I get asked weekly from contractors if their companies should move to the clouds and ditch their physical servers. I have a medium size painting client in Wisconsin who is spending $700 a month keeping his server and computers active. If you only have 5 people in your office and are spending $700 a month for online backups, remote access, file storage on a server, what would you do? Probably the same as this client. He is moving his business to the clouds. I thought I’d create a simple checklist for other contractors to look over as they ponder whether it would be a good move to have an office in the clouds.
What is Cloud Computing?
Just for clarification, the words “Cloud-based,” “Cloud computing,” or “Office in the clouds” simply means a virtual office or programs running without software but hosted online. Google Calendar and Gmail are cloud-based as you need to access the Internet to use them. If you have a stable Internet connection, cloud programs are stable, easy to use, and do not slow down your computer. You can also access them from any computer in the world.
The Office in a Cloud Check List
If you have a small service business with 1 to 10 employees working remotely or at an office, this is the checklist I’d use to get started:
- Access and Store Your Office Files: Egynte or Dropbox (My comments: These programs offer: Online Backup, File Sharing, Editing: basically an online MS Exchange Server for files. I personally use Dropbox and love it. )
- Mobile Device: iPhone (don’t settle for a Droid or Blackberry. The iPhone works great with Google Apps)
- Calendar, Email & Document Editing: Sign up for Google Apps Premier: $50 a year per user / Works with Outlook if you don’t want to move away from using MS Outlook
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM):Pipeline Deals CRM (My comments: Pipeline Deals works very well with Google Calendar and Contacts. I personally use 37 Signals Highrise. There are pros and cons to each. So email me if you have a specific question about your CRM needs.)
- A Copy of MS Office or Openoffice: Although Google Documents is good, MS Word and Excel are better. So I’d still keep a non-cloud MS Office installed on your computers. Open Office, by Sun Microsystems, is an alternative to MS Office. It is free and works just like Word, Excel and Powerpoint. It just doesn’t have the cool graphics and look.
- Finance: Quickbooks Online
- Printer Sharing: There are a number of cloud based printer hosting options, but I have not used them. The easiest solution I’ve found is to create a printing network at your office, probably like you currently have setup. If you have a Mac at your office, creating a printer-shared environment takes just minutes: even if you have PCs mixed into the bunch. The PC machines just need to install a program called Bonjour Print Services.
- Schedule Program (accept online appointments): YouCanBook.me works the best with Google Calendar.
- Mac Computer: Macs run faster and require less fixing/maintenance. You can install a program called Fusion3 that allows you to operate Windows applications on a Mac. When switching to the clouds, you’ll have less reasons to run Windows programs. However, MS Excel, is still much better on a PC. So if you are creating complicated spreadsheets or use Excel for estimating, Windows is still a good thing to have on hand! The Macs are just an easier machine to operate and are fun too! My favorites are the iMac and Macbook Air.
- Project Management Software: 37 Signals Basecamp (inexpensive and easy to use for managing projects. A more advanced option that works very well but cost more is called BlueFolder. Bluefolder is more of a full service management software. You can schedule appointments, service calls, follow ups, assign technicians etc. For most painting and remodeling businesses, this program might be too advanced.)
Cost for Cloud Computing
The cost for cloud computing is very inexpensive. For example, Google Apps for Business is Free. The paid version gives you a little more features at $50 per user/per year. I have used the free version for over 2 years and will be switching to the Premier version this year. The cost to setup Google Apps varies depending on who you hire and the training you receive. Sometimes the setup can be as little as $200-300 (without training and file transferring). Pipeline Deals CRM runs $15 per user/per month. Egynte starts at around $25 a month for online storage, sharing and backups. Dropbox for Teams starts at around $65 a month. This is just a sampling of the cost. As you can see, it really is a smart choice. You can spend more time being productive and less time fixing computer problems.
Your Comments and Thoughts?
Is your office in the clouds? If not, are you planning to move soon? What programs have you looked into and are you happy with your decisions? Please feel free to share your experience with Cloud computing and email me if you have a question.