If you’re wondering just what this “cloud” thing is and how in the world it could apply to your business, you’re not alone. While the term has become immensely popular, understanding remains murky at best. If you’re a small business owner, that’s an opportunity missed, as the cloud has many features that can speed business processes, reduce paper, and guard against data loss.
Definition: Just What is the Cloud
In its simplest and most relevant form, cloud computing is the use of shared servers to store data, which users then access via the internet. So, rather than waiting for a colleague to hand you a flash drive with a Microsoft Word Document for you to edit, you might download that document from a cloud server, or work directly on an online platform without ever downloading at all.
This has numerous benefits for small businesses, as data can be accessed and stored among a wide web of collaborators at rapid rates. But just what can the cloud do for your business? For a deeper theoretical look, take a browse through this guide to cloud computing and get to know our following top 5 cloud applications below.
When you’re a small business owner, marketer, salesperson, and manager are just few of the many hats you may wear. With your hands in so many parts of the business, you’re probably having, “Eureka!” moments all the time, and you want to stay abreast of the best and brightest ideas brainstormed throughout your office. But pieces of paper go missing, and it can be hard to get inspiration or a bird’s eye view with such a disconnected brainstorming web.
Look instead to Evernote, a note taking app that works on all of your devices so you’ll always be able to jot those big ideas down, no matter where you are. Even better, Evernote has a clear organization system, allowing you to create notebooks for different projects which can then be organized into a greater library to be shared with the whole of the organization. With constant access to this cloud-based app, your organization will have a set of shared knowledge across employees, freelancers, and contractors alike, as well as an easy way to spread new thoughts and connect through ideas.
Ever wanted to edit a project at home, only to realize you forgot to email it to yourself? How about those moments when you’re feeling extra productive, but you can’t get anything done because you’re waiting for an employee to email documents you know she finished weeks ago? With Dropbox, data storage and access couldn’t be easily. Just download the Dropbox folder onto all of your devices — desktop, laptop, smart phone, and tablet — and you’ll be able to easily drag and drop your files for instant syncing. This means you’ll not only be able to access files on any chosen device no matter where you are, but you can share your work by sending a get file link to a colleague or inviting them directly through the app. Overall, Dropbox makes sharing data easy and offers backups even for large files, so you can ensure the security of your data even when you spill that glass of orange juice all over your hard drive or lose your smartphone for the millionth time in a month.
3. Google Drive
When it comes to email, search and a host of other products, Google is already the choice of small businesses. It should come as no surprise that the newly launched Google Drive is also proving popular among businesses small and large. Google Drive is a powerful collaboration platform. With a host of tools like Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Projects, you can work directly in the cloud without ever downloading a file. This can be done concurrently as colleagues also edit the same file, eliminating the need to compile edits. It also makes for easy sharing, as you need only grant another user access to the file at hand. This make Google Drive an excellent solution for just about anyone, but especially so if your business relies heavily on remote workers.
What’s more, Google Drive offers similar storage and syncing features as Dropbox, so your data will be backed up and accessible across a wide range of devices.
4. Shoe Boxed
If you’ve got a pile of receipts and bills on your desk waiting to be entered into your accounting program, you’re not alone. Sure, you’re eager to receive those tax credits, but perhaps not if it requires hours of data entry. Forget the hassle with Shoe Boxed, an effective receipt to digital data app. Just send any paper documents to the company in a pre-paid envelope or scan them into the uploader or the free app, and the company will organize that paper for you. Likewise, emailed receipts need only be forwarded to the company’s email address for processing. When tax season rolls along, you’ll have all of your relevant images neatly organized, along with a few handy expense reports. In other words, with Shoe Box there’s really no good excuse for not getting those taxes in on time.
Email campaigns are an essential part of any small business’ strategies for developing brand loyalty. MailChimp makes the whole process easy and fully customizable, providing email newsletter and announcement templates as well as simple to use forms, should you want to poll your customers. Just upload your design or message, choose from your contacts, and you’ll be good to go. MailChimp ties in well with social media, with buttons for your Facebook page, Twitter account and more. It also has a reliable auto-responder and provides insightful metrics, so you can see things like just who is opening your mail and whether or not your message is getting through.
Though the term cloud can be a confusing one, the concept is both simple and powerful when applied to small businesses. In fact, much of the confusion about cloud computing stems from the fact that it can do so much; it can be hard to wrap your mind around all that there is. These 5 apps will prove a great place to start. Good luck, and enjoy your new streamlined, cloud-based business.