My office is a blank table and a laptop, free of paper and piles of work. Sound enticing? All the tools I need are in the cloud.
With a combination of these free or low-cost tools, it’s possible to transition your company’s entire workflow to the cloud. Using them to keep track of the little things will allow you to focus your creativity on the big things.
If you need more from your e-mail service, try Boomerang. This is a great tool for companies that depend on sending timely or important e-mails. This simple app works in both Gmail and Outlook and allows you to schedule your e-mail delivery so that your messages never get lost in the recipient’s weekend e-mail influx. Boomerang will also resend your e-mail if the recipient doesn't reply. Time your messages so they hit the inbox at 8:00 a.m. Monday morning—putting your message on top of the stack! Cost: You can try it free for 10 messages a month; professional plans start from $14.99 a month.
Canned response from Google Labs or QuickParts in Outlook are other great tools for managing your e-mail outflow. Both allow you to set up frequently used templates that you can access directly from the “Compose Mail” interface. If you need to send out versions of the same e-mail to multiple people, you can set up a template with these tools. Cost: Both Canned Response and QuickParts are free with a Google or Outlook Account, respectively.
For management of your next e-mail marketing campaign, there’s MailChimp. This is a great service for users looking to manage their online campaigns and e-newsletters, which are always great for creating buzz for your company, product or service. MailChimp streamlines the process with attractive templates, easy list building and distributing, social network integration and tracking. Cost: Monthly plans start from $10 per month.
If you need help managing your company’s data and ideas, Evernote is your one stop for everything your company needs to collect and remember important information. Evernote makes it easy to capture text, pictures, video or audio, and then save and sync your ideas and data for better collaboration. Cost: Evernote offers most of their tools free, and a premium plan for $5 per month.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is an optimal solution for scaling your business for growth. AWS offers IT infrastructure services like servers for low and variable costs. If you want to expand your startup’s website or roll out a new initiative, you’re going to need to accommodate the increased traffic. For small businesses that are quickly growing, AWS is an opportunity to avoid up-front IT infrastructure investments in favor of scalable and flexible IT services that instantly fit your needs. Cost: Pricing depends a lot on your storage needs, but Amazon offers a free usage tier to test out the system.
Join.me will get your whole company on the same page, literally. With Internet calling and screen-sharing capabilities, you'll be able to carry out tasks on your computer from a remote location while your co-workers watch from their devices and ask questions. Join.me allows you to review documents with your employees, train new hires, demo products with clients and anything else you might need to collaborate on—from any location. If your company doesn’t have the resources for travel or in-depth trainings, Join.me is a great option for both internal team and external client communications. Cost: A free trial is available, and plans start at $149 per user/month.
Similarly, if you need to make a screen capture video, try Screenr. Screenr allows you to record yourself talking over your screen and share the presentation with employees or clients. While Join.me handles live calls, Screenr lets you record your computer demos for later use, and is perfect for training, demos and tutorials. Cost: Screenr offers a free trial and plans starting at $19 per month.
Harvest is a service that makes it easy to log time from any location, approve your employees’ timesheets and consolidate invoices. If you need to hire and track new employees, Harvest lets you easily add and manage users. Harvest also offers integration with numerous platforms and software like the iPhone, QuickBooks, Google Apps, Twitter and more, to let employees clock in and out from every device. Cost: Plans range from $12 to $90 per month.
Finances and Spending
Mint easily categorizes and organizes spending for your small business. You can view all your accounts in one place, and it’s easy to stay on top of your money with bill reminders, easy budgeting and helpful reports. For example, Mint will send you an e-mail with upcoming bills and projected costs, and tell you how over- or under-spent you are on your budget. Mint is compatible with a wide range of banks including international institutions. Cost: Completely free! Mint makes money by earning fees from banks and other services.
HootSuite is an invaluable tool for managing your social media presence. On Twitter, HootSuite lets you create lists to monitor important users, schedule tweets to post and listen to the community through search and keyword streams. HootSuite also works with other social media like Facebook and LinkedIn to help you control and evaluate your entire online presence by providing the ability to manage multiple accounts, analyze social media traffic and measure campaign results. Cost: HootSuite offers a free plan and a Pro plan with advanced features for $9.99 per month.
Once you’ve incorporated some of these tools, you’ll no doubt need a way to manage all your cloud services, applications as well as your cloud-related spending. Cloudability is one solution for managing your company’s cloud applications. With drill-down reports and integration of all your cloud accounts, you can curb wasteful cloud spending and clean up unnecessary cloud sprawl. Cloudability lets you easily see and monitor what apps you are using. Cost: A free plan is available, and pro-rated premium accounts start at $49 per month.
With the rapid growth of the cloud, there is a wealth of apps for your small business in addition to the ones discussed here. The good news is, most apps offer free versions, allowing you to try them out to find out what works for you and your business.
OPEN Cardmember Micaela Deitch is a content developer for OpenSesame, an e-learning marketplace where small businesses can find online training courses.