Understanding 'The Cloud'

If there was one word that can strike fear into the minds of those who consider themselves “not tech savvy” it’s “Cloud”. IT people refer to it, your apps want you to set it up and save to it, but you don’t really know what it is or how it can benefit your business.

Think of "The Cloud" as a room full of computers and computer storage that sits constantly connected to the internet ready for you to use.

While storing photos from your smart phone might be the most common way people use of the Cloud, this phenomenon might also be able to streamline your small business and business processes with new and innovative software that runs from your web browser and is always up-to-date.

Software companies are at the forefront of developing new cloud-based services to assist small businesses. In the past few months, Microsoft has announced that it will release a series of new cloud-based tools for small business, including Microsoft Connections an email-marketing service, Microsoft Invoicing, a tool to create invoices and estimates and Microsoft Listings, listing service, which will help you manage your business listings on Facebook, Google, Bing and Yelp and monitor online views and reviews.

And they are just some of the many automated software programs already available in the space.

This means no more spending big dollars on accounting software that goes out of date just months after you install it, and no more paying big dollars to other companies to send email marketing messages to your customers. So how can these new programs and cloud-based software services can help your business?

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Invoicing and accounting

There are now several quality and reliable invoicing and accounting services available as a subscription online. These services can be used via a standard web browser, or an app – meaning you’ve got access to your business vital information no matter where you are or what device you are on.

Invoices can be issued when you’re on mobile, allowing you to send them while you’re sitting at a client office or worksite. Likewise, you can check your outstanding invoices from the same devices, keeping track of all your basic comings and goings.
With a cloud-based accounting service in your business, all parts of your business – and importantly all authorised users – can access this information collaboratively.

For a small business, knowing your accountant can simply login and download your accounts before you meet means one less thing for you to do. Being able to send invoices at any time, from any place, and any device also means you’re not tied to your desk, and for some mobile businesses can mean your admin tasks are completed while out and about, making home time family time, not accounts time.

How to use the cloud in small business

Email marketing

You’ve got a database containing email addresses of all your key customers, yet you rarely stay in touch with them. But why not? Email and newsletters are a great way to nurture your customer base. 

There are companies who can provide email marketing services for a fee, then there are subscription-based online cloud services that allow you to do it all yourself. A simple regular email to your customers keeping them informed of your business and any new products or services might seem easy. Put all their address into the email and hit send! But who opened it, what time did they open it, did they click any of the links you shared in the email?

An email marketing system such as MailChimp or Campaign Monitor will manage all that for you. From a simple text email to anything from 200 to 200,000 users, or image-led email with photos of your products or recent work and links to information your customers might want can be setup and sent to thousands of people in almost no time.

And it’s that tracking that really pays dividends. Which of your customers are most engaged? Who’s not opening the email? Why aren’t they clicking that link, yet they click the other one almost all the time?
This information is available to you in real-time as the email is being opened by your customers. And again, it’s all done through a web browser with no installation required, meaning you can be on any computer, anywhere and get it done.

 

Keeping up to date

And it’s not just the software that is always up-to-date, there are now professional cloud-based online tools that can help you manage and update your business listing across the web. Sites like Google, Bing, Yelp – all updated with new opening times, new contact details even new photos – almost instantly.

In this day and age, you can’t afford to let your business tie you to your desk. You can’t afford to be wasting precious hours saving data and sharing it across your business or with your accountant. And you can’t afford not to keep your customers informed about what’s new and what’s happening in your business.

Don’t be afraid of "The Cloud" folks, it’s just a fancy name for computers you don’t need to worry about – and could open up powerful solutions that can help you take your business to the next level.

Trevor Long

Trevor Long is a technology journalist with over 20 years’ experience in the media. Trevor hosts a weekly radio show on 2UE called Talking Tech and is often seen providing technology commentary across Channel 9’s, A Current Affair and the Today Show nationally. Trevor is the co-founder and publisher of EFTM, an online site covering all things motoring, lifestyle and technology and produces two of the most popular podcasts in Australia.

 

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