How the Cloud Can Help Your Business in Times Like These
It is a huge understatement to say that all businesses large and small have been impacted by this worldwide pandemic. The most tragic aspect of this situation are the lives being lost to this disease.
Many are predicting we should brace for more to come. I apologize for the grim start to this blog post. What I want to focus on is the small business that is now facing the challenge of conducting business in a way they may not have faced before.
Today in my home state of Mississippi our Governer issued a shelter in place order. For many small businesses, this means that they must shift to working from home and online. Our business shifted to work from home over two weeks ago. We are fortunate enough that our business lends itself to remote work more easily than some. Even so, not everything can be done remotely.
What Can Be Done Remotely?
When I say something can be done remotely, what I mean is that the task can be performed outside the office. This could be from your home, a hotel room, or an airport (hopefully no one is having to travel through airports at this time). The key to remote work is having stable internet access and using cloud-based or web-based software.
At the very least, communications with staff and customers are highly critical to keep a business running. Typically a cell phone can help you through a temporary situation. If you have a phone system at work, many times you can forward your main phone number to a cell number.
There are also Voice Over IP (VOIP) systems where the phone is an internet-based terminal that connects to a server in the cloud. So you can unplug your phone from your work network and plug it into your home network. In each case, the phone connects to the cloud server. So your calls will be routed to your home no differently than to your office desk.
There are many choices for small businesses in the area of online meetings.
- GotoMeeting has paid plans (https://www.gotomeeting.com/meeting/pricing) of various features and prices.
- Google Hangouts Meet offers Video and Voice conferencing as part of their G Suite package. We are a reseller of G Suite and can help get you setup for $6 per user per month. G Suite includes many other features such as email and office productivity applications. (Contact Us to get started)
- Another popular option is Zoom Meetings & Chat (https://zoom.us/). They offer a free plan and a paid plan with additional features.
Many people are already tied to their email in that they can receive email anywhere on their smartphones. So this concept is not strange. Your email provider may offer a web-mail option where you can login to your inbox through any browser. If you use G Suite (which gives you a GMail based account using your own domain) then you can login from a home computer or public computer. Just be sure if you do login from a public computer to intentionally sign out of your inbox when you're done. Don't just close the browser window.
Many small businesses use Quickbooks to manage their finances. Intuit has had a push for new customers toward their cloud based service of Quickbooks Online. If your business uses Quickbooks Desktop and the software is installed on a desktop or server in the office, you will need to have Virtual Private Network (VPN) access back to your office. This is a way that allows your home computer to connect to your office network and simulate that your computer is on the network in the office. This will allow you to connect to your Quickbooks Desktop files and manage your files remotely and securely. While the VPN route does not make it cloud based, it does allow remote access.
If your business is appointment-based you may want to consider this cloud-based solution that keeps you in control of your calendar but allows your customers to schedule appointment times. This can take a huge burden off of you to receive a request for an appointment, and then you have to check your calendar (either online or in a book) and then get back with the customer with potential times. Then actually write the appointment in the book. Check out Calendly.com. Their Basic Plan (https://calendly.com/pages/pricing) is free for 1 calendar/user. You post your calendly link on your social media or send it via email and the customer can choose from available timeslots and schedule themselves. The appointment automatically is added to your calendar and blocked off from other customers scheduling in the same timeslot. NO DOUBLE BOOKING! You can check out my calendly link here: https://calendly.com/ccs-scottchase/
Now that you're working from home, you may not have access to a server on which to save your data files. Your data is still very important. You may be creating contracts or other important documents. I feel the best backup solution is one that happens automatically and one that sends a copy of your data to the cloud. We offer just that type of backup system. Once we setup the backup and point it at the folders that you want backed up, you just need to have your computer on at the time of backup and all the changed files will be copied up to the cloud and encrypted for security. BACKUPS AND DISASTER RECOVERY
While this is not specifically cloud-based, it is important to check at this time to make sure you have an up-to-date virus protection system in place. If you're using a computer you don't normally use, you want to make sure it is patched for Windows Updates and it is protected from viruses. We have partnered with Webroot for endpoint protection. If you're in need of a lightweight security solution, contact us to get started.
Use your website to take online orders. If you're not ready for it, you don't have to convert to a complete eCommerce system to take online orders. Depending on your business, it can be as simple as a web form on your website to gather all the information and send it to your staff via email. A manual confirmation could be communicated back to the customer via standard email.
Your Custom Line of Business Application
If you can't tell, we're pretty much in favor of cloud-based solutions. After all, we are in the business of building custom cloud-based solutions for our customers. If you have a business where you are managing a lot of paperwork, that can make it difficult to work remotely. Those papers typically are stored in a file cabinet at the office. If the paperwork can be converted to a cloud-based application, then the business becomes more portable where you can access remotely. If that sounds like your business, contact us today and let us talk about a project to build you a solution to move you to the cloud.
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I have listed just a few scenarios that can be met with cloud-based solutions. Some may be quick to get started and others may take a while to convert over. A cloud solution is beneficial for various reasons and one is if you are facing a shelter in place situation.