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Using Cloud Computing to Compete with Big Companies



Using Cloud Computing to Compete with Big Companies

Cloud computing has leveled the playing field for small businesses. Network connectivity and access to shared computing resources means that businesses of any size can have the data processing and storage capabilities previously reserved for conglomerates. While that’s great for your business, it’s also great for other small business owners around the globe — which means a lot more competition.

The Cloud Gets Crowded

In the United States alone, there are more than 28 million small businesses, and that doesn’t include mid-size and corporate businesses that also compete in online environments. Even on a local level, you might deal with dozens or more businesses that provide similar products and services, and you can bet that consumers are going to do their research online before showing up at any business’s door. According to the Kelsey Group, at least 70% of shoppers start online, even when they intend to buy local.

Consumer reach isn’t the only area where the cloud gets crowded, either. Online connectivity makes professional services convenient and accessible for businesses of any type. Accounting software and services let small businesses seek assistance in managing cash flow and prepping tax documents; cloud services offer working capital at an accessibility level that has never been seen before; and experts across the globe offer online services and coaching to help businesses manage resources and grow. The result is a greater chance at success for you as well as the competitors in your business category.

Using the Cloud to Compete

Luckily, Internet and cloud technologies also provide tools that let you rise above the rest of the crop. You can use the same tools that create competition to outdo your competitors. While it takes work, competing online isn’t always as hard as you might think: Sometimes, it’s simply about being first.

According to Inc., as of mid-2014, only about half of American small businesses even had a website. Business owners said launching and managing a website sounded too expensive and time-consuming. The good news for your business is that, even in 2015, many other business owners still think that way about cloud and Internet options—but you know better. Hundreds of cloud options exist that make setting up websites painless. A simple site can be launched in under half an hour, and with expert assistance from affordable cloud providers, you can maintain a professional site with minimal time commitment and expense.

Another reason so many businesses are able to compete locally, nationally, and globally, is the rise of the mobile consumer. Customers are turning to mobile technology for shopping, service, and consumer research at an ever-increasing rate. Even if your competition has a website, chances are that it’s not optimized for mobile users. A study conducted by Hibu in 2014 indicated that only 6% of small businesses that boasted a website also offered a site optimized for mobile users. That means 94% of SMBs are alienating a large percentage of the consumer cloud! And mobile optimization isn’t terribly expensive or difficult, especially given the cloud tools available today.

Where to Start

The tools provided by cloud computing can be very powerful for business owners. Tracking how you’re spending your time and money can help you gauge the effectiveness of your advertising and marketing campaigns, and better manage your customer base. For example, updating your business’s rewards program from an old-school punch-card system to an electronic cloud-based system lets you send rewards and discounts to loyal customers automatically, with much less expense of effort.

A financial package like the cloud version of QuickBooks is where most people start; it helps you tie together different bank accounts and look at the cash flow that’s going in and out of them. Bodetree is also worth a look, as it adds analytics and insight on top of those basic financials. Cloud-based CRMs like Insightly are inexpensive to use, and if you have virtual teams or freelancers working remotely, project management software and groupware systems like TrelloAsana, and Basecamp, are perfect for helping all of a business’s employees work together and coordinate.

“I think people have gotten used to the idea of software-delivered services, so the last piece is integrating all of those different systems together,” says John Skovron, Chief Technical Officer at Credibly. “This is very much on our mind as we start to build applications that can be hosted in QuickBooks or Bodetree, which will help business owners evaluate their financial status and determine if they need working capital or if they’re ready for a larger loan for business expansion.”

In addition to competing with consumer engagement and marketing, the cloud offers numerous tools to make tedious or difficult tasks easier. Cloud services can help you manage payroll, invoice and collect from clients, handle human resource tasks, keep up with schedules and projects, and deliver enormous amounts of information and data to service providers such as accountants and attorneys. For small and mid-sized businesses, the question is no longer “How can we get this done?” The new question is “Which technology tool or cloud service lets us get this done right?”