5 ways the cloud can help SMBs

What does it signify when even NYSE’s Capital Market Platform moves to the cloud?

It means that, ever so slowly, IT networks managed by large companies seem to be shrinking. Meanwhile small and medium businesses have reduced operations right down to the web browsers, mobile devices, and virtual collaboration.

Small businesses no longer look at investing in hardware, software, and full-blown datacenters. They look at SaaS solutions and plug right in, where they need to, and pay as they go.

For SMBs, the cloud has a lot going for it thanks to the downright reduction in costs, ease of use, and high scalability. No risks. No huge overheads. Nothing in the sense of heavy lifting IT servers and maintenance. Here’s how exactly the cloud serves small and medium businesses:

Marketing, almost all of it

As businesses shift from traditional marketing to digital marketing, almost everything that falls into the marketing and advertising has now moved to the cloud. From semi-automation to creating digital marketing assets; from lead generation to lead management; from deploying actual paid advertising through online medium to managing campaigns.

The cloud has been a blessing for marketers. While the costs are predictable and low, marketing itself can be scaled up or down as businesses need to. Managing campaigns and sales teams is now just as straightforward as checking mail. While solutions like Infusionsoft move in to cover most of your marketing needs almost on an automated basis, plenty of other tools exist specifically to full up your marketing needs. Everything now lives on the cloud.

Finance, accounting, and payroll

So there was a time when human resources, accounting, and financial departments would extend fingers into all sorts of tasks and collaborate to keep a business up and running. You’d have needed experts then.

The cloud, however, is moving towards the “anyone can do this” revolution of sorts. Small and medium businesses now have access to tools and solutions that make it really easy to manage end-to-end finances, accounting, and payroll.

Some of these tools also extend a helping hand with respect to cash flow management, invoicing, receivables, quotes, proposals, and much more. As we write this, some of these tools – from simple invoicing solutions such as Freshbooks, Xero, and Intuit all the way to enterprise level applications like Intacct.com– are evolving and changing the way you do business.

Storage and archiving

We have come a long way from tapes and disks. Even the external disks now seem old-fashioned with a ton of options with respect to cloud storage and automated backups.

While that remains a great story, companies of all sizes now have access to the same world-class storage and archiving solutions. These solutions also extend specifically into storage and archiving for niche purposes such as email, documents, files, and plenty of other use cases.

A SpiceWorks study reveals that over 48 per cent of professionals were already using cloud services in 2012. About half of these professionals plan to use online backup and recovery services. Further, disaster recovery is another little benefit that small and medium businesses benefit from. According to the folks at The Network Pro who alludes to an Aberdeen report, businesses with cloud-based backup and storage solutions suffer 2.5 disaster recovery events compared to about 3.1 events on an average for businesses that don’t use the cloud for disaster recovery.

Say goodbye to on-premise, traditional backup and say hello to online backup. Of course, you can backup and then do it again. Did we mention that you never have to worry about technical support again?

Social communities, engagement, and CRM

You are in business for profits. Managing customers is one of those things you do to sustain profits. Spreadsheets and some sort of ancient method to manage customers were never effective anyway (do you realize that spreadsheets could go belly up or get stolen). The cloud, as usual, comes to rescue by ushering a revolution in the form of CRM solutions.

From the likes of Base CRM, which has a focus on small and medium businesses all the way to Salesforce.com and SugarCRM.com, the CRM market has dearth of a solution that suits your business needs.

Meanwhile, there’s a rush for engaging with communities today for branding, engagement, traction, and a host of other advantages. Community management now doesn’t require vast amounts of space on servers and a full-time community management staff. All that you need is a tool like QHub or Get Satisfaction and you could just plug and play.

As for collaboration, that’d single handedly be nominated for the best use case for cloud computing, if ever. With plenty of virtual collaboration and project management tools, work moved to the cloud as well. Projects can be managed virtual, payment solutions went virtual, and mandatory physical presence of teams is almost history.

Customer support and infrastructure scaling

From the likes of Uservoice to ZenDesk, customer support is now on the cloud. Small and medium businesses can leverage the power of hosted support platforms and reduce their investments that go for managing teams of agents for support. In addition, social media networks like Twitter also help as an easy way to stay in touch with customers and handle queries.

Finally, the cloud gives growing businesses the possibility in scaling up infrastructure such as moving to virtualisation, pulling in resources when needed, and remote IT support on demand.

Here’s what the cloud did to businesses: instead of worrying about storage space, setting up and managing servers, keeping a legion of IT staff on rolls, and building infrastructure, businesses do much better when they focus on things that matter – operations, marketing, and support.

How do you think the cloud helps small and medium businesses? What have been some of the greatest gifts from the cloud? How do you think the cloud changed the way you run your own business? Share your thoughts with us. Tell us what you are doing (or not doing) on the cloud.

Mary Prescott is working as a community manager at WorkZone – A web-based project management software company. She is @MaryP_WZ on Twitter. When she’s not working, you’ll find her reading fiction or hiking with her dog.