Thursday, November 15, 2012

Top 5 Free Cloud Computing Programs for Entrepreneurs

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When you think of cloud computing, you might focus on the external servers that store all of your company’s data in a secure location somewhere in cyberspace. And while that’s certainly part of the equation, the cloud is a lot more than just storage. The web is full of free (or low cost) programs and applications that entrepreneurs can use to run their businesses more efficiently. Whether you need human resources management, bookkeeping or simple organization, there is something in the cloud that will work for you.

1. Dropbox

Busy entrepreneurs need simple, easy to manage storage solutions – and Dropbox provides what many believe to be the most user-friendly cloud storage service. While Dropbox offers a paid version, more than 95 percent of users opt for the free service, which provides up to 2GB of free storage. The interface is simple: drag and drop your files into your Dropbox account, and then access them on any computer or device with the software installed. Users can share files with other users easily and if you need to send a file to someone without a Dropbox account, the program offers a simple “send link” feature.

2. Zoho

Whether you need to create direct mail campaigns, manage human resources, organize your books or even create tests and quizzes to screen potential employees, Zoho has an app for you. In fact, Zoho offers a complete line of more than two dozen applications that allow you to manage all aspects of your business from anywhere. All of the applications have free versions, with paid versions offering more storage, functionality or user access. However, for small businesses without the funds to invest in hardware and software – plus the training and staff – to manage these functions, Zoho keeps them organized and on track for you.

3. Evernote

Entrepreneurs have ideas – and Evernote helps keep them straight. This free app – which connects your PC and your Android or Apple device – allows you to save files, photographs, audio and written notes, webpages and more, and organize them by date, place, keyword and more. You can share your notes and files with others to collaborate, and all of your data is automatically synced among all of your devices, so you can access it whenever you need it. Evernote is the ideal cloud solution for busy entrepreneurs who need and want to keep track of inspiration and manage the endless flow of information coming their way.

4. Google Apps

Google is a leader in the world of cloud computing, so it should come as no surprise that GoogleApps is the gold standard when it comes to free cloud services. While GoogleApps for Business does charge a fee ($50 per year per user, a bargain when compared to other, similar services), the personal version, ideal for small businesses with fewer than ten employees, is free and robust. GoogleApps offers customized web-based email addresses, calendars and up to 5GB of document storage, which allows your entire team to stay in touch and work from anywhere. GoogleApps can also be synchronized to your mobile devices, giving you the ultimate in flexibility and productivity.

5. Outright

Ask any entrepreneur which task he or she dreads the most, and chances are they will tell you bookkeeping – especially around tax time. With the Outright free cloud-based accounting app, bookkeeping is simplified, and you can access your financial data from wherever you are. You simply link the program to your online accounts – everything from your bank and PayPal to your Etsy shop – and let the program pull information for you, where it will organize it into IRS-approved categories and create easy-to-understand reports and tax documents. The Outright iPhone app also allows you to keep track of your money on the go, notifying you of new transactions and providing the option to track your mileage.  

Nearly every day it seems that a new and exciting app or program is released, with promises to revolutionize the way entrepreneurs do business. Only you can determine which programs and services will work best for your business, but explore some of these options – you might discover a better way to run your business, in addition to saving time and money.


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