Cloud computing is a term creeping in every internet-connected person’s lingo. Where the home was once an abode sacrosanct to family life, moms and dads have been transforming the family room into their office. If yesterday’s idea of setting up your own business meant a hefty price tag in upfront purchases and paying huge technology salaries to maintain automation, the home’s basement storage area or the neighborhood’s cafe have both become the one-person workplace. Cloud computing not only meant using the internet as a means to automate business transactions and communications, it also involves outsourcing technology and the menial tasks that take too much of the business person’s time or isn’t one’s core competency. Remember, as a small business owner, your time equates to an hourly rate. Is DIY (do it yourself) really worth the money saved? Or your time wasted would have just generated revenue dozens of times?
In the past, setting up your small business meant renting a bare office space. The cost to that not only involves paying monthly rent on the space but paying a month or more of security deposit plus advances. And office space location is important – ponying up larger “total rent” expense can bring you to a prestigious building address while cheapscates get relegated near the sleazy side of town.
Then, there are permits, ranging from operational to labor, office sanitation and hygiene, and a host of many others. Either you do it yourself (again, how much is your time worth?) or hire someone to do it for you. Standard business permits from the likes of securities and trade agencies are a must, but establishing an office where employees will be using it as a workplace requires more than the standard. In some countries, the national or federal, state or province, city and even the sub-city or area government units all require you to get permits from each one of them.
Recruitment and hiring not only meant the unbiased activity of looking into the skills and experience of the person but as well as the biased look and nature of the prospective employee. Let’s be truthful – look and character has always been an unspoken part of the decision for hiring. Why? There’s that physical part of the business where people should complement the office and it’s ambience, plus adhere to its customers service principles, including culture. If you’re lucky, a few days is all you need; otherwise, get ready to go through the entire process for a month.
Office furniture and fixtures, including some minor interior construction and the art of decorating your new office means another large upfront cost. Beautiful partitions, unique workplace tables and chairs can mean a large hole in your pocket. Buying second hand items might not look good to fit. Again, how do you decide on which path to go to?
Now comes office equipment, meaning computer hardware and required accessories, telephone PBX machines and handset units, mobile phones, copiers and printers. Add skilled people to monitor, manage and troubleshoot all these. Even if many of these capital expense items are one-time spread across some number of years (meaning you can amortize it in your accounting system), the point is you have a large amount of upfront cash to produce even before operating your new business. In today’s wired world, acquiring technology is a need, not just a want or “nice to have.” It’s not about “hi-tech is being sexy” but rather “hi-tech is being competitive.”
Can the cloud replace all these?
First and foremost, what really is “The Cloud?”
Some know it to be that temporary void where syncing one’s iPad and their MacBook happens. Others acknowledge it as the centralized repository of information where authorized people can access it anytime using web browsers. The tech savvy business person will cite is as a virtualization method all the office automation services needed for his office to operate and access, again, is by way of the internet. The IT person will say it subscribing to a private infrastructure in a secure data center where all the apps or application software, and raw data and processed information are all stored.
The cloud is pretty much all of the above and much, much more. The latter involves geek-speak that would probably result in nose-bleeds for too much jargon each sentence in the dozens of paragraph for the hundreds of “much, much more” only two people in the world would understand all of them. LOL! For us ordinary business folks, the cloud does mean everything I wrote above because I worded it in a way even I understood what I wrote.
No More Rent Expense
Whether your employees transform their family rooms as their offices, subscribe to a virtual office provider at the least cost possible, or go renegade and hop from one coffee shop to another, the mid-size office space is not anymore a necessity. Your entire workforce can work from home or anywhere there is internet access. This is even the near-perfect set up for part of your business that doesn’t need customer-facing transactions.
But if your business requires you to meet with prospective customers and must bring them to your office, then just use the facilities of the virtual office provider or outsource the services of a suitable place like a small function room of a hotel or restaurant. If meeting prospective customers happen not too often – the phone works – then you have a bigger reason not to require the office space rent.
If you handle physical products, you can rent a small-enough storage unit which is conveniently accessible to you, your supplier’s delivery group, and your employees who are in charge of handling the products. In a manufacturing environment, if you can outsource everything including shipping and handling, then you’re back to the reasons why you don’t need an office space.
Of course, team meetings are important. The daily grind requires you to conduct conference calls and group video conferencing. For this, you can use or , good examples of web based free apps. Professionalize this function and you’re still not going to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars by purchasing overpriced hardware and software. For example, you can use , a free-to-use web app that gives you the power of a virtual PBX, and more (and more of justgocloud.com later). Using as your cloud based PBX system means your entire workforce can simply use their computer as their telephones as a more productive means to communicate and transact business with your customers, suppliers and each other. I call this “The power of cloud based conversations.”
Once a quarter or more frequently, you can conduct meet teams or your entire workforce because eye contact and body language add to the effect of motivating your workforce. Or with training which doesn’t really happen very often, you don’t need to spend on office space that’s sleeping the rest of the period when no sales rallies and training are occurring. In fact, talking about training, many business owners have begun outsourcing it to web based providers. The biggest gain to using web based training is akin to the individualized instructions of schools – it all depends on the pace of your employee. Not everyone has the knack to learn at the same speed. For web based training, each of your employees adjust according to his or her learning pace and convenience, thus increasing learning comprehension.
The Least Amount of Permits
Without acquiring a leased office space, the number of permits required may drop to just a few. Going cloud means going virtual, too. So, when you use a virtual office service, the service provider (or landlord) already has the required certifications and permits to operate an office facility. Not only does it save you on the cost of certifying your business, but you don’t need to spend your valuable time with processing permits or more money to pay someone else to do it for you.
Recruitment and Hiring is Easier, and Better
As a business owner, doing all the activities involved in recruiting and hiring your office based employees is laborious and time consuming. Like many alternatives to DIY, one of the better ways is to outsource the recruitment portion to a search and staffing company while you only deal with the hiring process. The traditional way of recruiting is done face-to-face, with the search and staffing company cull their database of CV or resumes to find a dozen or less matches, phoning them to see if they’re available or interested to work for you, and then scheduling to interview them to assess what’s written on paper is correct. The same goes for your hiring process. Once you’ve decided on a shortlist, you go through the same motion until you’ve decided on one person for the job.
Did you know that there are hundreds, if not thousands of recruitment and hiring services in the internet that’s either free or comes with a minimal fee? A simple online job board is where aspirants submit their resumes through the website and you conduct your recruitment and hiring process on your own. There are the not-too-known online job boards that are free to use, or require a minimal fee. Separately, you can also require all applicants to go through an online exam to better filter the list to “really qualified” applicants. As with online recruitment solutions, there are also online service providers that offer background investigation to your shortlist. Like bloomberg.com and a host of many online financial news and service sites, online service providers are also replacing the tradition-bound middleman in the search and staffing industry.
If your business doesn’t require face time with your customers, then there’s no need to go through the trouble of meeting up to hire your new employees. In fact, you’ve just widened your leads because you are not anymore bound by a small geographic location. If your sales team need only to speak to customers over the phone and communicate by e-mail or other message-bound means, again, there’s no point of keeping a small prospect list of applicants because of geography. And here’s one more: you’re opening the doors to home bound moms and dads who can take care of the family and still have a decent paying job.
One thing that also comes into mind is increasing the number of home based employees you need to hire but cutting their work hours by half. Why? Tardiness and absenteeism. In a regular office environment, you may not be able to do that. But in a home based working model, you can now create shifts per employee if your business doesn’t warrant a one-on-one relationship with your customers. The other benefit is redundancy. If one employee is absent or goes on vacation leave, you don’t need to burden another employee with additional work. Simply ask one or more of your employees to extend his work hours. Extending work hours is not additional work – there’s a difference to “adding work.” Besides, the extended hours means more income for the employee and there’s a bigger chance of happily accepting it than grudgingly.
My last suggestion under this category is a list of requirements you need to enforce with your home based workforce. Rather than make this already-long writeup even long, you can find this list in a previous article I wrote entitled “”
No More Office Furniture and Fixtures Means Huge Savings
It’s an obvious savings to not renting office space. So, you can now use that big savings on marketing, sales materials, additional employees, additional employee benefits or even subsidize the cost of doing work of each employee in their home office. Whatever you decide, the totality benefits your business.
Find a Real Cloud Solution
The cloud service or solution replaces many of the hardware, software and staff it costs to own and operate your own data storage, customer contact system (by phone and messages), human resources system, office accounting system, and a host of other enterprise systems. There are many free services which provides access through desktops, notebooks or laptops, tablets and mobile phones. However, free doesn’t necessarily mean “everything on it” but there are some who do.
You don’t have to be a geek to understand what’s available. Many business owners who are not tech savvy often make the mistake of getting involved in the cloud based app that doesn’t fit their business model. One reason for this happening is starting with the app before the business process. As the business owner, you know your business process inside and out. Start with that. Try slicing the entire process into one or two levels down. Then, for each item in each level, find the cloud solution that fits your process.
For example, I mentioned a while back as a replacement to the PBX machine. Instead of buying and maintaining a piece of equipment you are not familiar with, outsource its functionality with a cloud based version like . Instead of spending money on capital expense, you’re converting everything to an operational expense. There are some that disagree with the notion of saving money by not buying something you will use for your business because owning is so different from renting. But as a start up business owner or one who is starting a new sales, marketing, service or support campaign, you do not have that magic crystal ball that will tell you your endeavor will become successful and continue for three years. That being said (or written), a calculated risk to initiate your campaign means renting, not owning. After a period of a few months or so, you will know or have that “gut feel” that your endeavor will continue for more than a year. That’s the only time you should decide to invest on capital equipment.
Going back to my example, is a replacement of your office PBX but in a better form. For one, it’s easy to configure, just like learning how to use your iPhone, which by the way doesn’t come with a user’s manual. Being a cloud based system, adding and changing profiles and functions can be done anywhere you have internet access. Your entire home based workforce also have access to it though in limited means depending on how you configured it to function. The cloud means using the internet; therefore, everyone doesn’t need a subscribed telephone line to talk to customers, suppliers and each other – you are employing the use of VoIP or simply “voice over the internet.” The big difference with Vonage and the like, is full of features large call center companies normally require, giving you now the power beyond simple PBX function, like calls are intelligently routed to the right person at the right time, all calls are recorded (which is good for order-entry conversations), you have access to dozens of predefined productivity reports and call statistics so you have the leverage to change the way you do business to make you and your team more competitive, efficient and results-effective, people with admin rights can monitor live calls on whisper mode (you can talk and only your employee will hear you, not the customer at the end of the other line) or barge mode (both your employee and customer can hear you talk), and so much more features and functions.
“Is it expensive?” Actually, it’s free! Unlike its competitors, will not require you to sign a term-based contract, ask you for upfront deposits per user license, require you to pay a monthly subscription per license, or tell you you have to pay an upfront one-time set up fee before you can start using the cloud based app. For you to begin testing it or quickly go live, comes with 120 minutes free. When you need more talk-time minutes, simply pay online (you can also wire transfer the amount of prepaid minutes you require). That’s what a cloud based business app should be, not the greedy-looking versions that ask you to pay-up before you use it, which also feels like you’re already buying the system, not leasing or subscribing to it.
The glaring end result of using cloud based application software and services is savings. The next in the row are efficiency, convenience and the effective delivery of goods and services to your customer. The “anytime, anywhere” paradigm is today’s customer demand – your customers demand you to be awake 24×7. Without the cloud, you would have to set this up traditionally and very costly. Hence, after cost-savings, efficiency, convenience and effective delivery, old customers become more loyal that they repeat orders in increasing frequency, new customers become happy that they are quickly transformed as loyal customers, and the art of creating customers for life becomes a reality. With that, you leverage the cloud to generate more sales, increase revenue and the best income stream possible.
Cloud computing is the way to go. GoAutoDial Inc., the developers of , blogged about it with the title “,” citing statistics that “small business owners plan to work remotely for an average of 18 days this summer.” The study also added, “Telephone and video conferencing have become ingrained in the work habits of small business owners, since nearly half of the survey respondents say traditional, in-person meetings are becoming less relevant.”
At the end of thinking about it, researching and planning your cloud strategy, you will realize that you may be implementing one that involves a few different cloud based applications and vendors. That’s okay. Each cloud solution has its own expert or key advantage and, like most things in the world, there is no one person, group or product that can do it all. Use the best but also consider cost and ease of usage. In my almost three decades of working, I’ve come to repeat this undying adage of how it should be in the business world, whether you’re talking about products or services:
The intent of the product, service or organization is to always make it “very easy” – very easy to start, very easy to use or stay, and very easy to earn or gain from. Simple. If the product or service doesn’t match all three rules, forget it. It’s only going to be a headache, operationally, financially or worse – both!
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