When I started my first business I was faced with the immediate requirement to set up a server. I spent money on server hardware, software and a few hours of consulting time from an IT specialist simply to get a shared network drive and a Virtual Private Network (to allow access to shared files off site).
I can happily say that only a few years later, I have done away with every piece of server hardware to make a full shift onto “The Cloud”. “The Cloud” commonly refers to software or other services such as storage space and email, accessed remotely and housed in large, expertly managed data centres outside of your own office. Many of these services are free of charge for businesses under a certain size or using under a specific amount of storage space.
According to the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), cloud computing is more formally defined as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources – networks, servers, storage, applications and services – that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”I’d like to share three recent examples of how I and some of my clients have benefited from cloud-based services such as DropBox and Google Drive.
Keep your files on all of your devices.
As a lone business owner with no employees, I have a lot of devices that I prefer to use for different purposes. I rarely sit at my desktop until it is time to get serious about writing a document. I take my tablet to almost every client interaction, usually in the place of a paper notebook, and my smartphone keeps me connected for every moment in between. Cloud technology allows me to access my data from any device, wherever and whenever I need it. Since my files are stored in one central storage location, I don’t need to worry about version control – I am always accessing the most current version, no matter which device I am using.
Keeping partners connected while planning:
In the early stages of your business, it is unlikely that you will want to take on the expenses of an office. It is more likely that you and any business partners will be working virtually from different locations. While working with others you could create your business plan, financial projections, new sales materials, and prospect lists in one shared space. Creating a shared storage space online truly takes only minutes; one partner will create a folder in their cloud account for the purpose of sharing, then simply invite their partners by adding their email addresses to a list.
Sharing with your accountant:
I was visiting my accountant a few days ago to start preparing for my next tax year. I asked if she should share a copy of my QuickBooks file from the previous year. We started a discussion about ways she shares files with her clients. I was surprised to learn that she had some clients who were already using Dropbox to upload spreadsheets and files for their monthly book keeping. She shared that one client had even set up a photo folder, and was taking pictures of receipts from his smartphone that would be instantly uploaded to the cloud and downloaded for processing.
Have you thought recently about how you make the best use of the technology you already own? Could these types of application help you to increase your productivity while keeping your start-up costs low? Tell us about it! At the end of the month we’ll submit all comments into a draw for a chance to win a voucher for one of our upcoming seminars (value $25).