Money is tight when you set out to start a new business (unless you’ve been lucky enough to land an angel investor, of course). That’s why you need to carefully choose programs, tools and apps that not only will help you run a tight business, but also will be affordable.
In fact, choosing the right tools is a bit like choosing to hire a personal assistant. The role of these tools is to save you time, not create extra hassle. You would want to hire a personal assistant that you get along with, and likewise you need to find tools that match your needs and are intuitive to use.
That means everyone has a slightly different style and will like different things. But if you’re starting a new business, there’s a good chance you’ll love the cloud-based tools we’ll mention in a moment. But first, let’s review what we mean by “cloud-based.”
Cloud computing is a no-brainer
When things are “stored in the cloud,” that simply means they are retrieved online instead of from your computer’s hard drive. As long as you have a stable Internet connection and aren’t trying to start a business in the middle of nowhere, retrieving online data is just as fast and simple as retrieving data from your hard drive.
But there are a couple of key benefits, including the fact that you can access data from any device (laptop, desktop, tablet, phone, etc.) and that you can even allow your employees to access some data via their own accounts.
You can easily work from home or on the go, or collaborate with remote team members. Your data is also protected in case you accidentally run over your laptop or drop your phone in the pool, since nothing is dependent on a single device.
The convenience and ease of cloud computing makes it a no-brainer for the 21st century businessperson. Check out these tools for free or low-cost opportunities:
File sharing – Google Drive
Who doesn’t love a free service? Better yet, who doesn’t love a free service that actually is high-quality too? That’s what’s on the table with Google Drive. And while other cloud-based file sharing systems certainly do exist, I personally can’t look past the fact that Google Drive doesn’t cost a single penny. Thank you, Google!
Share a single file or an entire folder. Share spreadsheets and presentations and even doodles. There’s no need for people to create an account with Google either; choose the “anyone with a link can view” option, copy and paste the link into an email, and you’re all set. No confusing hoops to jump through … it’s just that simple. But the benefits don’t stop there. Other programs often include Google Drive as an integration, so you don’t even have to leave the website to pull up your important files. It’s a wonderful way to ease yourself into the world of cloud computing.
Billing and accounting – Freshbooks
Freshbooks is the hands-down winner of cloud-based billing and accounting as far as I’m concerned. There is a lot that you can do with Freshbooks, and the learning curve is not too intimidating. It’s a fantastic all-in-one finance tool (or about as close as you can get to such a thing) that lets you track payments to your employees, send automatic or itemized invoices to clients, and much more. There is an integrated time tracking feature and a multitude of reports at your disposal so that you can analyze cash flow. And just to reiterate, since it is cloud-based you can handle finances from any device at any time. And come hell or high water, your financial data will still be safe!
SSL certificates and web hosting – Web24
As an Australian cloud-based web host, Web24 offers an entire package of services. You can pay for the whole shebang or just pick and choose what you need. Among the promising services are SSL certificates for secure data transfer, domain name registration, cPanel hosting and much more. Your site will be regularly backed up to the cloud, which protects you even if your own personal computer decides to go kaput. Many cloud-based web hosts only offer a couple of services, so Web24 stands out for its security and customer-oriented services.
Robust All-in-One Project Management – TIE: Zoho or Salesforce
Whether you choose Zoho or Salesforce ultimately comes down to how much money you want to spend. Zoho is the cheaper option, but if you can afford the slight increase in cost, Salesforce has a few more robust services that may suit your business very well. Both sites offer customer relationship management programs, workflow solutions, and reports. Zoho offers user-friendly tools like surveys, an internal communication platform and a mobile-friendly app. Salesforce is highly focused on lead generation, for which it stands second to none, with Zoho a feisty runner-up.
And there you have it: a starter pack of cloud-based tools for small business owners. Google Drive, Freshbooks, Web24 and either Zoho or Salesforce provide all of the core components you need to get your website up and running, to securely store and share files, to handle finances and to make your first sale.
About the Author:
Cathy Habas is a professional writer, editor and Spanish-English translator. She collaborates with entrepreneurs from around the world to market their innovations and to reach a diverse audience. Cathy is also a member of the Build Niche Links writing team.