Run Your Small Business in the Cloud - Page 2

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff
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Top Cloud Contenders: File Servers

Consumer-oriented storage sites simply house files for upload/download. However, Box.net was built with businesses in mind. Instead of emailing files to colleagues, vendors, customers and prospects, Box lets you send a secure link with passwords, expiration dates and restricted download access. You can create project folders and manage who has access to the files within, including sharing externally with clients. You can even assign tasks, and see who has accessed which files and when.

Cubby by LogMeIn

Figure 4: Cubby’s online folders and projects offer complete management, so you can lock or share certain cubbies as needed.

Cubby (figure 4), by the makers of LogMeIn, is another service that does more than a simple file server ever could. You and your employees can create "cubbies" to store files for a particular department, project, client—whatever makes sense for your organization. Cubbies can be private, or shared publicly for other stakeholders to view. The service offers unlimited document versioning, which means previous versions of a file are saved and always accessible. It also offers the capability to remotely wipe lost or stolen devices, so you never have to worry about data getting into the wrong hands.

Intellinote takes the cloud storage/collaboration paradigm a step further, offering a "cloud workspace" that can improve team productivity. The platform can replace email, notes, calendars and to-do lists by letting employees capture notes, ideas, files, images and documents and then easily find them later on. A team can share projects and workspaces, and you can assign tasks to stakeholders and track their progress. And getting started is a snap; the company offers a growing library of pre-configured integrations and templates to support a wide range of existing business applications and functions.

Say Goodbye to Desktop Productivity Suites

Ironically, the first class of software to move to the cloud—desktop applications—is also one of the last holdouts keeping businesses from completely embracing the cloud. It's hard to let go of time-tested stalwarts like your office suite and accounting package. But today's cloud counterparts aren't only every bit as good as those old standbys, they're better.

  • Technology Then:  Word processing, spreadsheet and presentation suite
  • Technology Now:  Online office suites

Top Cloud Contenders: Desktop Productivity Suites

Microsoft wasn't the first to the cloud with an office suite, but we feel Microsoft Office 365 Small Business Premium (SBP) is arguably the best. And it's much more than a bundle of the company's desktop productivity applications (that's available, too, if that's all you need). Office 365 SPB is a suite of on-premises, cloud-based and mobile tools that let you share and connect with colleagues and customers.

The suite of software and services includes online storage and collaboration features; communication tools to handle email, IM and videoconferencing; tools to build your website; oh, and the word processing, spreadsheet, email, and presentation programs you expected. And if you can't cut the cord with your desktop or laptop PC: For each employee you sign, up you'll receive a license key for the desktop version of Office 365.

Of course, it was the initial competition from Google Docs that pressured Microsoft into moving Office to the cloud, and Google Apps for Business is a viable alternative. The heart of Google Apps for Business is Google Docs, which includes a word processor (Docs), spreadsheet (Sheets) and presentation package (Slides).

Those are tightly integrated with the Google Drive online storage service (30GB per user included in the base subscription). Drive gives you access to your files from anywhere, across Mac, PC, and mobile devices: Simply log on to Drive to see your files, and then double-click on one to open it in the associated application.

Say Goodbye to Desktop Software

  • Technology Then:  Contact management software, accounting packages, payroll services, spam blasts
  • Technology Now:  Online CRM, cloud accounting and payroll, online marketing

Customer relationship management (CRM) software was one of the first program types to make a go of it in online, back when Software as a Service was known as ASP (short for Application Service Providers). It wasn't long before accounting software moved to the cloud, giving business owners anytime/anywhere access to their books. And the time-honored, but rarely effective, tradition of sending a mass mailing to your customers to announce a new product or promotion has thankfully been replaced by online marketing services that offer more targeted campaigns.

QuickBooks Online

Figure 5: QuickBooks Online offers a full range of features, including access to a universe of add-ins that extend its functionality.

Top Cloud Contenders: Desktop Software

Synonymous with the cloud model, Salesforce.com's CRM platform has become the standard for businesses large and small. The solution lets you and your workforce manage all of your contacts, tasks, and meetings in one place, as well as track your leads, sales deals, and customer interactions. Salesforce.com integrates with all the leading email packages and lets you access data via any mobile device. Even more impressive: the ecosystem of add-ons that has sprung up and lets you add functionality to turn your system into the perfect CRM platform for your particular needs.

SugarCRM is a full-featured CRM platform that offers both on-premises and cloud-based deployment models. You can use the solution for CRM, marketing, sales and support, and it offers a range of features such as a shared calendar, call-center support tools, email integration, mobile CRM, project management, social CRM and more. Choose from four editions—Professional, Corporate, Enterprise and Ultimate—to match just about any business need and budget.

Do you like the idea of moving to the cloud but hate leaving 14 years of QuickBooks data behind? Then don't: Intuit offers QuickBooks Online (figure 6) so you can keep the accounting platform you know while reaping the benefits of cloud and mobile access plus automatic backup of your data.

Constant Contact

Figure 6: Constant Contact offers a range of professionally designed templates for your email marketing campaigns.

As with the desktop version, you get expense, sales and income tracking, the capability to create and send invoices, a full library of reports, and a dashboard view to see at a glance how your business is doing. The Plus version also lets you prepare and print 1099s, track billable hours by customer, pay W-2 employees and file payroll taxes and much more.

SurePayroll.com, a subsidiary of traditional payroll processor PayChex, is a full-featured cloud-based payroll service that lets you handle payday and tax-time chores from any Internet-connected device. It lets you run payroll from Android and iOS mobile devices, stay compliant with federal and state taxes and regulations, import the payroll information into your accounting package, track vacation and sick time for your employees and more.

Moving to the cloud wouldn't be complete without moving your marketing efforts there, too. And with today's online marketing service providers, the results are worlds away from the mass spammings and overlooked postcards you used to rely on. One of the pioneers in online marketing, Constant Contact (figure 6) keeps adding tools that deliver far more results than you could hope for on your own.

The service can handle email campaigns, newsletters and announcements; targeted special offers and promotions; online events and registration and management for real-world events; and feedback and surveys. Sign up for the Ultimate Package and get a Personal Marketing Coach who will speak with you regularly to help you get the most out of your subscription.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the c SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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This article was originally published on June 23, 2014
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