Online Tools for Local Business

The Internet revolution presents a great opportunity for local businesses to connect with their market. For some it is a marketing dream that is transforming their business. But the online world also delivers a huge range of tools that can boost productivity and make your business life easier.
The buzz term of the year is “cloud computing” – it refers to the delivery of software services via the Internet. So instead of having software and data on your own computer(s) you use online services that provide the tools you need and store your data.

Most businesses use software for accounting (MYOB, Quickbooks), email (Outlook), word processing (MS Word), spreadsheets (MS Excel), presentations (MS Powerpoint) and customer relationship management (ACT).

Running software on your own computer presents a few problems.  First you must buy the software and install it, which can be expensive and incredibly frustrating. Second, you must keep the software up-to-date when new versions and patches are released. Third, you must back up your data and ensure critical information is stored off-site.

Online software services are easy to manage by comparison and often a lot cheaper. There is no installation required, no version updates for you to worry about and your data is automatically stored off-site.

Another advantage is that you can access your critical business tools from any device that has access to the internet. So you could work from an iphone, ipad, laptop or an internet cafe at your favourite beach.

I have set up my business to run exclusively in the “cloud”. Here are the online services I use:

Gmail

Google’s free email service beats Outlook any day for me. First of all the price is right (free!). The storage is huge and the tagging is intuitive and easy to use.

If you want an email address that is you@yourbusiness.com.au rather than an @gmail.com address, Google has a business service available. The free version offers 50 user accounts, access to Google Calendar, access to Google Docs (see below) and mobile access (supports iphones, Android and Windows phones).

So why pay for Outlook?

Google Docs

Another free Google service provides an online word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and drawing  software. You can create and access your documents from any device and your data is securely backed up on Google’s servers. You can also save documents to your own computer if you want to but I rarely bother.

Salesforce

Salesforce is an online tool for managing your customer relationships. It is easy to set up, easy to use and your data is securely stored online. Never lose another customers phone number!

Use Salesforce to store all your customer contact information, log phone calls, emails and appointments. It is a great task manager, the Salesforce calendar sync’s with Google Calendar and they offer a mobile phone app so you can work on the move.

Salesforce have a small business package for only $5 per month per user. They offer a 7 day free trial so you can check it out before committing.

Sassu

Sassu is an online accounting system that provides invoicing, bank feeds, statements, inventory, point of sale and payroll. Most local businesses could run their books entirely through Sassu.

Sassu is an Aussie company and they have over 10,000 businesses using their online service. Pricing plans start at … free … and then the $25 per month option would suit most local businesses.

Never again worry about updating tax tables, backing up data or paying through the nose to upgrade to a new version.

So there it is – cloud computing.  Is it time to shift your business online?