14 Cloud-based services to run your business on in 2011

We take a look at the software that will keep your company up-to-date, without you having to splash out

From accountancy programs to collaboration tools, the freemium model is enabling businesses to try software before they buy, or buy with a view to scaling. We take a look at the software that will keep your company up-to-date, without you having to splash out.

Accounting

Xero.com
On-the-go accounting for smaller businesses

What it does: Xero is an easy-to-use online accounting system designed specifically for small businesses. It combines many applications and presents them in a single bundle. It includes accounting, contract management, expenses, payments and related modules, which can be accessed through a single interface and from a smartphone Pros: Navigation between pages is straightforward Cons: Aimed at smaller companies, so fast-growth businesses may quickly outgrow it What it competes with: Sage, Kashflow, Intuit Costs/pricing model: Free 30-day trial, then £12 to £24 per month, depending on the level of service required Web address:www.xero.com

BrightPearl
Web-based software without the need to transfer information

What it does: BrightPearl allows companies to run business processes without the need to transfer information between sales, contract and website software. It is web-based, so can support multiple users Pros: Being online allows users to access data anywhere. It’s easy to set up and migrate data from an old customer relationship marketing system, while it can be integrated with other applications, such as Google Apps and WordPress Cons: Inflexible pricing structure What it competes with: clarityaccounting, tradeshift, Crunch Costs/pricing model: Free 30-day trial, then £20 per month Web address:www.brightpearl.co.uk

Documents

Google Apps
Access a full suite of communication and collaboration tools

What it does: Provides a free range of communication and collaboration tools, including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Talk and Google Video Pros: With Google Apps being in the cloud, it means that your team can access emails, shared documents, contacts and company calendars from anywhere in the world, as long as there is an internet connection. Jason Trost, chief executive and co-founder of Smarkets, says: “We find it replaces the need to manage email, calendar, documents and contacts by an IT department.” It can also be integrated into a company’s back office system Cons: Its over-reliance on Google What it competes with: Microsoft Office, Outlook, Lotus Notes Costs/pricing model: Free for up to 50 users, then $50 per user per year Web address:www.googleapps.com

CRM

gooroo
Multi-purpose CRM

What it does: The gooroo customer relationship management (CRM) software has everything you need to run your business. It helps organise customers, products, sales and staff. It also offers a range of other apps concentrating on areas such as sales and invoicing, documentation and product management. The software is tailored to the size of your company Pros: You can manage your business from any location Cons: There’s a large difference in price between the standard and premium packages What it competes with: Zoho Costs/pricing model: Free 30-day trial, then either £10 per month for the standard package or £55 per month for the premium version Web address:www.gooroo.co.uk

Doorbell
Stay on top of leads

What it does: This web-based contact and CRM system helps small and medium-sized businesses keep up with leads and create new opportunities. The system includes two permanently free CRM product offerings, Doorbell Business Starter and Doorbell Contact Manager, as well as paid-for models for larger sales teams Pros: It makes sharing information within a team straightforward, while the initial expense is low Cons: The service can get expensive for larger businesses What it competes with: Zoho, SalesForce Costs/pricing model: Free 30-day trial, with prices starting at $29 per month for the freelance package, rising to $299 per month for the enterprise version Web address:www.getdoorbell.com

Collaboration

huddle.com
Share documents with your whole team

What it does: Huddle provides file sharing, document management, meeting organisation, integrated web and phone conferencing, discussion boards, tasks and project management, custom branding, security and authorisation control Pros: Efficient interface, excellent value and provides online Microsoft Word and Excel editing Cons: Some advanced tools are missing What it competes with: Hyperoffice, Smartsheet Costs/pricing model: Free – try before you buy. Monthly prices range from $8 for a personal plan to $40 for a small team plan, $72 for a large team plan and $200 for a pro plan Web address:www.huddle.com

Evernote
Capture and record important data

What it does: Eliminates the need for paper memos by creating a record of important notes, receipts, lists, pictures, websites etc by capturing and recording them in one easily searchable location. It can save time spent searching for information as you type in a key word and Evernote will locate the file Pros: It collects all your important data in one place, saving time searching for information Cons: Space storage issues What it competes with: Zoho, iNote Costs/pricing model: Free basic model; premium model costs $5 per month or $45 per year Web address:www.evernote.com

Communication

Skype
For business for free calls

What it does: Lets you make free internet calls and cheap phone calls. Businesses can use Skype to video chat, send instant messages and share files with other Skype users Pros: Skype software is easy to use and available for Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as most mobile phones and even some TVs. You can choose an online number that people can call you on from landlines and mobile phones, which is the cheapest way to set up a second line Cons: If your computer’s turned off you won’t be able to make or receive calls. To make the most of using Skype as a second line,  you may have to buy equipment such as a USB internet phone or headset. Enterprise Nation’s Emma Jones cautions: “Call quality from Skype may suffer if your business has a slower-than-average internet connection.” What it competes with: Vonage (home internet phone that doesn’t require a PC, but does carry an activation charge and monthly fee); Cloud Net (more bespoke business offering); landline telephones Costs/pricing model: Free Skype-to-Skype calls, video calls, instant messaging and screen sharing; pay-as-you-go landline and mobile calls, SMS, Skype Web address:www.skype.com 

Content management

WordPress

A free-to-use content management system

What it does: A free online weblog and publishing application, WordPress allows users to upload blog entries in words, pictures or videos and publishes them for free Pros: Tim Parker, developer at Picklive.com, says: “It’s simple to use and set up, and contains endless possibilities for customisation, with thousands of free extra features.” Cons: It’s not possible to upload your own extras on basic accounts running on wordpress.com What it competes with: Tumblr, Blogspot, Squarespace Costs/pricing model: Free to use if hosted by the user (wordpress.org). The basic hosted service at wordpress.com charges for premium extras, such as more storage, domain name and videos. There’s also a VIP paid-for version (vip.wordpress.com) for large-scale WordPress deployments Web address:www.wordpress.org

Dropbox
A hardware-free storage area

What it does: Dropbox carries out tasks that would have taken an army of IT folk to do in the past. Users store files in the cloud and on several computers, with Dropbox providing an always-synched storage area without the need to purchase any hardware. Paul Maher from Positive Marketing says: “It’s a life-saver and the way forward for fast-growing businesses not wishing to become techies.” Pros: It’s cheap, easy to understand and set up Cons: Its usefulness may become apparent after, not before, a storage disaster What it competes with: box.net, doc.google, sharefile.com Costs/pricing model: Free to start, then $9.99 per month for the Pro50 Web address:www.dropbox.com

Marketing

Unbounce
Software that helps create webpages

What it does: Lets marketers focusing on search, banner ads, email or social media to create, publish and test promotion-specific landing pages without expert IT help Pros: “Unbounce is simple to use and set up,” says Tim Parker, developer at Picklive.com. Detailed stats are provided for each page, and you can do A/B split testing Cons: No undo feature in the editor, nor the ability to set templates or group pages on the dashboard What it competes with: PageDo, Ion Interactive, Valtira Costs/pricing model: Free to use for up to 200 unique visitors, then from $25 to $500 per month Web address:www.unbounce.com

Skimlinks
Turn affiliate marketing into revenue models

What it does: Acts as a standalone platform to help businesses to monetise their editorial content. It aggregates and automates the process of creating affiliate links, transforming affiliate marketing into a mainstream revenue model for publishers Pros: There’s no cost for publishers or businesses to add the Skimlinks code and start earning commission from advertisers Cons: Still a relatively new concept for businesses Costs/pricing model: Free Web address:www.skimlinks.com

Hosting

Bravenet
Web hosting with useful extras

What it does: Provides a hosting control panel with access to FTP, file manager, PHP, databases, email accounts and domain management. Also allows businesses to create a guestbook and forum for users, provides traffic analytics, daily data backup, virus protection and a spam filter Pros: Easy to set up where server space needs are covered in one bundle, while the option of choosing a subscription is available as and when users’ needs change Costs/pricing model: Free for 12 months, then a choice of three options from £0.90, £1.90 or £3.60 per month Web address:www.bravenet.com

one.com
Hosting solutions for smaller firms

What it does: Provides free web hosting. Three different packages are available at a minimal price depending on the amount of storage space required. The free package, however, has no restriction on site traffic Pros: The software is free or offered at a competitive price and is straightforward to set up Cons: You may find you outgrow the free model quickly Costs/pricing model: Free for one year for up to 3,000MB of hosting per month, £1.90 for 10,000MB and £3.60 for 25,000MB Web address:www.one.com  

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