Small business owners are always looking for ways to improve their operations in the most cost-effective manner possible, especially during tough economic times. Software programs and in-house networks historically have been one solution to help them achieve this. Until recently, however, this technology was out of reach for most small businesses due to budget restraints and limited staff resources necessary to administer and monitor these applications. That all changed with the emergence of cloud-based small business applications, which provide an affordable and easily accessible way to incorporate cutting-edge software programs into their operations.
Defining Cloud Applications
The term “cloud” can be confusing to those unfamiliar with the technology or accustomed to the more traditional way individuals and businesses install and use computer software programs. Instead of applications and data stored on a single computer terminal or network, cloud-based services ("cloud applications") are accessible on the Internet in the same manner as online banking and shopping, e-mail and social networking sites. It’s a simple as navigating to a website. And just like the aforementioned examples, most cloud-based service providers implement the latest security measures to ensure their customers—and their customers’ customers’—data and information is safely housed.
Regardless of the type of software a small business owner or operator is looking for, chances are he or she will find a cloud version of it. Some of the more popular online small-business cloud applications include:
- Data storage and backup.
- Document uploads and management.
- Online customer self-scheduling (for service-based businesses that require appointments).
- Online payment programs.
- Accounting software.
- Human resources software.
- Marketing and sales programs, including e-mail marketing.
What Makes Cloud Applications So Appealing to Small Business
The dynamics of cloud-based software applications place them in sharp contrast to more traditional software packages. In most instances, cloud applications are also just as effective and robust—if not more so—than their retail, “boxed” counterparts. Some of the obvious benefits of cloud-based technology include:
This is perhaps the most important benefit of cloud-computing applications, as cost was previously one of the major roadblocks for small businesses seeking to incorporate certain software platforms into their operations. Today’s cloud-based software is generally affordable and fits most budgets. Some providers implement a “pay-as-you-go” policy with minimal monthly fees and no long-term contracts. As the service provider maintains and monitors the program, as well as conducts regular upgrades and updates, there’s no need for expensive outside IT support.
All that’s required to access cloud-based applications is an Internet connection, something most small business owners already have. Because the software is not confined to a single computer terminal or business network, it’s ideal for owners and staff who must have access to the software when at home, on the road or other locations outside their business. This trait also makes it possible for customers and clients to access any online services offered by the business, such as online appointment-scheduling or making a payment.
Ease of Set-up and Use
Efficiency is vital when it comes to small-business software; many owners and their staff simply do not have the time to properly install software applications and learn how to use them, especially ones that are difficult for novice computer users to grasp. Cloud applications generally do not require any installations or downloads, and as the developers of these software services typically have the small business owner in mind when creating them, they’re generally easy to learn and use.
Whether a small business is looking at improving its accounting procedures, creating an effective e-mail marketing campaign, or searching for a way for customers to book their appointments online, cloud applications are becoming the tool of choice for an assortment of tasks. Cloud-based software service providers are usually quite familiar with the needs of small business owners, as most are small businesses themselves and tailor their products to the very specific needs of their small business clients. Many also offer a free trial of their service, which gives owners, operators and staff an opportunity to try the software and see how it fits into their business processes.