Top 10 cloud computing strategies
Get in the cloud. Desktop software is dead. If you take away only one idea from this list then make it that one. Don’t invest in any desktop software when there is a viable online alternative. Move your contacts, calendar and files online – now. Incorporate as many of the other strategies below with the goal of making your business as “virtual” as possible. The longer you wait, the bigger hole you dig. There is real value in the cloud and you could be missing out.
This list of the top 10 cloud computing strategies, which is in no particular order, contains cloud computing strategies that can be implemented by anyone. They’re practical suggestions for the average person designed to help you work smarter, save money and increase business by adopting online tools. I’m sure we’ve missed some good ones. If you have any suggestions, please add a comment to let us know. We’re all looking for better ways to work.
1. Use a tablet
If you want to live in the cloud, then you have to be able to get online. Among other things, your tablet is a conduit to the cloud. It doesn’t matter which one you use, but I’ve always been a fan of the iPad. Tablets allow you to be productive in more places. The trick is ensuring that all of your business data is in the cloud. You won’t get much out of your tablet if your data is sitting back on the desktop computer or server in your office. Force yourself to make a presentation or take a business trip using only your tablet. It will quickly become apparent which parts of your business need to move online.
2. Google apps for email
Google Apps does a lot. First and foremost it is a viable alternative to hosting your own email server, and the IT overhead is almost non-existent. It’s cheap, you get to keep your own domain name, and you can continue to use Outlook if you want. Don’t let your IT staff shoot this one down either since it means they’ll have less to do. Also check out Google Voice. I’ve been using it for 3 years now and have never looked back.
3. Electronic signatures
Anything that expedites a transaction is a good thing. With electronic signature sites like DocuSign, RightSignature and AssureSign you can send documents to your clients to obtain signatures electronically. All parties can sign in the cloud, and fully executed documents are distributed to everyone involved.
4. File storage
Not too long ago the only way to store your company’s files and share them internally was to buy a dedicated server. That server often ran out of space or got too slow, which required costly upgrades. Now there are a variety of services that provide viable online alternatives to this old architecture. In the cloud your data is easily accessible, safely backed up and inexpensive to store.
Services like Dropbox and Box synchronize your files to any device you choose including tablets. Changed files upload automatically. Google Docs centralizes files into one online repository with lightning fast searching. Before you buy another server, give these options a hard look.
5. Invest in a CRM
One of the easiest and most measurable improvements you can make to your business is to improve your contact management. Cloud-based CRM (customer relationship management) tools offer the best way to do that. You can work from anywhere, use any operating system, sync to your mobile devices, and share data with remotely located team members – without installing any software.
It’s important that your CRM integrates with as many of your cloud-based tools as possible. Look for the easiest and most intuitive option that meets your needs. Do not overbuy. Most offer a free trial so take advantage of that. Features and complexity vary widely, so consider ClientLook (all-in-one solution), Salesforce (for really big companies) or Highrise (super basic).
6. Sync to your mobile devices
Even though you should be able to log into your cloud-based applications through your tablet or phone, it’s nice to have your basic contact, calendar and file data “on board”. In my case I use an iPhone and iPad, and the native address book and calendar on these devices sync seamlessly with my cloud database. I also have access to documents.
Ensure that whatever cloud-based software solutions you choose provide seamless two-way synchronization to your mobile devices. In my experience a separate mobile app for this purpose is a hassle and just means I have to learn more stuff. Look for tools that sync directly into your device instead. Everything should be connected, otherwise it doesn’t have a role in your new virtual office.
7. Project collaboration
We live in an on-demand world. Everyone expects immediate access to news, entertainment, financial information and more. It’s safe to assume that your team and clients want this same kind of access to project data too. Project collaboration is a way to significantly differentiate yourself by offering your clients the ability to log in to see project updates, files, emails and more in one place.
Make sure your project collaboration choice is tailored to your industry. It should be intuitive and integrate with whatever other cloud-based systems you use – especially your CRM. Nobody needs another disconnected island of data even in the cloud. Consider ClientLook, Basecamp or Zoho Projects.
8. Email marketing
Sending mass emails is really getting easy. There are great online tools for creating templates, managing lists and viewing the results of your campaigns. Simply upload your contacts, create your message and send away. The reports of how your recipients respond to your emails are really insightful too. There are a variety of different prices plans and business models so make sure to compare everything before picking one. Check out MailChimp, Constant Contact and iContact.
9. Virtual Assistant
This catchy concept appeared a few years ago, but it’s really starting to hit its stride because of the cloud. The basic idea is that you hire a remotely located person with whom you communicate via phone, fax or email. (They are considered a Virtual Assistant (VA) because you don’t share a physical space with them).
Because your business is in the cloud, your VA is able to access your online services (provided you give them access) and perform administrative tasks for you. The benefit is that you have more time to focus on money making pursuits. It can be tricky finding someone with the necessary skills, and turnover can be a problem. It’s worth the effort though because the right person is a tremendous resource that helps your productivity sky rocket. Search Google for Virtual Assistants to find a variety of options worldwide.
10. Web conferencing
You may have heard about web conferencing systems before, but the latest versions have some great new features. Most now include video conferencing that allows you to share your screen while using your webcam at the same time. There are also some that work on tablets like the iPad and your mobile phone. Some are even free, but I haven’t had good success with those. Check out GoToMeeting, Webex, and iMeet.