Easily Move Your Business To The Cloud. It Isn’t Complicated or Expensive To Do
Your office computer goes on the fritz in the middle of a big project. You lose your smartphone and your contacts disappear. Or you’re away from your office and a client urgently needs an important PDF. Can you operate your business today if you’ve lost your address book, email, or calendar, or can’t access key client files?
“My goal is that if an asteroid hits my computer, I’ll only lose an hour of work.” says Michael Anello, founder of DrupalEasy, a nationally known cloud software training company. “I’ve convinced several friends and family members to move their business info to the cloud using fear tactics. The idea that if your hard drive dies, you can lose EVERYTHING is usually motivation enough.”
The “cloud” is just another way of saying that your most important business information — the daily data that makes your company tick — is stored and backed up on computers in huge air conditioned buildings far away from your office. This information is available anytime and anywhere on your smartphone, tablet, notebook, and desktop computer. And if your computer fails, you aren’t in a horrible data deathmatch or wondering if your hard drive can be restored.
If you’re starting a new home business, starting out in the cloud will be easy to do. If you’ve been running a business and are used to doing things a certain way, it will seem to be — at first — daunting. You can easily move your business to the cloud. It isn’t complicated or expensive to do.
A well established hodge-podge of services
My wife uses a hodge-podge of office online and offline services. She runs a successful landscape architecture practice. With big clients throughout Florida and a well-trained staff, her office is a tough daily consumer of email, calendars, CAD, and file storage.
When she learns to do something on a computer, she’ll rarely vary her routine. She’s been a hosted MS Exchange client for ten years, and has never deleted a business email. She keeps her schedule handwritten in a bound daily planner. She has one address book on her iPhone, something similar in Exchange that her staff has set up, another on her office computer, and still more phone numbers scribbled in her daily planner. Office project files are backed up on an $89.99 two terabyte drive.
She bought licenses for MS Office which are now eleven years old. When she’s away on a project, she has no way to access her files. She says that her current system works for her, so why make a change?
The frantic client called when the office was closed.
We were out-of-town on a little weekend and one of my marketing clients — a large tech company on the other side of the country — called urgently looking for two PDF project documents; however, it was five p.m. in LA, it was eight p.m. in Florida. My office was closed and the client was frantic. It was a teaching moment with my wife.
“What are you going to do?” she asked after I ended the call. I said, “Watch this.”
I pulled up Dropbox on my smartphone, scrolled through my client directories, found the two documents, and emailed links to the client. It was done in a couple of minutes. I could have done the same thing with services like SkyDrive, iCloud, or Google Drive.
“How did you know those two files would be on your phone?” she asked.
“All my client files are in Dropbox,” I said. “We treat Dropbox just like a local hard drive on my computer. I don’t keep our client files on my office machines. Our files are always available on my smartphone, tablet, notebook, or desktop.”
“My files are too big…they’re all big CAD files,” she said.
“My design files are huge too. I’ve got PhotoShop files that are over 100 megabytes. We keep 70 gigabytes of files in our Dropbox account at any one time,” I said.
“Isn’t it a pain to download the files when you need them and upload them when you’re done?” she asked.
“No, Dropbox automatically duplicates the files on every machine. So when I want a file, I just click on it and it pops up. And then behind the scenes Dropbox copies it back up to the cloud, so everyone’s files are current all the time,” I replied. “And you’ll be able to work on proposals and letters from your desk, the dinner table, etc.”
Her office staff agreed [they were worried about the office files, too], and it was done a few days later. She downloaded the Dropbox app to her iPhone and now she can get at her files anytime.
Too many address books on too many machines
Then in an odd moment a few weeks later, only explicable via the strange mysterious forces of marriage, fate and AT&T, we both decided to upgrade our smartphones on the same Saturday afternoon.
I upgraded to a new Android phone with a big screen. I’m a Google Apps customer, so as I was standing at the cash register, I entered my Google Apps and Dropbox user names and passwords. I watched all my email, calendar, contacts, Google Drive, and Dropbox info cascade into my phone. Minutes later it was done (I could have done this on an iPhone or Windows phone as well).
“How did you do that?” she asked.
“I keep all my contact and calendar info in one place.”
“Can I do that too?” she asked.
“Yes, but you’ll have to stop putting your contact info into different address books,” I replied, “and combine all of your contacts into one set of contact files. You can pay our tech-savvy 17-year old ten bucks an hour to compare all your contacts, merge and purge your contacts’ phone numbers, emails, and addresses, and then we’ll import a clean contact file into Exchange. We’ll have your office make Exchange your only source of contact info on your phone, tablet, and notebook and at your desk.”
And it was done a week later (and my daughter was $50 richer).
Changing appointment book habits is complicated
Then a few weeks ago, in what I can only describe as the last event in my cloud-trifecta, my wife left her leather bound calendar — complete with post-it notes, scribbles, and appointments — at a client’s office 193 miles from her office.
“I’m screwed,” she said, “I have appointments all day tomorrow and no idea of where they are and what time they are.”
“Your Exchange email account includes a calendar,” I said. “If you lose your iPhone, you can call your office or just log into another machine. All your appointments appear on all your machines.”
“But I rely on my handwritten calendar,” she said.
“Of course, and you’ll come to rely on the calendar in Exchange, too,” I said.
Then I pressed the icon for the calendar app on her iPhone. I made a dinner date for us at seven the next evening and added myself as an invited participant.
“Watch this,” I said.
I opened up my smartphone and our dinner date appeared on my own calendar.
“That’s all there is to it?” she said.
“Yep. But the hardest thing for you will be to stop using your bound calendar.”
The home business cloud takeaway
The cloud isn’t a big established tech thing that makes non-cloud people old and cranky. Heck, running a home business can do that.
The cloud is something that you and your business will want to do. Basic business things like email, contact management, appointments, and proposal writing will be easier to do. It’s convenient, secure, and inexpensive. And, you don’t have to do this overnight. You can take your time and, like my wife, make the switch as it makes sense or when you get the nerve to change something. I use Dropbox for file storage and Google Apps for my office word processing and spreadsheets, but they’re all good.
The best cloud feature for me and my business is that any one of my machines can self-destruct and I’ll just shrug my shoulders. I’ll buy another machine, load my web-based cloud things, and I’m back in business. And while I’m doing all this I’m working on another machine in the office and my business hasn’t skipped a beat.
Asteroids, I’m waiting for you. HBM
Steve Hall runs a successful b2b national marketing and creative business from his coastal home in central Florida. His mantra is simple: A carefully planned strategic message, delivered consistently to the right audiences, produces terrific new and repeat customers. Clients include technology and financial companies, major law firms, higher education and other professionals. Projects include advertising and marketing campaigns, branding, internet sites, marketing literature, trade show exhibits, and publications. He is always available to discuss assignments that require a fresh perspective. Steve looks forward to hearing from you. Call him at 321-449-0400. His website is www.efsmart.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.