With the right software and support, including small business cloud services, a small business can compete with big businesses on a fairly even playing field. It seems almost insane to think about, but we’ve come a long way with technology and the experiences that are available.
Imagine taking a brick-and-mortar shop, and introducing an online storefront that rivals the greats like Amazon and Walmart. No, you won’t be offering the same vast stores of products and items, but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer your customers the same types of experiences. Cloud platforms and technologies can help you offer these kinds of platforms, which, in the past, would have otherwise been available just to major organizations.
What is cloud computing?
In layman’s terms, cloud computing is the delivery and availability of remote computing opportunities, thanks to servers, storage and large databases. To tap in, you require not just network access to the open internet, but also an internal system to facilitate the collection and exchange of data, both internally and externally.
Cloud-based applications allow you to work from anywhere, keep operating costs manageable, and manage your business more efficiently … all while someone takes care of technical and security details.
Think of a company-wide network with all computers and devices connected, allowing your workforce to interact with a centralized system. As a small business, obviously, the network is smaller and might consist of a single computer or access point. This can also be expanded to include mobile devices and additional tech such as tablets or laptops. You can work from just about anywhere, all while tapping into the same single experience or software application.
This keeps operating costs lower, allows for faster and more reliable projects, and even allows for better and more enhanced security — as the data provider is responsible for it. In fact, U.S. businesses that currently rely on the cloud have ranked security as a top benefit — at 45 percent — of their setup. Your SMB can then access the same customer insights and data as a much larger, more capable organization.
Cloud computing benefits and advantages
While it is possible for cloud computing platforms to have drawbacks — potential downtimes are a concern — there are many benefits and advantages to outsourcing a network facilitation and system.
- The development and maintenance of new apps and services is handled by the data provider, relieving the business of such responsibility.
- The storage, processing, backup and recovery of data is handled by the data provider.
- Security is often enhanced and more reliable, as the provider specializes in protecting its network and services and has the necessary resources on hand.
- Everyone on the network with access can use the same software, systems and setups.
- IT and support — including customer service — are managed by the data provider and are always available to all users.
Small business cloud services available to you
More relevant to you as a small business owner, we’ll take a look at several cloud computing and SaaS platforms that are available. This will highlight not only the potential of the technology, but also ways in which you can leverage it to further your own business.
Here are the areas we’ll be covering when it comes to cloud services:
Invoicing and accounts payable.
Social media management.
As you can see, cloud computing and SaaS solutions can fill a range of needs in your small business. Let’s get started!
1. Invoicing and accounts payable
When it comes to invoicing and basic accounting, there are a variety of tools at your disposal, including GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping, Invoicely, FreshBooks, Cloudbooks, Sage One or Sage Business Cloud and Billbooks.
You might be wondering why a cloud solution for this kind of thing is recommended. Why not just install local software and handle it all on your side?
You can create, manage and deliver invoices from just about anywhere using a mobile app. Not to mention, some of these tools integrate with other accounting and finance tools or can import existing data.
You can also leverage something like AvidXChange to automate your accounts payable functions, or at least help get your setup more organized.
As a small business, you most likely don’t have an accounting team or department, and if you do have dedicated help for this, it’s likely left to one individual or colleague. That is, if you don’t handle everything yourself.
Cloud-based accounting tools like Intuit Quickbooks Online Plus can make this process so much easier, and help keep your financial situation organized. Its features especially are designed for modest to medium-sized businesses with fewer resources. You’ll gain access to flexible contract records, transaction forms and document templates, reporting functions, and more.
Slack is an excellent communication tool that uses an instant messaging system to connect teams, colleagues, and even partners. What’s particularly great about it is that it’s available cross-platform and can be accessed from just about anywhere, including mobile. As a small business owner, you’re usually always on the go or super busy, so with Slack you have instant and direct access to your employees at all times. It can even connect with other services like Asana or Twitter.
Asana is another great tool, which makes it easier to manage multi-person projects and collaborate. The free version supports up to 15 team members at no cost, which is awesome if you’re working with a smaller crew. It combines project management, messaging, and various social interactions in one convenient platform.
The Office 365 suite is a great example. Rather than purchasing an individual license for every machine in your company, you can simply subscribe to the service and instantly gain access to a variety of tools and applications. That includes collaborative, conferencing and work management tools alongside the Office Online apps — such as Word, OneNote, PowerPoint and Excel.
Any content created using these tools is stored in the cloud — though it can also be downloaded to local storage — which makes it accessible from any device with access to the service, even mobile.
Google Docs for business is another similar, yet competing, service to Office 365.
5. CRM planning
Customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools are also cloud-based, like Salesforce. Companies using these tools can access their interfaces via any web browser or device, even mobile. This provides a hassle-free and efficient critical business toolset for operations and marketing.
As a small business with a minimal crew, you don’t need the same kind of scheduling and time management tools that larger organizations use. There’s just no call for it in regards to scale. That’s why solutions like Homebase, Deputy, When I Work and Shiftboard are ideal.
Homebase, for example, is great for brick-and-mortar businesses that operate out of a single location. If you do have multiple locations, you can opt for Deputy instead, which offers support for seasonal, hourly and shift-based workers.
They’re great tools that help you track and manage employee schedules and ensure your business is manned by someone, exactly when you need it to be.
7. Marketing automation
There’s no way you can match the resources a larger organization has when it comes to their marketing department. But that doesn’t mean you have to give it up entirely.
These small business cloud services allow you to tap into social media and email marketing, online platforms, and tracking tools. And they’re great for any sized business, big or small. Plus, the automation support means you can take all those tedious tasks and set them to run on a regular schedule with little to no oversight.
Taking your business online? Marketing automation software can help you stay on track with social media and email marketing, while eCommerce tools allow you to incorporate online sales and management into a new or existing website.
So, you’re thinking about taking your business online? If you already have a site — or have yet to build one — you can easily incorporate online sales and management using available eCommerce tools. WordPress sites, for example, can rely on an eCommerce plugin like WooCommerce that allows you to restructure or implement an online storefront via your existing portal.
Bottom line is, there are comprehensive solutions for adding shopping cart and online storefront functionality to your site. They’re easy to use and incredibly capable, which is what makes them so ideal for small business setups.
9. Social media management
Sprout Social and Hootsuite are social media tools powered by the cloud. They allow you to manage all your social media networks from a central dashboard, and also access more advanced analytics tools. You can try Hootsuite free, and Sprout offers a 30-day trial, which is great for SMB owners. Both will allow you to tap into the social benefits and use that larger organizations can.
10. Cloud storage
Cloud storage solutions like Google Drive and Dropbox are meant to be used as cloud backup solutions, and in some cases primary storage solutions. Recovery, when necessary, tends to be much faster and more reliable thanks to cloud platforms, because the processing is handled by numerous systems across a network of servers as opposed to a single machine.
If you need a more robust or enterprise-level solution down the road, you can opt for Amazon S3.
Identify what small business cloud services you need and go from there
Now that you understand what cloud computing and remote software services have to offer your business, it’s time to start researching tools that would be beneficial to you. Step one should always be to identify what you need, and how that applies to your projects and future opportunities. For example, do you need help keeping track of finances and accounting for your business? Do you need help growing the efficiency of your marketing team with as low a budget as possible?
There are tools that can do exactly what you need them to, but you’ll need to know what it is you’re looking for and what you hope to achieve with them. Take some time to sit down and truly identify what processes and systems you have currently that would be better suited in a cloud environment. Then, go from there.