5 Critical Online Tools for a Small Business
The rise of cloud computing has brought a number of benefits for small and midsized businesses. These include a range of cloud-based solutions for handling payments, bookkeeping, customer relationship management and networking with staff members. Here are five standout cloud solutions for SMBs.
ZohoCRM is a cloud-based customer relationship management system that is great alternative to the expensive and bloated offerings coming out salesforce.com. A full-featured utility, it allows you to develop and streamline workflows and automate a great many sales tasks, including the sales pipeline. One nice ability allows you to capture leads from your website, automatically. These are deposited in your leads pipeline where you free to convert them into sales opportunities. Because it’s on the cloud, you can access your client’s data anywhere with an Internet connection. The ability to set up alerts for important events means you never have to miss another opportunity – crucial for the small business, where every sale counts. Plus, there is a free version, which makes this nifty little a CRM a gem for cost-conscious small business owners.
Freshbooks Cloud Accounting
Bookkeeping is never fun but it can provide unique challenges for the small business. When you don’t have a dedicated accounts department, it’s easy for missed payments and other errors to slip by you and your staff. The right accounting package can help here. Plus, many of us may not like the traditional route of using QuickBooks software to run our business, despite its domination in the marketplace. Sometimes its more fun and productive taking another “cloud” road to bookkeeping nirvana!
FreshBooks is a cloud-based accounting package aimed at small business owners. It allows you to conduct all of your bookkeeping online, from tracking payments to creating reports and calculating taxes. FreshBooks isn’t the only virtualized accounting solution available but it is one of the best. Besides offering such standard cloud accounting fare as customizable invoices and automation for recurrent invoicing and late payment reminders, it has a number of other notable features that make it a standout product. One of these is the client portal: when your client receives an emailed invoice, they can click on a link that will instantly provide them with the amount they owe and ways to pay. One really cool feature is the ability to automatically link in PayPal expenses, a big time saver for a business owner. We use FreshBooks at Wildcard Digital and love it!
Yammer is a social media platform developed specifically for enterprises. Think of it as the friendly cloud alternative to Microsoft SharePoint, which you may have heard of. Or imagine a private Facebook geared towards ”business” only. By creating private networks, companies can provide an online space where staff can interact online without losing focus or potentially exposing sensitive information. Instead of getting bogged down with millions of emails, Yammer allows your staff and clients to interact on an online portal in much more productive manner. Yammer is as fully featured and user-friendly as conventional social networks; however, it’s been optimized for business use, offering extra collaborative tools such as file sharing. Yammer can make team management and cooperation significantly easier, providing a central hub where everyone involved in the business can check in when they have a question, need to share important information or wish to check on the progress of a specific project.
HootSuite provides a convenient online dashboard to unify all of your social networking platforms. There are so many social networks today that updating each one individually can quickly become a time-consuming chore. HootSuite allows you to update Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media sites from a single online dashboard.
This becomes especially important, if like some of our clients, you manage multiple Facebook accounts for different satellite offices / branches / practices under the parent business. The ability to coordinate all your social media accounts from one online cloud dashboard becomes a real life-saver. This is must-have product in the world of social media, we highly recommend it.
Your social media strategy is only ever as good as your analysis. Social Mention is a dedicated search site and analysis platform for social media. It tracks over 100 information streams of user-generated data from a wide variety of social platforms – not just the big names like Facebook or YouTube but lesser-known platforms too. By searching for and analyzing keywords such as the name of your brand or terms that are specific to your field, you can develop a sophisticated picture of your organization’s overall social media presence. You can set up alerts, generate reports and see just where your brand is getting the most attention.
By using cloud-based solutions for common business tasks and requirements, small businesses can save money that would otherwise have been spent on costly software packages. One of the most important features of cloud-based tools is that they are accessible from virtually any location; whether you’re in the office, at your desk or traveling, you can chase up sales leads, send invoices, pay your suppliers or liaise with colleagues and staff.
Another important way in which these five applications stand out is that they offer a range of possibilities for integration, both with each other and with other online platforms. HootSuite, for example, supports Yammer, allowing you to manage your business’ private social network alongside public platforms. Yammer, in turn, can connect with other social networking platforms.
Moreover, many of these top five tools can also be integrated via third-party cloud applications. An example would be Zapier, which allows you to populate your FreshBooks database with information from ZohoCRM, turning prospective clients into actual clients swiftly and painlessly. IFTTT (If This Then That), which could be used to integrate Yammer with news and information feeds, online file storage sites like DropBox, etc. This kind of integration helps your business to stay productive and connected at all times.
- Cloud-based solutions can automate tasks, streamline workflows and offer constant connectivity.
- Cloud-based apps are frequently less expensive than conventional software and may even be free.
- Solutions on the cloud can often be integrated with each other, either directly or via a third-party application.
- Plus, its sometimes more fun to play in the “cloud” than grapple with slow-loading, bug ridden desktop software.
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