The Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) sector is one of the few growth areas in the UK economy with the online retail world being a particularly strong sub-sector. For the small start-up sector, cloud computing has a number of obvious advantages. It offers low cost, if not free, software services; no installation, update and maintenance is all provided remotely and cloud software is accessible from anywhere, via an internet connection. In addition, cloud solutions are all flexible and offer a scalability that can grow with your company. However, cloud computing services are not yet the norm for small firms; some concerns about security have held firms back, while for small start-up firms, lack of IT knowledge has perhaps contributed to the slow implementation. So how can cloud computing help small firms on the road to becoming medium, and beyond?
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions may not be on the minds’ of small firms as they start up. It’s useful to have some customers to manage before investing in a call centre; however, with online CRM services available at low costs via the cloud, you don’t have to invest heavily in this type of software to source a solution for your firm. It’s worth having CRM in place from an early date, as CRM solutions can automate a whole range of contact channels and provide a range of functions; from marketing to customer account management to analysing your customer trends through to technical support queries. CRM, via the cloud, offers a “one-stop” customer management solutions, whatever the size of your company.
Global market places mean that even small firms need global solutions when it comes to conferencing applications. Not so long ago web conferencing was the preserve of large firms but a whole range of cloud solutions are rapidly becoming available that any firm can access; allowing individuals (wherever they are) to conference, share documents and power points. The web conferencing applications that are available allow you and your staff to make better use of your time and cut costs. A client may be down the road or at the other side of the world but cloud conferencing will save the bus or the plane fare.
For small firms the “accounts” is a phrase that can cause many small business people to break out in a sweat. There’s no point in putting your head in the sand when it comes to managing the cash flow. Employing an accountant from the outset is essential, and some cloud accounting tools will also make life easier. Online accounting software stays up to date – crucial for accounting systems – without wasting your time; it helps to avoid software conflicts with your accountant saving them time and you money. It also offers the ability to get accounting jobs out of the way when you have the time without having to make the time at the end of the day.
Two Fingered Salutes
Data back-up is essential for most businesses but for the smallest of firms it can be essential. With cloud computing solutions the need to back up and store data on memory sticks or discs is removed. While most of us are aware that we should do this, it’s a hard habit to learn and it’s usually learned the hard way. Faced with the company’s sole PC issuing its resignation in the form of a plume of black smoke, or displaying the two-fingered “Blue Screen of Death”, many small businesses are faced with the sharp end of the term “business continuity”. With cloud back-up and storage systems, continuity is not an impossible dream; it is, in fact, a very real possibility.
From online accounting software to online data back-up, cloud computing offers very big solutions for small companies. In the coming years this type of computing will become standard, whatever your industry.
Simon blogs about entrepreneurship and small business advice, covering everything from the best invoicing software to how small businesses can take advantage of cloud computing. When he’s not blogging or working Simon enjoys swimming, cycling and visiting his local cinema.