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The Trap of Notion Personal if You're a Business

ยท 9 min read
Adam Kecskes

Or, When and Why You Should Pay for Notion Team

Getting up to Speedโ€‹

If you haven't heard of Notion, likely you've been under a rock somewhere. And good for you, keeping safe during this time of Covid-19! ๐Ÿ˜ท

Notion touts itself as an all-in-one workspace, useful to create wikis, track notes, make tables of who-knows-what and a whole host of other features. Think Evernote meets Airtable smashed up with Microsoft OneNote, and MediaWiki, with a pinch of Asana and Trello, plus a lot more. And Notion is hyper-configurable, to boot.

It's a handy and versatile software suite. But like those other tools just mentioned, there is so much that you can do with Notion that sometimes it can be so overwhelming that you collapse under an avalanche of unorganized notes, links, folders and files. If you want to know more, visit https://www.notion.so/. Chances are, you can ramp up pretty quickly. However... this article isn't about the details of what Notion can do. It's about saving yourself a lot of time and effort if you are thinking that Notion might be perfect for your team or business. It might be, but...

The Trap that is Notion Personalโ€‹

Once you see how much you can do with Notion โ€” and just in the free Personal version โ€” it's tempting to upgrade to the Personal Pro (only $4 a month, after all!) and get all the goodies that come with it, mainly unlimited uploads and unlimited guests. It's a bargain! Look at all of the amazing things you can do! Pages and pages of notes and links and files and sub-folders and... wow, all of the guests that can be invited! It's enough to make your head spin.

And it's also tempting at this point to think you can run a business with this amazing piece of software for just a measly $4 per month! Look how frugal you are! ๐Ÿ‘

It's a Trap Image|50%

Heads up... you can't run business on $4 a month. Well, you can try, but someone on your "team" will be spending so much time administering to Notion that the $4 you spend per month will be eclipsed by the cost of having that someone constantly distracted.

It's not like Notion is trying to bamboozle you. You're just using the wrong tool for the job. Let's take a look at their pricing page:

Notion Pricing Image

See? The $8 per member per month to run Notion for your team and rather than just your selfish self. Your Personal Pro account, amazing as it is for you, isn't intended for use with teams. You know... those people you pay to make things, sell things, and fix things for you? Yes, the Team level is going to cost more... but is it worth it?

A Side Noteโ€‹

To be clear, I'm not shillin' for Notion at all. It's a good piece of software, but only if you're willing to use it correctly and can take the time to organize it so that it enhances your team's productivity, rather than detracts. I could say the same about a host of workspace-cum-project management-cum-digital notebook software suites. They are often well-priced, but only if you can use the software to its near full potential.

My preferred tool, mostly because of my familiarity with it and my being a software developer/project manager, is Atlassian's Jira (and associated apps, like Confluence). Like Notion, Jira seems simple to set up and use at first glance, but once you realize the true power of the underlying features, you can get lost forever in a sea of potential options and confuse the heck out of the users of your system. That's why it's good to have a dedicated administrator for such tools โ€” they can be part time for a small company, but for a large company, ideally they should be full time. A consultant familiar with organizational systems can also be useful to hire for the initial ramp up or a mid-game evaluation (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

It's good to have a dedicated administrator for such tools.

And the Answer Is...โ€‹

If you're committed to using Notion for your team or company, then yes, absolutely, it is worth paying the $8 per member per month to get the Team feature, paid annually. The main reason is that the Team version of Notion gives you an exponential jump in the level of control you have over what your members and guests can see. You see, it's the permissions that you are paying all of that filthy lucre for. ๐Ÿ’ธ

It's all about the permissions

I Grant Thee Permission to...โ€‹

Well managed permissions make multi-user systems like Notion far easier to work with. I'd even argue that before you even consider how you might organize the structure of your wondrous note-taking, wiki-building, link-making, table-hosting empire, you first look at how you want permissions to be handled. Who has access to what? Do the software devs need to see Project X? Does the sales department need insight into documents about Subject Y? Notion, if you're willing to put in more sophisticated work, will let you track finances and contracts, do HR stuff, manage project details and act as an Agile-Scrum-Kanban monster hybrid for product development. Who gets to see what? And why or why not?

Asking these questions can help drive the formation of the folder structure of Notion and make it more manageable and scalable over time, which is why I recommend starting with permissions first. Then, if sometime in the future, there's a need for significant changes, you already have a solid foundation of understanding from where you can regard how, when, and why you might make such updates โ€” and those changes will likely be easier to make as well. My one suggestion with managing permissions is to start broad at first, then restrict down as needed. Think at the (sub-)team level and (sub-)folder, but not any lower than that. Don't make permissions assignment overly complicated, don't make it a way to control individuals, and don't confuse permissions with some sort of security feature. They're not.

When creating permission rules, it's good to start broad at first, then restrict down as needed.

A corollary to my security comment: If something truly needs to be legally protected, such as truly sensitive IP โ€” along the lines of Coca-Cola's secret formula โ€” you shouldn't even ponder putting it a place like Notion. โš ๏ธ

Permissions โ‰  Security

So yeah...โ€‹

If you have a team of two or more, it's worth paying the $8 per member per month to use.

(Oh, by the way, for Notion, that's $8 per month if you pay annually, otherwise it's $10 per month. The Personal Pro shoots to the sky-high price of... $5 per month.)

The Takeawaysโ€‹

The first takeaway of this article is simple: If you have a legit existing and/or promising company with people eager to work for you (hopefully paid), then there is great value in paying the extra cost for a system in order to get the most out of it. In the case of Notion, that means fronting the $8 per member per month for access to permissions so that you have a true multi-user system to work within. It's a clever thing that Notion has done, setting their pricing that way, and I applaud the distinction.

There is great value in paying the extra cost for a system in order to get the most out of it.

But the rule applies even if you're choosing a completely different software suite to do something completely different: if you like the features in the freemium/cheap model, pay the extra cost to get access to the grander features. You should more than make up for the cost in terms of productivity alone. Most good software companies put considerable thought into their pricing structure (though I'll admit, I've seen my fair share of willy-nilly pricing for features โ€” a rule of thumb, if they don't advertise their pricing on the web or at least give you an easy way to get a price range with a quick call or email... they just might be bamboozling you. I'm assuming you don't need enterprise level software; that's a different ball of wax).

The second takeaway is that permissions are supremely useful. Jira uses them, Notion uses them, Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams, Asana, Monday.com and other project management software suites use them... all for good reason. More than anything, permissions offer an underlying solution to improving the user experience of software that applies to users, guests, and administrators alike. If you think about permissions as a way to improve workflow, rather than to restrict it, you're on the right track.

If you think about permissions as a way to improve workflow, rather than to restrict it, you're on the right track.

The last takeaway is this: Notion and all other software that is more sophisticated than calculator or to-do list often requires a commitment on the part of someone in your organization. Superficially, it's about knowing what the top level useful features are and how to implement them. However, it takes a deeper mindset, or a lot of previous experience, to set up a system that is robust, easily configurable, and sustainable. It also takes quite a bit of will power to resist the horde of unprofessional opinions that will fly your system administrator's way on how best to implement the system. Some will be gems, but most will actually send your system down a detrimental path, if not immediately, in the long run. All systems suffer from the decay of entropy โ€” doubly so when created by committee.

All systems suffer from the decay of entropy โ€” doubly so when created by committee.

Regardless of what system you are (planning on) using, be it something like Notion or Airtable, or Jira, Monday.com or Asana, or maybe something more sophisticated such as an enterprise level CRM or ERP, feel free to reach out so I can help (I give you permission!).

ENDS ๐Ÿ‘‘