In this prolonged recession, small businesses are finding a greater need than ever to streamline expenses and cautiously plan for future growth. While not even financial analysts can truly predict when the economy will turn around, it’s clear that the businesses that will capture an increased market share will be those that have effectively improved their efficiency and accelerated their ability to communicate with their customers.
There are certainly a variety of strategies that small businesses can take to weather the current economic climate and prepare for the future. These include embracing two new technologies, cloud computing and VoIP. Both have the ability to significantly increase profits while improving efficiencies and reducing expenses.
Cloud computing is simply using software and data on the Internet (in the cloud) instead of on a hard drive. What are the benefits? With cloud computing, the need for expensive hardware, software, and even IT support staff is greatly reduced. Instead, all is required is a connection to the Internet. Applications can be used and files can be stored in the cloud without having to bog down business hard drives. Time is also saved because there is no longer a need for lengthy installations and updates. Software as a Service (SaaS) is readily available from a wide variety of providers, and business applications that were once only available to large corporations can now be easily accessed and used by small businesses. Cloud computing also enables users to log on anywhere there is an Internet connection to access files. For businesses that have virtual employees or outside sale staff, the benefits can be substantial.
Like cloud computing, VoIP (voice over internet protocol) is an innovative technology that is delivering measurable benefits to businesses of all sizes. VoIP enables users to take advantage of free domestic and international calling. It works similar to a telephone line, but instead of going through a line plugged into the wall, calls are placed with an internet connection. By simply downloading VoIP software from a provider, anyone can begin to immediately make free calls to nearly anywhere in the world for free.
Unlike many other new technologies, VoIP doesn’t require expensive, initial investment in equipment. Once you’ve downloaded the software to a PC, calls can be made from a telephone linked to the Internet, a USB phone, or with a headset attached to the computer. If a computer has a built-in microphone and speakers, no equipment is necessary at all.
To cater to small businesses, some VoIP service providers are offering a variety of other value-added services along with free calling. These include instant messaging with presence that lets contacts know of employees’ availability, and multi-user voice conferencing that enables conference calls for up to five participants with prior reservations.
Of course, with both cloud computing and VoIP, it pays to do your homework before choosing a provider. There are growing numbers of companies offering these services, and not all of them deliver on their promises. In general, it’s a good idea to stick with the providers that have been around the longest and have taken the time to develop their infrastructure and customer support capabilities.