The intoxicating siren song of a new generation of Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings is a promise that you can bring awesome products to market faster than ever, or run your business operations with dramatically less friction. Heck, it’s what ClearlyTech Recommends is all about. But caveat emptor if you blindly assume that the latest greatest SaaS offering is automatically mana from heaven. Oscar Wilde taught us all what happens when we assume.

And so we present here the five SaaSumptions that may come back to haunt you.

  1. They’re free! Many SaaS offerings take a first-hit-is-free approach. Take the time to understand when the premium part of their “freemium” offer kicks in. Understand how much it will cost and what the ROI is before you do a deep integration.
  2. They will always exist. How sure are you that this partner will be in business longer than you will? How much do you trust them to tell you far enough in advance of an impending shutdown that you will be able to respond gracefully? Note: almost none tell you in their terms of service what happens to your data if they shut down.
  3. I can trust them with my private data. Data is at the heart of everything you do. Sales data, log files, billing invoices, customer information, user generated content, etc. Before you trust a provider to own a copy (or the only copy) of that data, find out if they do backups and have an appropriate disaster recovery plan. Consider doing regular exports of the data into your own backups. And consider what happens if their security is compromised. You will still be liable if all your customer information gets stolen, at least in the eyes of the marketplace, and potentially the law.
  4. Their service is up 24/7 What happens if you are serving traffic, but your partners are down? Maybe you are hosting all your videos on Amazon S3, or your images on Cloudinary. Make sure you know what your site looks like if those providers have a temporary hiccup. Murphy’s law promises that it will happen during your big marketing push, of course. Even if they are up, your SaaS provider might be hosted in another part of the country or the world, meaning that general Internet routing issues might cut you off from their services. Note: most don’t provide rock-solid SLAs, don’t expect to ever get money back if they go offline.
  5. They totally meet my needs. They might have exactly what you need right now. What happens as you grow and change? Make sure their other customers are like you, that will help ensure they have your best interests in mind. See if their customer support is quick in responding to your specific needs. Can they scale with you? Do they have international support? Be careful you don’t design your product around the services you choose. You owe it to your customers to give them a stellar product, even if you have to get custom to make that happen.

When it comes to picking SaaS partners, remember to pay particular attention to your pillars, as those are the areas where a bet on SaaS partners or a decision to build it yourself will matter the most. Beyond that, do your diligence, and design your dependencies on outside services so that you could shift to another one if business needs warrant it. The buck stops with you.

Don’t be afraid to go with SaaS (it’s a powerful advantage you have as a small company), but be smart about it.