As a small business owner, your life is moving at break-neck speeds just to keep up. Wouldn’t you like to feel more organized and less stressed? It’s one deadline after another and they tend to creep up on you. Like the dreaded April 15 tax deadline, every year I say I’m going to prepare earlier and have everything ready ahead of time. Yet here I am, literally a week before the due date, when I sit down to prepare and in turn cause more stress to both my accountant and myself.
Large enterprise firms have adopted cloud technologies at a rapid pace and continue to see savings in both time and money as these products mature from a concept to a “must-have” to survive. However, the time is right for small businesses to reap these same rewards. If you are using a software company that doesn’t offer a cloud solution, you need to rethink doing business with them. The benefits are endless and have been written about over and over again, so I won’t go down that road. What I would like to do is help out the 23 million plus small businesses in the United States that represent over 54% of our economy.
I’ve put together a list of the top six solutions that will provide you with the largest return on your investment and in turn allow you to spread your software costs out monthly. I took into account costs, growth, reliability, integration and backups in determining what solutions are mature and truly the best of breed in their markets.
Email and Collaboration
Collaboration is the key to success in any small business as well as the ability to allow its workforce to be at any location. Office 365 is the most mature and secure cloud solution in this space. Just think, you can collaborate via document repositories utilizing SharePoint, email with Outlook and have instant meetings with Lync from any location as well as most mobile devices.
Here at StrataBlue, we make full use of these technologies daily with remote meetings and video conferencing. In fact, we are starting to adopt more document sharing via SharePoint instead of having emails flowing back and forth with large attachments and different versions. Trust me when I say this one cloud solution will help organize your team and facilitate a more efficient, collaborative work environment. Offerings are quite affordable starting at $4 per user per month up to $24 per user for a full Office 2013 version.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
To me, this seems like a no-brainer! You have a sales team that is largely remote and on the road most of the time, so why not provide them with a tool that helps them track, close and nurture their sales leads all while reporting this progress to management? There are many options for these tools at any budget. The obvious choice is Salesforce but it is also the largest animal in the kingdom. There are many open source options, such as SugarCRM, which allow for truly customizing it to your liking and making it look and feel like your own personal CRM solution.
Please be aware: these products are not for the faint of heart and can seem daunting to tackle. It will take proper planning with your sales and marketing teams along with a solid knowledge of database software to implement it correctly. Most small business accounting software also has modules for customer relationship management as well. These solutions tend to be more expensive than other options, however, they also provide the largest return because they help nurture leads and close sales. A typical monthly cost per user is around $25-$50.
Small Business Accounting Software
Do you use QuickBooks or Sage? Did you know there are online or cloud versions available?
Most business owners don’t realize it or haven’t thought about moving it to the cloud. The benefits are numerous , including the ability to work remote, have redundancy, disaster recovery and integration with other solutions, especially the cloud solutions highlighted in this blog post. What if you could track sales relationships from your CRM using email and collaboration while pushing it into your accounting system for invoicing? That is truly automation at work and will make your life as a business owner (as well as your employees’ lives) easier.
Are you still saving files on a local server, or worse yet, your computer or laptop? Apparently you have never lost data or a drive, but it will happen one day and is a costly lesson. Why not use the tools that are available to avoid this?
Storage is (quite frankly) cheap! There are many solutions for small businesses that provide backup and restore, scalability, productivity, collaboration and security. If you use Office 365 as described above, did you know that OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) gives each user about 5GB of storage for personal use and to share with their team members? Another popular choice is Dropbox for Business, which is a very affordable solution. Each of these offer access from anywhere and user interfaces from any desktop, as well as most mobile devices in the app stores. If you are a bit skeptical and want to dip your toes in the water before jumping in, then try the free options that many tools offer, including Dropbox and OneDrive.
Electronic Forms and Signatures
If you are going to be digital then you need to add these tools to your repertoire. They will allow you to speed up any transaction with your clients as well as your business partners. DocuSign and Adobe provide fantastic cloud solutions that are easy to configure and get up and running. These are incredibly affordable, ranging between $11-$24 per month per user. We have personally observed the time to close a deal shrink by offering these solutions and the adoption rate has been very high.
If you manage large projects or even small ones in which you need tight collaboration, you absolutely need to look at a cloud solution. We are particular to Basecamp because it is open source and has a wide variety of plugins from billing and time tracking to integration with your CRM. I would say it is about the easiest of the solutions in the list to configure out of the box. You’ll be up and running in minutes. Your team and clients will love the professionalism and ability to collaborate on any project as well as track key milestones. There are literally hundreds of solutions online and range in cost from $5 per user per month up to $99 per user.
These products are very mature, secure and provide integration hooks in the form of custom modules and Application Program Interfaces (API’s) that allow them to integrate with each other. Many companies are running fast to deploy these integrations as well as creating a reporting tool called Business Analytics. Business Analytics can help pull all of this important information together to provide you (the business owner) with a smart dashboard of what your business looks like inside and out today, tomorrow and next month.
Did I forget any tools that you find useful in the cloud? StrataBlue is proud to offer all of these solutions along with assistance in integrating them with one another and with your existing applications. Contact us today to get started!