Office in the Clouds Checklist for Contractors

Posted by David Chism | Tue, Mar 29, 2011

 Office in the Clouds Checklist for Contractors
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: 
  1. 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. )
  2. Mobile Device: iPhone (don’t set­tle for a Droid or Black­ber­ry. The iPhone works great with Google Apps)
  3. 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
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. Finance: Quick­books Online
  7. 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.
Option­al Items
  1. Sched­ule Pro­gram (accept online appoint­ments): You​Can​Book​.me works the best with Google Calendar.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

About David Chism

David Chism started his business out of a passion for helping small contracting businesses grow, be more profitable and become better known to their target clients. One lifelong hobby of David is using techie gadgets. So this blog is a place where he writes about technology, marketing ideas, just for fun (humor), personal thoughts on small business and more.


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