I believe cloud technology is as important to new and small businesses as Coffee is to office workers. Sure, you can live without coffee. But you will get a lot more done if you have an espresso first thing in the morning.
When we start a new business we don’t have a lot of time, money nor resources. Each of these 3 things is precious and needs to be spent on your core business activity. 99 times out of 100 the core business activity involves making a valuable product or service, finding a market for it, winning customers and generating revenue.
Cloud technology means that you can bring all of your limited resources to bear on those core business activities and not waste them on secondary or tertiary activities like communications, document management & storage.
That’s what makes cloud technology valuable. It makes your business highly efficient and streamlined when it’s at its most vulnerable. Today’s entrepreneurs build their businesses on cloud technology.
So what is cloud technology? Good question. ‘Cloud’ started out as purely an infrastructure term, used to represent the removal of physical “data centers” from IT architecture diagrams and replacing them with a “globally accessible, robust and resilient network of server machines, storage and bandwidth”. That’s a bit wordy and difficult to draw so it became easier to call it ‘the cloud’.
‘Cloud technology means you can get your business up and running extremely quickly’
Then the definition of ‘cloud’ started to include “utility computing business model”. I’d be surprised if you had heard that term before. But you may know it already as “pay for what you use”. In IT circles this was a massive evolutionary change that cannot be understated. Gone were the old days (and headaches) of buying servers, renting co-location space in ISPs, hiring network and server configuration engineers to set-up your servers and keep them ticking over. Instead that was all replaced with virtual machines and a philosophy of “we’ll only charge you for what you use”.
Perhaps even more significant was the trickle down effect of this model on the business models of software vendors and their applications.
Software applications built on cloud technology were able to leverage the “pay for what you use” business model and pass that flexibility onto their customers. This created a new market for Enterprise level business applications hosted in the cloud, based on a Software-as-a-Service business model.
The early movers into the SaaS market created a new and compelling marketing strategy to help business customers migrate from their old IT systems to the new cloud software. They made their software free to use in a limited capacity but reserved some features which would be available for a premium. The idea was that as long as a certain percentage of their free use customers upgraded to premium then their business model would function and be profitable. Add ‘Free’ and ‘premium’ together to get ‘freemium’. A term you have probably already heard of.
Cloud technology means you can get your business up and running extremely quickly (saving you time) for practically no money (saving you your precious cash) and without the need for specialist IT skills (removing the need for IT expert resources).
Let’s dive in and look at some real world examples.
Need a telephone system? Don’t bother. Get Skype.
Need a website? Don’t make a custom one, get a free one from MoonFruit, or just use Facebook
Need an eCommerce store. Don’t build one. Open an eBay Sellers account.
Need email, a calendar & a contacts book AND want it on your smart phone? Get Google Apps.
Need to make documents and presentations? Use Google Docs
Want to collaborate, share & send documents? Use Dropbox, or Box, or Google Drive, or SkyDrive.
Want to advertise? Use Facebook ads or Google Adwords
Still queuing at the Bank? Start using you bank’s online banking service.
Want to send marketing emails to your customers. Use MailChimp or TotalSend
Need to send a Fax? Don’t. Use DocuSign to electronically sign your documents.
Want a marketing video for your business? Make it yourself with PowToon then store it on YouTube
Need a timesheet solution for your staff? Use Harvest.
Want an online chat/support tool? Use Zoho
Want user feedback forms? Use UserVoice
Want a back up solution? Try CrashPlan
Cloud apps can provide your business with capabilities and efficiencies that many much larger organizations do not yet possess. As a small business owner you are able to make and implement your technology decisions much faster than larger established companies. Your decision making speed combined with the capability of cloud applications have become a competitive advantage that you should exploit.
So grab a coffee, open a browser, and start searching for a cloud app that can help solve the business problem you’re facing today.