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Switching apps isn't scary

Here's how to know if it's time to switch to a new tool—and how to find the right software and transfer your data.

By Justin Pot · December 14, 2021
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Settling for the software you're already using is like putting up with a terrible apartment. Sure: the hot water in the kitchen only works if you stand on a particular floorboard, and that's concerning in all kinds of ways. On the other hand, though, moving really sucks.

An app you depend on is similar—except there's no reason to be afraid of moving. You can try out software before committing, and the actual switching typically isn't that hard. In most cases, you can take your data with you. 

There's a lot of nuance here, and I'm not going to pretend that switching apps is always going to be easy. Some companies have decades of data, workflows, and habits built around specific tools, and that's going to be a transition. But in most cases, switching from one tool to another isn't nearly the amount of work you think it will be.

Don't let the fear of moving keep you in a crappy apartment. You have options. 

How to know an app isn't working for you anymore

This isn't something you need to overthink. If you suspect a tool isn't working well for you, trust your instincts—you're probably right. But here are a few signs:

  • You're constantly running into limitations. If you're frequently thinking of things you wish the software could do, only to learn that it can't, it's time to look into alternatives. 

  • You're using other tools to supplement shortcomings. This can get fuzzy, sure, but you shouldn't need other software to supplement the core functions of an app. If you're constantly using workarounds—for example, copying data to a spreadsheet so you can arrange it in a way that's actually useful—you might not be using the right app.

  • Upgrades for necessary features cost more than you're willing to pay. Sometimes, it's about the money. Some apps lock features behind higher pay tiers. If another app offers the feature you want at your current price, it's time to consider switching. 

  • The software has become a running joke. Honestly, if an app is truly horrible, your staff will start making fun of it. Don't get mad about those jokes—learn from them. 

These aren't the only signs, of course, and no one understands your situation better than you. If any of these things are true, though, you should at least be looking into replacement software. 

How to find a better app

The first hurdle to overcome, after discovering an app doesn't work for you, is figuring out what alternatives are out there. 

I've been doing research for Zapier's best apps lists for three years, and I wrote similar articles for a decade before that. It's taught me a lot about finding similar apps in any category and figuring out which ones offer which features. Here's my process: 

  • Do a broad search for alternatives. Just type the name of your current software with the word "alternative" or "vs" and see what comes up. I'd ignore any sites that simply offer lists, like G2 or Capterra—both of those sites heavily favor software companies that pay to be ranked highly. Look for results with articles written by actual human people on websites. Related: learn how to spot content marketing, so you can avoid obvious scams. I think the Zapier blog is trustworthy, for example, but an "alternatives" list on the AwesomeApp blog that recommends AwesomeApp should probably be taken with a grain of salt. 

  • Note what reviewers are calling the category. My grandmother doesn't know what a web browser is—she just knows she needs to tap a particular button in order to open Facebook on her computer. I think most of us are like this with at least one app category. I didn't know what diagramming software was until I wrote our list of the best diagramming software—I just knew that Lucidchart was pretty neat. Once I found the name for the category, however, I could find all kinds of alternatives (some of which are in that article).

  • Search for reviews and "best of" lists for that recommendation. Armed with a category name? Great! Now search for the best apps in that category. We offer a bunch of best apps lists for hundreds of categories, but there's no shortage of great websites out there. (Again: focus on the human-written ones.) Write down any apps that you haven't heard of and think might be a fit.

  • Ask around. I review software professionally, but I still learn about new apps from my friends and coworkers. Ask people who work in your industry which apps they use, how they like them, and which features they use regularly. You'll learn things. Again: write down any options that sound promising. 

  • Make a list of features you want, then check which apps on your list have those features. This is the most labor-intensive part, but it also helps you eliminate most of the apps upfront—anything that doesn't have your features isn't worth looking into, so don't. 

Go through this process, and you'll have a solid list of apps that might work for you. Now comes the fun part. 

Remember: you can try something without committing

You've got your list of apps. Now what? 

Most apps offer some sort of free version or trial, which is something you should take advantage of. Create an account, download any versions you might use, and push all the buttons. You don't have to migrate all of your data before you make a decision—just explore. 

I've learned that the best way to get a feel for a tool is to give myself some sort of "objective," even if it's not a real objective. For example, I might build a pointless website if I'm evaluating website builders. If I'm testing photo editing software, I might give my friends purple eyes. You know: normal human activities. 

The point is to figure out how the app you're considering is different from the app you're currently using. What's better? What's worse? What might take some getting used to, and what might be a lot easier right off the bat? 

None of this is something you need to agonize over. It should be obvious, pretty quickly, that a switch will be worthwhile. If that's not obvious, you shouldn't switch. 

How to take your data with you

When you find your replacement, it's time to migrate your data. I can't possibly write a guide about doing this for every app, but here's a broad overview. 

  • See if there's an import tool. Many apps offer dedicated tools for migrating. For example: Microsoft offers a dedicated tool for migrating Evernote notebooks over to OneNote. Do a quick search and see if something like that exists for your use case.

  • Find a migration tutorial. Most apps offer some kind of tool for exporting your data in bulk. Sometimes this will be under File > Export, or sometimes it will be a specialized tool. Google, for example, lets users download all of their data using Google Takeout. Either way, you can typically find some sort of tutorial—in official help docs or on a reputable website—for moving data from one platform for another. 

  • Use a dedicated migration tool. There are plenty of apps on the market that specialize in moving data from one app to another. I recommend Transfer by Zapier and would recommend it even if Zapier wasn't paying me to write this. It's a pretty cool little tool. 

This all might sound intimidating, but it really isn't. You can handle this.

You don't have to live in a terrible apartment the rest of your life, and you don't have to put up with a terrible app at work. With a little research, and a little work, you can find a better fit for yourself—and it'll be worth it.

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