6 Ways Your Small Business Can Use the Cloud

If you google the phrase “the cloud” today, you won’t see anything remotely related to the sky — at least not on the first page. Instead, what you’ll find is information describing cloud computing, a term that refers to services in which data is stored in a virtual Internet-accessible environment rather than on your physical business’ premises. Turns out “the cloud” isn’t just another over-hyped tech phrase, it’s actually useful for your small business. What’s more, among current small business cloud users, 76 percent said that implementing cloud computing reduced their application costs, according to a CDW Cloud Computing Tracking Poll.

Looking to expand your small business technology reach and save on IT costs simultaneously? Check out these six ways your small business can use the cloud.

1) Document and file storage.
Using cloud computing services for document and file storage enables you to store critical documents off-site. The cloud also serves as an effective back-up solution, which is a must for any small business. Examples of cloud document storage services include Google Docs, Dropbox, SugarSync, and Box.net, to name a few.

2) File sharing.
In the digital age, being able to share information with employees, clients, partners while in different parts of the country — or world for that matter — is important to maintaining a competitive advantage. The cloud allows for better collaboration on projects among employees who travel or work remotely. It also speeds up work production since multiple people can work on a document instantaneously. In the end, it can help a small businesses bring products or services to market more quickly.

3) Software.
Software typically doesn’t come cheap, and purchasing software such as MS Office for each employee can cost a pretty penny. Again, the answer is in the cloud, which can allow employees to access applications online, often for free. Examples of cloud-based software services include Google Docs and Open Source.

4) Web and video conferencing.
Large off-site meetings are no longer the only option for getting team members together to brainstorm, train, or plan business strategies. Facilitating large-scale business growth and diversification often involved extensive travel — a costly expense difficult for small business running a tight budget. But cloud-based web and video conferencing services levels the playing field. Today, there are a host of companies that offer video services to meet the needs of every business and budget. WebEx, NetMeeting, GoToMeeeting, and Skype are just four of the popular web and video conferencing tools available today.

5) Accounting and billing. Cloud computing offers various options for effectively managing your small business accounting, invoicing, and billing online. Taking billing online not only helps speed up the billing process, but it helps you move to a paperless environment. Quickbooks, Billing Boss, Billing Manager, Freshbooks, Online Invoicing, and Wave Accounting are just a few of the cloud-based accounting and billing service providers, and is another way your small business can use the cloud.

6) Customer resource management.
If you already use customer relationship management or CRM software for your small business, you already know the benefits it provides. But did you know that CRM software can be used in the cloud with a seamless integration of the Internet. Vendors like Salesforce.com, Quickbase, SugarCRM, and NetSuite enable you to manage your customer database from any computer and anywhere.

Many small businesses already have one foot in the cloud without even realizing it. Why not jump all the way in? Through the use of cloud computing, small business can expand their reach globally and compete with even the largest players in their industry.