Friday, 28 February 2014

The Cloud for Freelancers, Consultants and Small Businesses

There are many advantages to moving your business processes into software applications but what is the Cloud and why should you seriously take a look at what’s on offer?

The Cloud

No it doesn’t refer to the big white fluffy things in the sky. In reality it means a range of hosted services that are stored remotely and accessed via the internet. The benefits of using cloud based applications are generally the same:
  • No installation of software of your PC 
  • No large upfront costs 
  • Backup of your data is taken care of for you 
  • Multiple users accessing the same set of data 
  • Real time updates 
Adding to this the specific services for that application is what puts them into specific categories. No one knows for certain who invented the idea but it was only when Google, Microsoft and Apple started packaging these applications into the term ‘The Cloud’ that there was a boom in cloud based technology.

Some people embrace new technology with eagerness whilst others are reluctant to change and may be suspicious. In my experience not all cloud based software or the companies that provide them are equal. Some offer great features but aren’t user friendly or intuitive to navigate. I recommend researching a few different providers and testing them out before committing yourself. Many have free trials for limited period. In reference to security you need to satisfy yourself that the provider you select is a reputable company, with good customer service, excellent security and that you can download your data, if you wish. Your information is valuable so make sure you feel confident.

Here is a quick overview of the ones I recommend:

Time Tracking

FREE for freelancers Paymo is a useful time tracking software if you charge by the hour or simply wish to track your timed projects. Add your clients and projects with tasks and budgets, run reports and raise invoices. It has a desktop widget so you can keep track of time spent easily. Your customers may also have a link if you wish. Harvest is another online time tracking software.

Mileage Trackers

Miles or Tripcatcher plus other mobile apps can track your business mileage by GPS, making billing or claiming business miles easier. Some will email you a report where others will submit an expense claim directly into your accounts software.


Xero is shaking up the accounting software industry with clever features such as bank feeds, easy reconciling, bank rules, online invoices with easy “pay now” buttons, updates when invoices have been viewed online, attach source files to documents, financial data, mobile app and much more. It is clever and, dare I say, checking your accounts becomes a little addictive.

File storage & backup

Online file storage has its uses if you want to access files whilst travelling, or perhaps if colleagues from a different office need access to them too. This saves emailing documents back and forth and avoids the potential issue of different versions being used. Microsoft Sharepoint, SkyDrive and DropBox offer online storage. DropBox makes sharing files and folders very easy and if you download DropBox on your computer when a file has been uploaded or amended a notification pops up on your screen. With different access options so you can share a document as view only, or share an entire folder you control how you do it.

Backing up your data online means that if the worst should happen the data can be recovered and you can be back up and running quickly. When I was looking for backup software Mozy was highly rated. Very easy to use you select the folders you want to backup and the frequency and it will automatically backup your files, working away in the background. Be sure it works and check that you can access the data – you would be surprised how many people don’t test it out.

Finally, always bear in mind that any online software needs strong passwords. The provider may have the best security but if your password is weak you could be asking for trouble.

For me, I’ve found moving to cloud based applications has been a revelation in how I run my business and how I’ve impacted positively on my customers’ business administration and processes. Once you open your mind to integrating or connecting software together you begin to “wonder if there’s an app for this” and what possibilities there are for streamlining your admin.

Angie Major

About Blueberry Business

Blueberry are Xero Certified Advisors and can help with Xero setup, conversion and training as well as setting up systems to make you efficient and save time.

Article originally published in CRGCP

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