Around a decade ago, a special few of us got invites to be beta users of a new cloud product that offered virtually unlimited storage space for our email.
Even better: it was free.
Years later, most of us take Gmail for granted. Many companies even use Gmail, Google documents and Google spreadsheets to do business. Google set the expectation for unlimited free storage, but a lot has changed since those early days.
When it comes to free storage and unlimited megabytes, everyone signs up – private and business users, alike. This has caused some people to question the business model of the cloud – is there enough money to be made by cloud storage providers to trust them with my documents?
The answer is undoubtedly yes, but the way to do it isn’t by charging for infinitely more storage space, it’s by offering users a better storage experience. In particular, small businesses are looking for quality, convenient cloud services that improve their productivity, not just a dumping place for files.
The cloud becomes more valuable for small businesses when offering services beyond the current state of commoditized storage. As we saw with business software years ago, and recently with valuable apps for business, the benefits of paid services often outweigh the benefit of getting them for free.
Businesses understand software as a service, and they will soon expect services on top of cloud storage. There’s a lot to learn about service and value from the airline industry. Virgin America threw out the conventional approach for low-cost domestic flights and offered a superior product at competitive prices.
For many smaller carriers, the focus is on the cheapest, most no-frills experience possible in order to compete with the bigger players. But Virgin has proven that customers are looking for more and will pay for added services .
Similarly, it’s the cloud service experience that will add true value for consumers and prove to be the winning ingredient.
The unspoken truth in the cloud storage market is that most small businesses don’t come close to using all of the data offered, even in limited plans. In reality, a business owner’s typical digital data – office files, PDFs and other records, maybe a few photos and scans – doesn’t take up more than 10 GBs.
So, as the cloud service industry matures, it will need to look for a business model beyond the “how many GBs do you get for a buck” approach. In cloud services, small business owners should be looking at what they are actually trying to accomplish and see how these services fit into their workflow.
Spotify  is a great example of a good introductory product with the option to pay for an enhanced experience. They have figured out how to create a valuable pay wall that goes beyond online access to a vast selection of music. They also offer paid options for better quality sound, downloadable content and no commercials, along with a potent mobile app experience.
When it comes to cloud storage, just like with Virgin and Spotify, people and businesses are looking for value-added services and an effortless experience. We all want ways to make our lives easier, not more complicated. Users want a solution that is flexible and that easily integrates with the systems and services they are already using. Cloud storage solutions are beginning to realize that features beyond extra GBs are what users will pay for.
Features like cloud search, easing workflow and collaboration options are the services many businesses will latch onto. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Does your cloud storage provider drastically change your everyday workflow?
- Does this cloud storage provider provide you with collaboration tools for your team?
- Does your cloud storage provider have desktop, mobile and tablet accessibility?
- Is the main draw of a particular cloud storage provider the amount of space it gives you?
- Does your cloud storage provider have a simple explanation for how your files will be secure in the cloud?
When identifying how your business will approach the cloud, take the above into consideration.
Under the Cloud  Photo via Shutterstock