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A guide to cloud services for SMEs

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For most small businesses, a fundamental challenge is time. There’s never enough of it. A SME provides a specialist service, which takes time. On top of that, the business owner has a multitude of other tasks to balance in their day – finances, office premises, marketing, recruitment, insurance, payroll… the list is endless. 

It’s possible you’ve heard about the benefts of the Cloud and there’s probably someone who is telling you it is essential for your business. But just finding the time to research and implement these solutions can be a problem. We want to help. So here’s a brief summary of two basic, entry-level Cloud services and how they work. 



Accounting

 
This is the one you’ve probably heard the most about already. There are a number of well-known apps that friends, your accountant or other colleagues may have mentioned – Sage One, QuickBooks Online, FreeAgent, to name a few. But really, what’s wrong with your current approach of using a spreadsheet and sending a pile of expenses to your accountant every few months? The short answer is: nothing. But once you are up and running with a software package, you’ll be surprised at the difference it can make:

- You can connect your bank account to the software. Expenses can be accounted for quickly and you can review information in ways that are not usually available via your bank. 

- If you use your accounting package to create invoices it will save and send them. More usefully, it also tracks payments by linking with your bank account. Unpaid invoices will be flagged for your attention. No more endless manual cross checking which is time consuming and prone to error. 

- Some packages allow you to upload your expenses as you go. Take a picture of that lunch receipt or train ticket and it’s saved forever. No more scrabbling in your wallet at the end of the month. 

- All the information you’ve already inputted can easily be extracted for VAT and tax returns without you needing to spend hours on it. And most packages offer access to your accountant as well so you really don’t need to do anything come the end of the tax year. 

Email marketing

 The chances are that if you’ve got a computer and a list of clients or potential clients, at some point you’ve considered how to reach them to discuss potential opportunities via email. The problem with this is that unless your list of people you want to market to via email is short, the process can quickly become time consuming. Mass produced emails are seldom effective, and just adding a list of email addresses to the bcc field in your email is unlikely to lead to success. 

Cloud-based email marketing tools are designed to overcome this. There are a lot of them around, often specialising in particular types of activity. Some, like MailChimp, help you to send out emails and include built in tracking and monitoring tools so that you can see which emails are being read and if any links you include are clicked on. This is crucial as it allows you to adapt your approach and content quickly as easily. 



Others such as Collect Automation or Collect Offers can help you create special offers or coupons for customers to encourage them to buy from you. 

Email marketing programmes also help you design or personalise your emails if necessary to include logos, images and links, ensuring that your email looks as good when it hits the client’s computer as it did when it left yours. 

So what next? 

These are just two services based on activities you’re probably already doing. There are loads more you could investigate, depending on your business including people management, CRM and other marketing tools. To see the best apps for a business in your industry, 9 Spokes is a free dashboard tool whereby you can get the best app recommendations. You also get a free dashboard which integrates all your business apps and presents you with one view of your overall performance. Join for free at www.9spokes.com