3 cloud apps for new businesses

Business Tools Virtual Receptionist

I’ve been running ABS Office for about 8 years now. In that time, we’ve come from being 2 separate and disparate serviced office businesses, with a bit of phone answering on the side, to one cohesive serviced office and virtual receptionist business operating from multiple locations. Because I am a bit of a geek, I love finding new business tools and trying them out to see what problems they can solve in the business. I can often see the potential that a new app has to significantly enhance our business processes. Sadly, it often ends up being just ‘potential’ and the current state of the app means that it would require many ‘hacks’ to make it work in its current state. All is not lost though because I have found a number of apps and tools that have had a profound effect on the business.

Here are my top 3 business tools that I wish I had when I first bought the business(es). Each of these tools are free to get started. As they become more intrinsic to your business you can take up a paid subscription:

Google Apps for Business.  Many businesses that I know have their email and website hosted by the same provider. Some other businesses maintain their own servers in-house for this purpose. Google Apps for business gives you hosted email, using your own domain name. The advantage is that your email is separate from your website, so if one goes down, the other will still be operational. Gmail rarely goes down. You can manage all your aliases, mail filters, contacts and users, online and in real-time. You also have access to all the apps in the Google stable. The admin can manage the individual users’ accesses to particular apps as well. To ensure the recoverability of your data, I recommend Spanning Backup. You can also use your Google user id to connect and log into many other cloud apps. Just make sure your Google password is really strong, but more about that another time.

Dropbox. Dropbox is like a cloud ‘network server’ for your business. Free users can get 2GB of storage. For the average small business, the Pro account will give you more space than you’ll likely ever need – 1TB (that’s 1 Terabyte or 1,000 GB). They have a premium version for larger businesses. Dropbox allows you to share folders with people outside your organisation. You can also set it up to store all or some of your folders and files on your computer hard drive, so you have off-line access for those times you’re without an internet connection. You can access your files from your tablet, smartphone or even someone else’s computer using the cloud interface. And you can sync your photos on your phone directly to Dropbox as well.

Zoho Creator. Zoho Creator has a free forever, limited version for new users. It’s perfect for getting started and deciding if you want to pursue it further. Paid accounts are based on a cost per user per month. I started using ZC in 2007 to replace some spreadsheets with macros that were becoming too unweildy. It wasn’t long before I realised it had enormous potential, not just for our business, but for our clients’ businesses as well. It is a powerful, cloud-based, database management system. For example, I created an order tracking system for a client using ZC. The system was used in 3 different countries and managed hundreds of transactions per day. Not bad for something that was originally just meant to be a replacement for a bloated spreadsheet, hey?

If you’re interested in getting started with any of these tools, please don’t hesitate to contact me via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or email to set up an obligation free consultation session to see how I can assist you.

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