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Cloud computing is catching on more and more in the small business world as people increasingly get a better understanding of what it is. The benefits for those that embrace it are potentially enormous, with the opportunities to be exploited by harnessing cloud technology not reserved for larger businesses only, as once thought. What needs to be understood is that the cloud can add a lot of value to small businesses due to its simplicity, accessibility and flexibility – as long as you are able to stay clear of some mistakes that businesses commonly make during their journey to the cloud.

Save money and time

Cloud-based services can help small businesses dramatically reduce the time that is spent on IT maintenance, literally ‘cashing in’ on the trend. This is because a lot of the maintenance is effectively outsourced to the cloud service providers. This means that the time that is normally spent on IT can be used in a more productive way – allowing you to focus on your business rather than your IT requirements.

Cloud-based services can also severely reduce your small business’ software and other computing costs. Normally when you buy software, you pay for it outright, yet when you use software ‘in the cloud’ you are essentially renting it on a per-use basis, which considerably cuts costs and can help ease business cashflow. Additionally, when you buy software you often may need to buy a server or extra hardware to run it – but by using cloud computing software, the cloud provider takes care of a server or any extra hardware needed, meaning that all you really need is a broadband connection, which subsequently can result in huge savings.

Not only is cloud computing to some extent financially freeing due to the services generally being paid for on a per-month, per-user basis that is easy to change, but it is also highly convenient because you are always using the latest version of everything without needing to perform complicated upgrades.

Step up to the big boys

By utilising cloud, small businesses can now have access to the kind of infrastructure only traditionally was used by large companies, due to the prohibitive set-up price. Because you are only paying for each user (and not for the functionality) this enterprise-class technology is now available to small businesses through the cloud at a fraction of the price, meaning that you can enjoy the best of sales force automation, customer relationship management, and resource planning systems.

Using cloud as a small business also lets you punch above your weight, as cloud based means you are effectively ‘global’. No matter where you are in the world, you will have the ability to access your data and information from anywhere, provided you have an internet connection. This is also great for business owners or staff who have to travel often, as well as if you are considering opening up an office interstate or overseas.

Cloud tools are social

Another way to cash in on cloud as a small business is to be more nimble in the market by leveraging the cloud tools that are available, such as social media sites. These sites offer an opportunity to reach countless potential customers and advocates for your business, and are generally very inexpensive (signing up for most social media networks is free). Social networking sites allow you to showcase your products and services to a targeted audience, and allow you to reach your customers directly to constantly promote your latest business products, services, events and activities.

Cloud as a business

A clever way to potentially cash in on the cloud trend would be to jump right into the movement and become a cloud provider. The industry is on a steady incline and in a few years it will become standard IT practice, so helping others to use cloud and providing the expertise may be a good way to make a few dollars yourself.

One smart way to do this would be to aggregate a range of services to make a complete offering that is highly tailored and then offer this specialised service to a particular industry.

As cloud computing becomes increasingly popular there is a variety of ways your small business can cash in on the trend and the potential benefits are enormous, including saving money, time, increasing your market leverage through social networking and utilising top quality infrastructure previously reserved for large enterprises with large IT budgets – so what are you waiting for?

Mistakes to avoid

Before you decide to cash in on the numerous opportunities cloud can offer your small business, there are a few common mistakes you need to avoid:

  • Unsure of what you are purchasing? It is extremely important to do research before deciding which providers to use, and to understand what you are actually buying from them. Recently, an online services wholesaler DistributeIT suffered a malicious attack which saw around 4,800 Australian websites lost with no chance of recovery. Did their customers know they shared only four servers with thousands of others companies, and did they know they were not being backed up? Generally, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
  • Didn’t read the licence agreement:It is vital that you read the service provider’s license agreement before you sign. Rules about the security of your data, intellectual property rights, and privacy will be laid out in the licence agreement, and you should check that these match your needs.
  • Didn’t plan a ‘get out’ strategy: Cloud is supposed to be dynamic and you should simply be able to move around if you are not satisfied with the service. But how do you do that? Make sure you are aware of how to get out of the agreement if you want to and whether there are any fees for early termination.
  • Don’t have regular copies of data on-hand: Today, the value of most organisations is in their digital data, so small businesses should ensure that they have regular and up-to-date copies of their data, just in case something happens to their provider.

–Clive Gold is Cloud Expert at EMC Australia and New Zealand.

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