By Amy Boyington
Dropbox is one of the first services I happily shelled out money for when I started my freelance writing business. As someone who wrote between 10 to 20 pieces of content a week, I wanted a way to keep each file protected in the cloud without worrying about corruption, misplaced files, or not having a way to access them on my laptop when I decided to work from the porch or library.
That was a few years ago when I started with the Basic plan, but I now use the paid Plus account daily and the service has only gotten better since then. If you’re considering a cloud storage service for your business, Dropbox is a worthy contender you might want to learn more about.
What is Dropbox?
Dropbox is best known as a cloud-based file hosting service, but it also serves other useful functions, such as file sharing and collaboration, remote file access, document creation and editing, and file history and recovery. Dropbox has a desktop app for accessing your folders and files directly on a computer, as well as iOS and Android apps for mobile devices.
How is Dropbox different from Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive?
There are quite a few similarities between Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, all of which have document editing, file sharing, and cloud storage. Dropbox is notably more expensive than other plans for less storage space, which probably leaves you wondering, “Why use it?”
Perhaps the most significant benefit of Dropbox over its competitors is its file syncing capabilities. Dropbox users can sync their account with their computer, placing access to each Dropbox folder within the computer’s file system and making your folders and files act like they’re a part of your computer. The best part? With a Professional account, this process doesn’t take up any extra space on your computer with the Smart Sync feature. Here’s how it’ll look on your computer:
You can do this with any Mac, PC, or Linux-operated desktop or laptop you own to have instant access to any file no matter where you work. Google Drive currently has this capability for Mac and PC, but not Linux, while OneDrive—since it’s operated by Microsoft—only allows this feature on Windows devices.
Another perk is Dropbox’s security system, which encrypts every file stored in your account and any file that transfers to and from your account. You’ll also have access to important data, like version history and viewers of each file, thanks to Dropbox’s high-tech security and metadata logging.
Dropbox offers both individual and business plans, but most solopreneurs should be okay with any one of the three individual options:
Basic is a free account that gives you up to 2 GB of storage space in the cloud, plus access to 30-day file version history and recovery, file requests, viewer information, camera uploads, document scanning, Dropbox Paper, and access to your account from any of your devices.
I used basic for about three months as I grew my business initially, but I quickly outgrew the 2 GB of space. The features you get with a free account are beneficial, but other cloud services, like Google Drive, offer more free space.
Dropbox Plus Plan
Once I upgraded to a Plus account, I felt like I was getting the best that Dropbox has to offer. Plus costs $99 annually and includes the following upgrades over a Basic account:
- 1 TB of space
- Access to mobile folders and files while offline
- Priority email support
- Remote data deletion if your device gets lost or stolen
Dropbox released its Professional plan in 2017. This plan is targeted toward freelancers and small business owners who need more space—2 TB, to be exact—and a place to show off their best work through an app called Showcase, where users can create a portfolio using documents, images, and other content types already in their Dropbox. Showcase displays your content in a polished design that you can add your company’s branding to. This portfolio is perfect for sending to potential clients, so they can review your past work.
Whether the extra TB of space and Showcase feature are worth the $199 annual cost for a Professional account is up to you to decide. The upgrade does come with a few other bonuses, too, like Smart Sync, viewer history, file text searches, and priority chat support.
Helpful Dropbox Features
If you’re like me, you work wherever your laptop takes you on any given day, which is why it’s convenient to have what Dropbox refers to as “Anywhere Access” to your files. This feature lets you access any file in your Dropbox account from wherever you have Dropbox installed, like a laptop or Android device. You can start working on a project at your desktop and pull it up on your laptop later if you decide to work at the coffee shop, for example.
Accessing your file elsewhere gives you all the same options you have on your desktop, like copying links for sharing, moving or renaming files, and exporting files to your device:
With Dropbox, you can share the links to files with whoever you want, even if the folder itself is private only to you. When you share a file, you’ll also be able to see its version history and who has edited the file. You’ll need a Professional account, though, to see viewer history.
Unfortunately, you can’t set individual files to be edited by someone else. Instead, you can only grant edit access to folders. If you need to share work with a client through Dropbox, you’ll need to set up a folder with edit access for that client.
Every Dropbox plan gives you at least some file recovery capabilities. With the Basic and Plus plans, you can recover deleted and old versions of files within 30 days. With a Professional account, this perk jumps to 120 days. During this period, you’ll also be able to track any changes made to the file by yourself and by anyone else.
Paper is Dropbox’s simple online word processor, similar to Microsoft Word Online and Google Docs. It’s streamlined, easy on the eyes, and has a lot of collaboration capabilities. Beyond simple word processing, you can also link to other Dropbox files, use it to brainstorm projects, and work with your team in real time.
Camera Upload and Document Scanning
On each Dropbox plan, you can add any photo or video from your mobile device to your Dropbox storage for anywhere access. You can even “scan” documents using your phone’s camera and send them to Dropbox, which turns them into PDF files.
If your clients don’t use Dropbox but you want to collaborate with them through your account, you can do that with File Request. Just send an invite to your client and Dropbox will create a folder for them to upload files to. You’ll be the only one with access to those files unless you share them with someone else.
Dropbox: The Verdict
Dropbox accomplishes exactly what it’s supposed to. It hosts your data safely and securely on the cloud, lets you create word documents online, and gives you several ways to share files and collaborate with your team.
With that said, it is something you’ll need to pay for if you want more than 2 GB of space, which will likely be needed if you plan on using Dropbox on a daily basis (like I do). Other cloud storage services offer more space for free, like Google Drive’s generous 15 GB for its free plan. However, paying for an annual Dropbox Plus plan for $99 works out to just over $8 a month and bumps your storage to 1 TB.
I’d suggest working with the Basic plan for a couple of months to gauge how much space you might need before jumping to a paid plan. The good news is that you can upgrade or downgrade at any time.
Amy Boyington is a freelance writer and blog manager for lifestyle entrepreneurs and businesses. After working a few unfulfilling 9 to 5 jobs, she took it upon herself to create a career path that meshed with her family life. She now works with clients all over the world in a flexible freelance career that helps her be both a businesswoman and mom to her two children.