It used to be that small businesses, solopreneurs, freelancers and alike were at a distinct disadvantage in terms of finding effective and affordable tools and technology. Now, thanks to the one-two punch of cloud computing and mobile devices, the playing field has been leveled.
What is Cloud Computing?
In the Flare blog post, What Is This “Cloud Computing” of Which You Speak?, that unravels this mystery provides the following definition from Eric Griffith, Feature Editor at PC Magazine:
Cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the internet.
Penning an article on the same topic, The New Jersey Institute of Technology chimes in with:
Cloud computing is a process that allows users access to a certain set of shared resources. Data stored in the cloud, specifically on servers, is accessible from almost anywhere and can be used on demand.
What’s the Big Deal?
By 2020, nearly 80% of small businesses will rely on cloud technology.
The percentage of U.S. small businesses using cloud computing is expected to more than double during the next six years, from 37 percent to nearly 80 percent
Inc., How the Cloud Will Transform Business by 2020
The following infographic shows the areas in which most small business will be using cloud technology — with email, collaboration, productivity and sales topping the list.
The Benefits of Cloud Computing
The Cleverism article, Cloud Computing and Its Benefits for Small Businesses, states that, in general, cloud computing is more flexible, easy-to-use and cost-effective than traditional software.
Although many small businesses often think they’re too small to benefit from cloud-based applications (apps) or they haven’t looked into them because they’re not a “tech” company — this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The specific benefits for micro and small businesses include:
- Savings on hardware — Cloud-based apps are very efficient and will normally work on existing hardware. In fact, many of these tools don’t even require a server — all you need is a computer or mobile device.
- Greater mobility — With these tools you can get the information you need anytime, anywhere and on almost any device.
- Increased collaboration — Cloud-based software lets you easily share files and add users.
- Security — Count on best practices for security certificates and encryption processes.
- Peace of mind — Backups and upgrades take place automatically.
The Cloud-Based Apps You Should Check Out
What functions can you automate with cloud-based software and apps? More than you think. (Better yet, most offer free basic service, features or trials.)
App Integration — IFTTT
What it does: Lets you automate processes between the apps you use every day with “if this, then that” statements.
What it saves you from: The monotony of manually entering the information in each app.
Appointment Scheduling — Calendly
Free basic service | Premium service $8 per month
What it does: Lets you send a meeting invite with several suggested dates and times.
What it saves you from: The back and forth of negotiating a time that works for everyone.
Bookkeeping/Accounting — Flare
Free 30-day trial
What it does: Accounting, invoicing, estimates, expense tracking, budgeting, reconciliation and reporting.
What it saves you from: Cursing the invention of spreadsheets and the thought of starting your own business.
Brainstorming — MindMeister
Free basic service
What it does: Puts all of your ideas in one place using mind mapping techniques.
What it saves you from: Trying to interpret the scribbles in your notebook a month later.
Business Plans — LivePlan
Free 60-day, money-back guarantee
What it does: Helps you create professional, investor-ready business plans.
What it saves you from: Struggling with “free” online templates.
Cash Flow — Fundbox
Free basic account
What it does: They will purchase your outstanding invoices, giving you the cash while they take on the outstanding amount.
What it saves you from: Empty pockets.
Collaboration — Slack
What it does: Creates a private channel where you can trade thoughts and files.
What it saves you from: Untangling extensive chains of email messages.
>>>Freelancers, you can also use Slack to connect with clients on key projects. <<<
Content Marketing — ContentMarketer.io
Starting at $9 per month
What it does: Helps develop a system for promoting the content you create.
What it saves you from: Creating great content that nobody knows about.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) — Close.io
Free 2-week trial + 30-day money-back guarantee
What it does: Automatically logs call and email information.
What it saves you from: Hours and hours of data entry.
Document Sharing: Google Docs, Sheets and Slides
What it does: Lets you share text documents, spreadsheets and slides for real-time editing and collaboration.
What it saves you from: Being a middle-man in communicating changes and other information.
Email — Gmail
Free personal account | Free 30-day trial of Apps for Work
What it does: Gives you fully functional web/browser-based email that you can access from anywhere. (Your Gmail account also gives you access to Google Apps, like Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.)
What it saves you from: Investing in costly email and office software.
Email Marketing — MailChimp
Free basic service
What it does: Lets you create professional-looking, polished interactive emails, complete with custom address lists.
What it saves you from: Piecing together a “budget” solution that looks like a “budget” solution.
Graphic Design — Canva
Free basic service | In-app image and custom template purchases
What it does: Gives you access to ready-made templates that make you look like a pro.
What it saves you from: Embarrassingly ugly promotional materials.
Help Desk and Ticketing — Groove
What it does: Gives you a simple way to set up a help desk that your customers and service team will enjoy.
What it saves you from: Losing customer service emails in your inbox.
Industry-Specific News and Topics — Twitter
What it does: A simple twitter account it is a great way to track niche trends and specialized information. Twitter lists are also valuable tools for following competitors and finding peers. (You don’t have to tweet unless you want to.)
What it saves you from: Being uninformed or underserved by generic news sites.
Payments/Point of Sale (POS) — Square
Their price model is to charge processing fees on credit card transactions.
What it does: Offers a wide range of services to industries from retail to professional services.
What it saves you from: Waiting on checks or trying to hack together your own personal cash register.
Payroll — Wagepoint
Free 30-Day Trial
What it does: Makes processing small business payroll a breeze.
What it saves you from: Having a panic attack every time a quarterly reporting deadline approaches. (Note: Panic more if you don’t know what that means.)
Video Conferencing — Skype
Free basic service | Credit can be purchased for long-distance calls
What it does: Also includes screen sharing, voice calls, conference calls and messaging.
What it saves you from: Scrambling for a simple, foolproof solution.
One Tried-and-True, Old-School Solution — Just Because
To Do Lists — Staples
Why: Nothing beats a pen and paper.
Venting his frustration in an eloquent tome for WIRED, staff writer David Pierce asks, “It’s 2016. Why Can’t Anyone Make a Decent Freaking To-Do App?” In seeking his answer, he cites organizational and time-management expert David Allen, who says that even a lot of tech people and startups are going back to basics because, “There’s still no better tool than a paper planner.”
Questions, Comments, Suggestions…
Yes, you, the one in the back. Please share your thoughts on the best apps and your opinions on which areas are made better with technology and which aren’t. PS: You look great in that color.
for Micro-Businesses and Freelancers