate needs or buy something for one area of the business, without considering the company’s overall or future needs,” said Jonathan Pastrikos, Business Consultant at BDC.

Look for tools that integrate with lots of other platforms and solutions. If you pay for something, it needs to go the distance with your company.

Do you already have another tool that could work?

Bring together members from different business areas to assess the organization’s entire tech stack. Make sure you have full visibility into who is using what and whether there are tools already in use that can be shared across teams.

If you and your team find yourselves repeatedly bumping up against a payment gateway in the process of using an app or tech platform, it could be time to make the upgrade.

“A lot of the apps you're already paying for might have features you don't even know about. Review the software bundles included in each app you're subscribed to before paying for another app,” wrote Zapier. “And make sure you avoid paying for two apps that do the same thing—you might be able to cut one app when you start paying for another because of overlapping features.”

This is a good opportunity to see if there’s any shadow IT that may be putting your business at risk, as well as to assess if there’s a true need for a paid tech plan.

Have you done your research?

Many users will sign up for a free plan because the stakes are so low — it’s free, after all. But that doesn’t mean the tool is the best option on the market. Do your research by reading user reviews and understanding how each tool’s tiered pricing works. Experiment with other free trials before you upgrade to a paid plan.

[Read more: 7 Free Google Tools Your Small Business Should Be Using]

Can you quantify the value of upgrading to a paid version?

Do some quick math to estimate the ROI of investing in a paid tech plan.

“It's really tempting to only look at the actual cost of the tool, especially when there are so many apps in the world, and adding more subscriptions increases your monthly costs. But is it possible that the app will actually save you more money than it costs?” wrote Zapier.

For some tools, the value is obvious: If upgrading helps you generate revenue or improves productivity, then the paid plan is a good investment. A paid tech plan should not only cover the cost but leave enough for a profit.

For some tools, the value is less obvious. If you can’t quantify the amount of time you’ll save or the sales a paid version will deliver, then reconsider some of the pricier options.

[Read more: 8 Small Business Tech Tools You Don’t Need to Pay For]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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