Small business file sharing options

By Laura Haight

Originally published in the Upstate Business Journal, Greenville, SC on May 31, 2013 

How do you share files with your staff? How do you collaborate on a project - developing a timeline, pricing, scope documents?

If you are like a lot of small businesses, you email files back and forth. You may have an online account tied to a single ID that everyone shares to access and update documents. But that has some serious drawbacks.

The Small Business Administration classifies a small business as one with under 500 employees, but 90 percent of small businesses have under 20. In the new economy, an increasing number of single- and dual-proprietorships have established in the last five years.

Sharing, storing and collaborating on documents with employees, partners and clients is a big part of what any business needs to do. Four major issues come into play in that process: accessibility, security, efficiency and cost.

There are a lot of services that allow you to share files with people inside and outside your office. There are two distinct issues here: sharing files on a short term basis via an FTP transfer or maintaining an online file system for storage and collaboration.

A client recently attempted to send me an uncompressed file folder of photos and videos. I had no idea the folder size was 462 MB and they were sending it in email. It was nearly the end of me. But this is a common problem to have - even one photo can be more than the 8-10 MB that most email systems can now handle.

  • Send Big Files offers several level of accounts - including a free one that let's you transfer files up to 250 MB. Files are not stored here - they are maintained for seven days and then deleted. Scale up in service offerings, size and cost as your needs change.
  • Transfer Big Files is the same idea with some differences. You purchase storage space $5 per month per user buys 20 GB. You can transfer files to others, but they are never deleted - until you do.
  • MediaFire is useful if you have lots of files you want to distribute, as long as they're under 200MB each. Uploads are scanned with the BitDefender antivirus engine. Distribution includes sending file links to social media (Facebook, Twitter) and emailing via contact lists from a variety of programs including Outlook, Plaxo, vCards and many more. There's a desktop app, an Android app and an ios app so you can access your files from any device, anywhere. A free account has ads on your download screen and limits on storage time; scale up to a $2.49 per month pro plan to go ad free and unlimited storage.

Those services serve more of a transfer function, but sometimes you need more. So far, I’ve found Dropbox to be the most full featured

  • Dropbox gives you online storage, accessibility from nearly any device and integration with a vast number of mobile apps. This is important since ios devices have no real storage system. But sign a document with DocuSign Ink and you can save the completed file to your Dropbox folder; scan a file with Genius Scan and save it directly into Dropbox. Dropbox has a desktop application as well as a web interface. You'll find you use the service so often that you'll quickly have to upgrade to higher paid plans. You can share any document or folder with someone else, which is very useful for project collaboration. But the downside is that person must have a Dropbox account with enough storage for the shared files. So if you share a 10 GB folder with someone who has a free 2 GB account, they will have to upgrade their account to access. (Other popular competitors: Box and CloudMe).

Each of these services offer a free or low-cost base level that can get you started, but grow as your business needs grow.

But these services are also most useful for either maintaining documents that YOU are working on and sharing final products with others - like sending project plans or contracts to clients. What if you need to work together on documents? The days of locally hosted file servers are waning. And the total cost of ownership for true servers with user permissions and file controls is steep.

We'll take a look at the best tools for collaborating with small teams in next week's column.