Any owner of a small business will be juggling priorities over the Christmas period. You’ll want to take some well-earned rest and spend time at home, but you’ll also want to keep an eye on the business. With family commitments rightly taking priority, and unpredictable weather making transport treacherous, it would be great to kiss goodbye to the office for a few days.
Which is why December is the ideal time to discover Cloud Power – an inexhaustible range of business services delivered across the internet which puts almost everything in the office at your fingertips on your sofa or in your kitchen. If you haven’t yet checked out Cloud-based business tools, here’s a selection – some from Microsoft and some from third parties – to get you started. All you’ll need is a laptop - oh, and the majority are absolutely free!
SkyDrive is your very own online storage area, with a whopping 25GB of space – enough not just for documents but also presentation graphics and video. But unlike other online storage solutions, SkyDrive is so integrated with Windows that it looks just like any other drive on your PC – and that means you can simply drag and drop files into the Cloud.
Along with file storage, SkyDrive comes with powerful sharing and security tools, so you can offer documents to colleagues but keep prying eyes out; and, with Office Web Apps (see below), you can even work on Office documents in real-time.
Got Office? Get Office Web Apps, and you can work on documents from anywhere with an Internet browser – whether that’s your laptop at home, or even your smartphone. Office Web Apps is the only Office document editor to support Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote and to guarantee absolute document fidelity: whatever you edit will appear exactly as it should when you re-open the document at your desk.
Web Apps is also being developed to include collaboration services so that you can work on documents with colleagues – Excel is already fully featured to allow you to share and collaborate on spreadsheets. All you need to sign up is a Windows Live ID (the same ID you use for Hotmail), and SkyDrive (see above).
Have you been shelling out for expensive anti-virus software which slows your computer down? Microsoft Security Essentials is a completely free anti-virus solution – for businesses with up to 10 PCs; and because it comes from Microsoft, it’s designed to work perfectly with your Windows PC. It’s unobtrusive, won’t stop you working, and because it’s delivered through the Cloud, learns in real-time from installations on hundreds of thousands of PCs around the world.
If you haven’t had time to get a website up and running, the festive period is the ideal time to get creative and put a shiny new site together. Office Live gives you all the tools you need (even if you’ve never picked up a paintbrush) including templates to make site design a doddle. But unlike other website-in-a-box offerings, Office Live comes with bags more:
· Detailed website reports, so you can see how your site is performing
· Up to 100 email accounts, all with Instant Messenger and online calendar, so all your staff can join in
· An online contact manager, document manager and WorkSpace, so everyone can collaborate, and no client will ever get forgotten or lost
And some great tools from other providers to kickstart your business...
Basecamp makes organising projects a doddle. Set up a group for each client or job, invite people to join (even the client themselves) and watch your workflow seamlessly manage itself. With Basecamp you can not only upload files and email people in the workgroup; but also allocate (and revise) milestones and deadlines.
Zamzar isn’t Tommy Cooper saying jam jar. Zamzar quite simply converts just about any file format into just about any other file format. If you’re faced with a lonely old TGA file and you want it as a JPG, no problem. Audio, video, document and image files are all easily converted and then sent back to you by email. It’s an indispensible addition to your Bookmark list.
We all go to networking events or client offices, pick up a raft of business cards and then... leave them in a pile on our desks. Or in a pocket. Or at the bottom of a handbag. Not only do they get lost, but it means you can’t use them. You’ve probably got a mailing list of 200 or so contacts lying around, and never had the opportunity to send out a newsletter or a sales promotion, all because the details never got properly typed in. Enter CloudContacts, which allows you simply to upload your business cards (or if you’ve got loads, post them off) and have them scanned, checked and sent back to you in the format of your choice. There’s no freebie here (a real human checks every card) but it could pay for itself many times over in business you would otherwise have missed.
If you haven’t joined LinkedIn yet, you’re probably killing your own business. It’s that serious. Think of LinkedIn as “the Facebook of business” – it’s a social network for entrepreneurs, businesspeople and professionals; and it’s already the No. 1 place for professionals to find new jobs. Salespeople use LinkedIn to research sales leads, companies and individuals. There are also LinkedIn groups for hundreds of professional specialities, and in many professions it would be considered odd not to check out a contact’s LinkedIn profile before meeting them. It’s completely free to get started, so don’t miss out.
This is the best of quite a large bunch of large file transfer services. The problem is simple: you have a huge file to send to someone, and it’s too big for your email. YouSendIt allows you to upload the file easily (even direct from Explorer, if you use their neat software widget) and then sends an email to the recipient with a link from which the file can be downloaded. It’s an easy and elegant solution to a constant and annoying problem. Job done.
If you’re organising an event; whether it’s a full product launch, or something less elaborate (an invite-only private evening session at your shop?, a tele-seminar for potential clients?), Eventbrite is the all-in-one online ticketing solution. It will sort out ticket availability, billing (if you want to charge) and emailing of tickets to visitors. Setting up an event takes moments, and you can see how your show is filling up with a few keystrokes. In all, Eventbrite probably saves a whole “person’s worth” of man-hours in the run-up to an event.
Excited about freebie cloud software?
Find hundreds more ideas (caveat: not necessarily in perfect working order or guaranteed to survive) at www.go2web20.net.
And for more information on Microsoft Cloud Power - The Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) - a free 30-day trial of an online service, visit Microsoft Online Services