“Should I buy this or not?” Ever since the invention of money (and even before that), this very sensible question accompanies our buying decision. And of course not only for cars, handbags, and trampolines – but also when it comes to buying software tools.
I’m no expert when it comes to cars, handbags, and trampolines – but as the CEO and founder of “Tower” (a desktop GUI for the Git version control system), I have both opinions and some expertise when it comes to SaaS software tools. Of course, my background in a small software company means that I’m highly biased in this matter! But I want to invite you to consider if my arguments might be true, independent of my own bias.
The ROI of Software Tools is Almost Always Fantastic
Here is my bold statement: in many cases, the return on investment is fantastic when it comes to software tools you use for your work. Let me tell you why I am so convinced that this is true.
The Benefits of Good Software Tools
Great software tools come with a host of benefits:
- They make you more productive. For your private purposes, it might be enough if you keep track of tasks you have to do in a simple text file (or even on a piece of paper). But when it comes to your professional work – and especially in a team context – these overly simplistic solutions just won’t cut it. In our team, we are using “Asana” to keep track of tasks and projects. And it would be so much harder and cost so much more time if we tried to do this manually! The same logic is true for a tool like “SourceLevel“: instead of manually pulling together data from various sources, it helps you get a thorough overview of your Pull Request and Code Review metrics quicker and with less effort. Not using these tools – with the intention of trying to save a few bucks – very quickly backfires when it impairs your productivity (and more importantly: the productivity of your whole team)!
- They allow you to do things you couldn’t do without them. Our own product is a perfect example for this statement: Tower, the Git desktop GUI that we make, helps developers to access advanced features of the Git version control system – which, due to the high complexity and steep learning curve of Git, they wouldn’t be able to use (or wouldn’t even be aware of) without Tower. Many software developers claim to know Git. But when it comes to more advanced features like Interactive Rebase, Submodules, or the Reflog, they either don’t know/ don’t use them – or they simply can’t use them efficiently. Anyone who has ever performed an Interactive Rebase operation, with its many manual steps, quickly comes to love Tower, where the same operation is possible via simple drag and drop!
- They reduce mistakes. I can vividly remember the stress and the anxiety I used to feel when I had to update our website: I would connect to our live server with an FTP program and replace some files with updated versions. This is the equivalent of open heart surgery, which means that a fair amount of stress is not surprising: there are a lot of things that can go wrong and cause a real mess! This whole scenario, for us, lies many years in the past and looks very different from how we do things today: for our marketing websites, we’re using a service called “Deploybot” that makes this process a lot easier. And to run the build process for our main Tower app, we’re using the popular “Travis CI” service. Using both of these services (instead of doing things manually) has greatly reduced our error rate – and thereby saved us lots of hours of putting out fires.
- They free your time for more important work. As the CEO of a small tech company, my schedule is naturally pretty busy. And as anyone knows who has ever tried to find time on multiple people’s calendars: this is really time consuming work! Offering multiple alternative dates that block your calendar for days, looping in multiple people in multiple time zones, and all the back-and-forth emailing connected with this make these things a true nightmare. This is why I’m happily paying a hundred bucks for a yearly subscription of “Calendly” In a nutshell, this service allows me to share my availability and leave it to the other party / parties to pick a date and time that’s convenient for them. This completely takes away all of the ugly back-and-forth! And on top of that, it allows the other party to choose very freely and conveniently. This has freed up hours of my time that I can now use for more important work!
It’s hard to put a concrete dollar value to the above benefits. But if you think any of them through, you will quickly see that many software tools are a true bargain – they make you more productive, allow you to do things you couldn’t do without them, reduce mistakes, and free your time for more important work. All of this makes for a terribly great return on investment!
Let’s not ignore the haters, doubters, and nay-sayers and address some common objections.
“It’s too expensive!”
Let’s take our own tool, the “Tower” Git GUI, as an example.
- A license costs between 69 and 99 USD per user per year.
- Our customers are professional software developers in companies large and small as well as freelance programmers.
- The value that Tower delivers is that it makes software developers more productive: it helps them reduce mistakes and get access to the more advanced features that allow them to produce higher-quality software.
The average software developer’s salary varies wildly, but it’s somewhere between 40,000 and 150,000 USD per year. The math here is very simple: if such a tool can help a developer save just a couple of minutes or prevent just 1-2 errors every month – by adding a meager 69 USD to that 40,000 USD yearly cost – the software tool has already paid for itself!
The same argument holds true for almost any knowledge worker: compared to the salaries of well-educated people, the costs of most software tools are extremely low, almost negligible. This means that they earn back their money very quickly! Either in productivity or any of the other benefits that I mentioned above.
“I don’t need a tool for that.”
It’s true: you can skin a potato with your bare hands and fingernails. But it’s just not very efficient. One reason why humankind has flourished over the millennia is because we have the ability to invent tools. And a potato peeler isn’t very different from a software tool like Tower: you’ll be more productive and get a better end result when using it!
I don’t doubt that you can do lots of things manually, without using a tool. But think carefully if, at least in some cases, there’s a chance that a tool could make things easier and more productive.
“The free alternative is sufficient for me.”
While you usually have to pay for a potato peeler, software tools are sometimes free: they might be Open Source, or a programmer’s hobby project, or they’re sponsored by a large corporation.
In some cases, such a free piece of software might indeed be an excellent choice (very often the case with Open Source projects). But more often than not, “free” will come with a price tag. Let’s take quality as an example: often, quality is not on par with paid alternatives. Why? Because quality costs an immense amount of time and money which both have to come from somewhere! Other examples are non-existent customer support or the lack of good documentation. All of these things, just like the overall “quality” aspect, cost time and money which are often not available in the case of free software.
“My boss won’t pay for this.”
Dear managers: I hope that reading this far has convinced you that it makes a ton of sense to cover expenses for software tools. If they make your employees just a tiny bit more productive – or if they make their lives a little bit easier – then covering expenses for tools should be a no-brainer. After all, our job as managers is to provide the people in our teams with everything they need to do good, productive work.
A Look at Our Own “Household Spending”
I started this post by admitting that I’m terribly biased: as CEO of a small software company, it’s probably no surprise that I encourage people to buy our software. However, I’m quite confident that I went beyond our own product and proved that the ROI of software tools in general is often very good.
To prove that we really “walk the walk” (and not just “talk the talk”), here’s an overview of the tools that we spend our own, hard-earned money on:
It Goes Without Saying: Spend Wisely!
Of course, all of the above does NOT mean that you should just spend, spend, spend! 💵 Like in other areas of life, you shouldn’t give in to every impulse and just buy any software tool that you come across.
But when it comes to tools for your work, I encourage you to keep your eyes just as much on the “return” part as on the “investment” of the “Return on Investment” consideration. Don’t hesitate to buy software that brings value! If it helps you and your team do your jobs better – in a more productive, easier, or safer way – then investing is probably much more clever than being overly frugal.