Selecting the right Office 365 subscription plan can be daunting, particularly since there are three small business plans and four enterprise plans to choose from. There are also several other plans aimed towards specific sectors, such as education and government.
Microsoft’s vision is to empower companies with the range of tools they need to align their technology with their specific goals, hence the wide range of options available. When it comes time to choose cloud productivity software, the first decision for SMBs will be to choose between a business and enterprise subscription package, so let’s start with answering some key questions:
As you might expect, Business editions of Office 365 are tailored for small- or medium-sized business environments, while Enterprise plans cater primarily to the needs of big companies with multiple branches. As such, all Business plans allow for a maximum of 300 users, which certainly shouldn’t be a problem for most SMBs. The Enterprise plans come with no such limits, making them the obvious choice for any company with more than 300 employees, as well as companies expecting to reach that mark in the foreseeable future.
Regardless of whether you choose a Business or Enterprise plan, all subscriptions are quoted on a per-user, per-month basis, although each one requires an annual commitment. It is still possible to buy Microsoft Office as a standalone product, but this rarely makes sense for business users since it doesn’t come with many of the features unique to Office 365, and will eventually stop receiving updates and upgrades.
The cheapest option is Office 365 Business Essentials, the entry-level business plan, which comes with Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, and Skype for Business. However, at only $5 per user per month, the core Microsoft Office applications are only accessible in the cloud. For businesses still relying heavily on in-house desktop productivity, the Office 365 Business package, which costs $8.25 per user per month, is the minimum tier you’ll want to go for.
Enterprise plans are typically more expensive, with the Office 365 ProPlus (which is something of a bridge between Business and Enterprise plans) costing $12 per user monthly. However, there’s also Enterprise E1, which is the same as Business Essentials but costs $8 and raises the user limit, increases cloud storage, and adds a few compliance tools. Higher Enterprise tiers increase in price significantly, with Enterprise E3 costing $20 and Enterprise E5 costing $35.
If your company operates in a heavily regulated sector or has very specific industry requirements, choosing the right plan can make meeting your compliance obligations a whole lot easier. This is one of the main reasons why many smaller businesses opt for an Enterprise subscription, since higher product tiers come with security and compliance tools.
If you’re running a law firm, for example, you’ll probably want to go for the Enterprise E3 package, since it includes many additional tools that are extremely important in the industry, such as electronic discovery features, litigation hold, improved security and data loss prevention.
In fact, any organization that’s subject to strict compliance regulations will do well to choose a higher-level Enterprise subscription, because it will provide you with access to the Microsoft Security & Compliance Center. While that’s not a compliance requirement itself, it will help enormously when it comes to meeting your legal obligations.
Costing $35 per user per month, Office 365 Enterprise E5 is the most expensive and most complete cloud and desktop productivity suite that Microsoft has to offer, but it might be overkill for some businesses.
It’s a great choice for rapidly growing companies that work with people all over the world, thanks in part to better security and collaboration tools. Enterprise E5 is also the only package to include the Power BI Pro business intelligence platform, which helps larger companies better utilize data to drive operational decision-making.
The best way to start the decision-making process is to list your requirements, as well as a few nice-to-haves if you have a reasonably flexible budget. That way, you can eliminate plans that don’t meet your requirements. Just make sure to plan ahead, since you don’t want to run into a technological brick wall the moment your business really starts to take off.