From a business perspective, one needs only browse through a newspaper published between 2008 and 2012 to get the impression that the last few years have been hell. Banks have turned off the lending taps, consumers and businesses have clung to their cash and general market sentiment has been pretty depressing, to say the least. But while small businesses have been at the mercy of a cruel and unforgiving global economy, they’ve also been in the midst of a technological change that can fairly be described as a revolution. With the rise of Software as a Service (SaaS), many business technologies, which used to be the domain of large corporates with deep pockets, have now become accessible to even the smallest start-ups, significantly reducing the admin burden on small and growing businesses by enabling them to manage just about every business process at the click of a button. Here are ten business processes that can now be outsourced to the cloud.
1. Bookkeeping and Accounting
Most entrepreneurs would be delighted to know that they can send their Excel spreadsheets to the recycle bin, and move their whole accounting function to the cloud, where they can enjoy features such as automatically reconciling bank statements to invoices and bills and churning out reports (such as P&L or balance sheets) at the click of a button. Some good cloud-based accounting programmes include Xero, Quickbooks and Kashflow.
2. Proposal writing
This process of drafting tenders and new business proposals used to be pretty tedious. Now, however, thanks to companies like BidSketch and Proposable, business development is becoming something of a doddle. These services enable keen proposal-developers to create templates and sections that can reduce the time spent creating proposals significantly. Added elements include notification emails once the prospect has viewed the proposal, so that the savvy salesperson can time his call perfectly.
3. HR management
Trying to keep track of benefits, holidays, sick leave and reviews can be a headache for the busy owner-manager, who should be dedicating as much time as possible to growing the business. Thanks to small business HR management software, these processes are neatly organised and carefully managed, without taking up too much of the entrepreneur’s time. Some examples of small business HR software include TribeHR and Simply Personnel.
4. Customer Relationship Management
As a business grows and builds its network, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep on top of customer data. This leaves the company vulnerable to mistakes, such as forgetting to follow up with a customer as agreed, or a prospect being contacted by two separate sales people. A good CRM software package can help businesses to prevent things from slipping through the net. While Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics are some of the leading brands in this field, there are many other options out there for small businesses (e.g. Highrise).
I remember when I landed my first job, at a small London PR agency in 2004, email was a bit of a hassle. I mean, it was great for me to have access to email on my desktop, but getting this set up and dealing with problems was an expensive hassle for my boss. Fast forward only a few years and businesses can now enjoy cloud-based email services, on your company’s domain, through Gmail.
6. Project management
I’ve never used project management software myself, but I know people who swear by it. Want to keep on track of every task involved in the delivery of a major project, ensure optimal workflow and continuity, even when team members leave before completion? There’s a host of affordable cloud-based packages that let you do just that. GroupCamp and SmartSheet are great places to start.
Need to log every minute spent so that clients can be billed accurately? Then say goodbye to Excel, as cloud-based timesheeting software enables employees to log time from anywhere (with an internet connection or a smartphone). You can generate reports and check in on employee activity almost daily. Examples of timesheeting software include MinuteDock and TimeFox.
8. Email marketing
If you’re still creating distribution lists in your email client to send out mass mailings, then you are doing it the long way. Email marketing programmes such as HubSpot and Constant Contact simplify the process significantly using distribution lists, auto-unsubscribe features, templates and scheduling.
Running a poll, surveying customers or trying to identify trends? Well, it’s no longer necessary to hire a couple of students for the day to stand in a shopping mall and stop innocent passers-by to fill out your questionnaire. The whole process, including analysis of results, can now be automated by programmes such as Fluid Surveys and Survey Monkey.
It’s amazing to think that it’s no longer necessary to have a company telephone. Free or cost-effective VOIP solutions such as skype make calling, conference calling and video calling possible and very affordable.
Cloud-based technology has revolutionised the way small businesses operate. Most of these services are available on a subscription model, which means the cost to the business is really quite small, but the benefits, in terms of time savings and efficiencies are enormous.
By Heather Baker, founder and CEO, TopLine Communications.