Best VPNs for small and home-based businesses in 2021

I recently had a friendly discussion with a marketing guy who contended that the term “small business” didn’t apply to home-based businesses because small businesses have between a hundred and 1,500 employees and revenues from about $1M to about $40M. Technically, if you accept the US Small Business Administration’s very wrong-headed definition of small business, that’s correct. But I defy you to tell a small restaurant owner or an IT consultant with five or ten employees that their business isn’t a small business. Afterall, roughly 54{3e92bdb61ecc35f2999ee2a63f1e687c788772421b16b0136989bbb6b4e89b73} of employer businesses (business with employees) are smaller than the SBA’s definition of small business.

This is even more the case in these times of Covid. Many employees are working from home, whether or not they’re employed by companies with huge or tiny payrolls. But the distinction is important — and this is what my marketing friend was getting at — because if you look at tiny businesses, they tend to need different networking infrastructure than so-called small businesses the size of small departments or divisions.

For our purposes, specifically for this article, we’re looking at VPN solutions that can fit businesses operating from homes as well as small offices. Two of them, NordLayer and Perimeter 81, can scale to larger small businesses. The other two, Surfshark and ExpressVPN, have tools that help small business owners manage multiple subscriptions and licenses. Let’s take a look.


Start with VPN and add all the business management features you need


nordlayer-biz.png

  • Cloud VPN: Yes
  • Remote Access VPN: Yes
  • Site-to-Site VPN: Yes
  • SSO Option: Yes
  • Team Permissions: Yes
  • Centralized Billing: Yes

NordSec, the folks behind the hugely popular NordVPN service, have an entire array of offerings for small and medium businesses. Packaged under the NordLayer brand, Nord offers business VPN, along with multi-layer network protection, all coordinated in a centralized dashboard.

Also:

NordLayer checks all the boxes, allowing work-from-home individuals to connect into the corporate on-site network over an encrypted tunnel, as well as providing site-to-site and dedicated IP options. Additionally, NordLayer provides business-level management functions including integration into single sign-on solutions, team permission management, and centralized billing.


Comprehensive security company with a solid business VPN offering


perimeter81-biz.png

  • Cloud VPN: Yes
  • Remote Access VPN: Yes
  • Site-to-Site VPN: Yes
  • SSO Option: Yes
  • Team Permissions: Yes
  • Centralized Billing: Yes

Perimeter 81 calls its cloud VPN offering a “VPN alternative.” Yet, it provides the same functionality — to protect your data in transit to the cloud and then from the cloud to your on-premises and remote networks. Beyond VPN, Perimeter 81 offers a wide range of additional network security services, including a software firewall and network segmentation.

Home-based business operators buying into Perimeter 81 may find themselves put off by Perimeter 81’s minimum-seat requirements of 5 or 10 seats, depending on plan. Overall, we think this is a solution better suited to larger small businesses and small departments than home-based businesses. But it may well be ideal for companies that have responded to Covid by sending workers home and need a way to extend a secure network into all their employee’s homes.


Consumer VPN with some behind-the-scenes business services


surf-biz.png

  • Cloud VPN: No
  • Remote Access VPN: Yes
  • Site-to-Site VPN: No
  • SSO Option: No
  • Team Permissions: No
  • Centralized Billing: Yes

Surfshark is interesting in that it’s hard to tell the company has business options. However, when I asked, I was told, “Although Surfshark is not a business VPN per se, we do offer plans for small businesses that want to enhance their employee privacy and security. For instance, last year when the pandemic hit the world, we did a campaign to support small businesses around the globe with 6-month VPN accounts so they could ensure the adequate level of security for their employees when moving to work from home, without having to go through a tedious business VPN set up process.”

Also: How does Surfshark work? How to set up & use the VPN

We’ve looked at the Surfshark interface before, and agree with the company that, “The key value of Surfshark for small businesses is that one does not need to have a dedicated IT person to set up a secure VPN tunnel while at the same time getting use of VPN security features.”

Do be aware that there is no indication of consolidated billing or business features on the main Surfshark.com site. To get business-level services, the company advises you reach out to [email protected] and begin a dialog there. If you do, let me know how it works out for you.


Controversial consumer VPN with business-based billing


express-biz.png

  • Cloud VPN: No
  • Remote Access VPN: Yes
  • Site-to-Site VPN: No
  • SSO Option: No
  • Team Permissions: No
  • Centralized Billing: Yes

ExpressVPN has had a difficult year due to the controversy surrounding its new owner. Even so, the company’s product has generally been solid, and because it offers some business billing options, it’s worth including in this list.

See also:

While the company does not offer a business product, it does offer volume discounts for companies who wish to buy for multiple employees. For consolidated billing, we’re told you can contact its support team, who will set up a master account along with child accounts, which allow you to pay for an entire team with one payment. 

Are considerations different when getting a VPN for business?

Yes. Somewhat. Whether you’re using a VPN for work or for personal use, you want your network traffic to be secure. Personal users often want to hide their location or spoof remote servers (sometimes for good reasons, sometimes just to location-shift entertainment). Business users don’t need that capability as much, although executives traveling may not want their locations to be triangulated. 

Considerations are also different if you’re a worker assigned to use a business VPN, compared to the manager choosing a VPN for use by employees. Again, communications security is the top priority in a business VPN, followed by performance, and often management features like access control and billing.

Can I use a consumer VPN for business use?

That totally depends…on everything. Here’s the thing. If you have a tiny company of just a few employees, a good consumer VPN should do just fine. Your biggest issue will be consolidating payments, followed by assigning and revoking accounts. But if you’re in a big small business, say with a thousand employees, you’re going to need a much larger set of IT-level features. In this article, we’re focusing on very small companies and those working from home, and for those businesses, a business-class VPN or even a good consumer VPN will do just fine.

Will a VPN let me monitor what my employees say across the Internet?

Uh. No. VPNs encapsulate data from one point to another so it can’t be monitored. In theory, you could monitor communications once packets reach your corporate network, but that’s a lot more complex than setting up a basic VPN, and it’s pretty slimy and reprehensible as well. Don’t spy on your employees. Judge them by their actions and whether they meet their commitments. Just sayin’. Don’t.

How we choose

Finding the right participants for this list was an interesting exercise. I wanted to stay away from the larger-scale corporate VPN solutions because anything that requires a special certification or multiple full-time IT people was for larger businesses than I was trying to reach in this article. So everything had to be reasonably deployable by an experienced tech user, not a formally-trained and certified IT professional.

Second, everything had to have some kind of unified billing. It didn’t make sense to call something a business plan if you had to make 10 individual credit card payments each month for your ten employees’ VPN accounts. While the checkout mechanism for ExpressVPN and Surfshark do not offer unified billing, both companies advised us that you can contact them and they’ll set up account management services for multiple accounts.

And, finally, we’ve been testing most of these products for going on years now. While I don’t use any one VPN constantly, I have run most of these through my testing process, and the results are provided along with the recommendation.

How you should choose

Keep in mind that everyone’s needs are different and VPNs are particularly challenging because your performance is determined by the country you’re in, your ISP, your connection, and even the current weather conditions. I always recommend choosing vendors with a liberal refund policy (at least 30 days), and test, test, test to see if the service performs as you need it to.

Beyond that, keep an eye out for any egregious renewal pricing and conditions. Most of the vendors I spotlight either don’t have renewal fees that slam you after a few years or, if they do, I point them out so you can watch out for them.

One more thing I recommend is you start a dialog with the various customer and tech support teams. If you’re running your company on these services, find out how responsive and communicative they are.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Maria Flores

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