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Get your head in the cloud

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It’s never been easier to start and run a small business. Not easy, mind you, but much easier thanks in large part to a wide range of low-cost, easy-to-use, cloud-based applications.

Cloud computing – also called software-as-a-service (SaaS) – is merely a term for services that let you run your business right from your browser. For small-business owners and startup entrepreneurs, this is a fantastic development. What started as a simple idea with a few applications (email was first) has exploded into a massive global market that offers business owners generous choices for doing just about anything online.

A few benefits of running your business from a browser include these:

Low cost. Most cloud services are affordable and pay-as-you-go, so there’s little or no up-front cost. This makes it easy to get startaed, and keeps costs predictable.

Improved security. Your information is stored in the cloud, so even if your computer gets fried, your data should still be safe.

Flexibility: You can scale up or down as needed and always be ready for what comes next.

Easy collaboration: Employees, contractors or partners can all work on the same documents in real time.

Google Docs is one of the most amazing browser-based solutions available to any small business. Not only is it good, it’s free and does pretty much anything that Microsoft Office can do, except it does it in “the cloud.” You can create and share basic documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings, among other things. And you can coordinate it all via Google Drive.

It seems almost too good to be true until you’ve actually used it. There’s nothing to install; no software to purchase. You can share with anyone else, via any kind of device, and your documents are automatically backed up in the cloud.

Google Docs just scratches the surface. From accounting, invoicing and expense tracking, to customer support, cash management and graphic design, the cloud solutions lineup is almost endless.

Here are some other helpful ways to run your business from a browser:

Social media. Cloud apps to help you get more out of social media include Sprout Social, SocialBro and HootSuite.

Customer service. Desk.com is a simple and affordable customer help desk that caters to smaller businesses. Others such as GetSatisfaction.com or Ning.com can help you set up your own customer-support community. •


Daniel Kehrer can be reached at editor@bizbest.com

commentary, management, information technology, advice, bizbest, 29~05, issue050514export.pbn

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