John Davis, Managing Director of BCSG, takes a look at the impact the cloud is having on SMEs and how this technology can help make a business a more attractive proposition.
Connective technology is ubiquitous in most people’s lives today and it appears that this modern way of existence is only at the start of its upward trend.
This theme of constant connectivity has provided the catalyst for web-based applications that allow us to have everything we need right at our fingertips.
This is where cloud computing comes in. The technology allows us to access our files anytime, anywhere, on a multitude of devices.
The cloud enables us to interact with, and manage information and applications regardless of location or access to a desktop: all that is needed is an internet connection.
Small business benefits
While there are obvious benefits for individuals, the potential that the cloud offers to businesses is even more exciting.
It gives SMEs the opportunity to grow without the heavy investment in software that they faced prior to cloud technology. It also means that when using a public cloud, SMEs can choose to purchase it for a specific amount of time, and avoid being tied into a long term contract. This offers enormous benefit in terms of cost and managing cash-flow.
If a business wants to stop using the cloud and finance another area of their business instead, they are able to without having to worry about a long-term commitment.
As many small business owners know, you often start out with a very limited number of people doing everything from selling and answering phones to filing and managing HR. When BCSG started up, our experience in most areas was limited and finding support and expertise was a constant battle.
There are currently a huge range of apps designed to help with the challenges small businesses face. Take a look at GetApp and you will find over 5,800 apps to chose from - many of which are aimed at small businesses. The tech sector is continually building cloud applications that aim to streamline the running of SMEs.
As a result cloud technology is certainly helping to level the playing field between small business and large corporates. It’s making SMEs more nimble, focused and competitive - so much so that it can be hard to tell a small company from a large one.
Many apps make light work
With the increased efficiency these technologies provide, business owners will have more time to spend on focusing on growing their company and 'the bigger picture'.
Marketing tools are an example of an app category that has a significant impact on helping a small business attract custom.
There are many sub-categories in this area including website builders, email marketing tools and social media; all of which widen a business’ reach and makes them more likely to penetrate new markets.
With more customers, businesses can then afford technology that aids in project and credit management, customer service and legal necessities all of which create a more saleable brand.
Clouds on the horizon
It is no big surprise that small business owners are time-poor, and our research has found that on average they spend 15.5 hours each week on admin tasks alone. This rather startling statistic reinforces the obvious need for sustainable tech support.
Large corporates, such as banks and telecoms, are now starting to move into this new space, supporting their small business customers by providing access to high-quality cloud services that complement their core offering to SMEs.
Advice, and curated tools to action that advice, are still in seriously short supply, but it is early days and the future certainly seems bright. With the range of quality apps and the right support and guidance from trusted advisers, SMEs have a real opportunity to compete, not just with big businesses in the UK, but on an international stage too.
Here are five top cloud-based apps to help streamline your business practices:
1) Legal Manager helps businesses create up-to-date legal documents, contracts and policies from a wide range of templates, including: website T&Cs, debt recovery letters, commercial tenancy agreements, employment agreements, health and safety documents, and company structure agreements. This means they can bypass the solicitor’s office and save themselves some money and time.
2) Zendesk is a customer service platform that’s dedicated to improving the relationship between businesses and customers. It makes responding to customer questions and queries easy, by bringing them all together in one place. Whether a customer has got in touch by phone, email, chat, tweet or Facebook, Zendesk collects all of these conversations, flags which ones need attention, and provides the tools and support needed to resolve issues.
3) Receipt Bank is a fast and easy way for businesses to keep track of their expenses. It aims to save businesses one hour a week, by removing the need to manually enter receipts, bills and invoices to keep accounts up to date. With Receipt Bank, business owners or employees can easily take a photo of their receipt after a business lunch and it will extract all the relevant data, so they don’t need to save the receipt and enter the information later. This data can then be exported to Excel or leading accountancy software, or used to generate expense reports.
4) Credit HQ helps businesses reduce bad debt and get paid faster. With CreditHQ, they’re guided every step of the way to maximize their chance of getting paid. Using data from Experian, businesses are able to credit check potential customers, and stay up to date with any changes in a company’s credit position with email alerts.
5) Constant Contact Toolkit is an all-in-one online marketing platform that saves businesses time, and helps them to engage more with new and existing customers. It brings email marketing together with a range of online marketing tools like event promotion, surveys, vouchers and social campaigns all in one convenient place.
John Davis is Managing Director of cloud specialists BSCG and has previously worked extensively with small businesses, holding the titles of Marketing and Product Director for Barclays Business as well as Managing Director for Clearlybusiness - a Barclays subsidiary
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