Over the past few years, cloud computing has changed the way that organizations treat their IT assets. In the past year, however, the power of cloud computing has filtered down to the consumer level. Today, cloud computing offers you a number of amazing possibilities, including almost-unlimited flexibility.
Using free cloud-based tools, you can work just about anywhere you have an Internet connection, and often with just about any Internet-enabled device. You just need to know where to look to find the right tool to do the job.
Here are some of the kinds of cloud-based tools you can use to become truly mobile, and some ideas about where to look to find the one that’s best for you:
- Online storage. Let’s start with something basic: you need to be able to create and store documents, presentations, spreadsheets, images, or whatever else it is that you work with on a daily basis. In short, you need a cloud-based storage provider. There are a number of services out there to pick from, and which you choose depends on how you intend to use it. For example, if you need to collaborate with others on a team, the solution from Box.net is fairly robust for a free tool (and the paid version offers even more collaboration). If you need storage that’s accessible from the web, desktops, laptops, smartphones, or tablets, Dropbox might be a better option. Google Drive has just hit the scene as well, and may become a major contender.
- Office applications. Speaking of Google, if you need cloud-based document creation capabilities Google Docs is a good choice. You can create spreadsheets and documents that are compatible with most major formats using the service, without having to install a full office client.
- Social media management. If social media is part of what you do – and most folks in small business need to really be taking advantage of social media right now – you need a platform from which to manage all of your social media activity. Hootsuite fits that bill, although there are certainly other options out there.
- Cloud based audio and video communications. Communicating with clients, vendors, colleagues, employees, and more is a snap in the cloud. Perhaps the best-known option here is Skype, and the free version lets you do just about anything you’d like to do apart from group video calling (for that you’ll need a Skype subscription). Google+ offers hangouts for video or audio chatting in the cloud, too.
- Customer Relationship Management. For a cloud-based approach to CRM, there are some free tools out there. That said, you’ll almost always be better off using Salesforce.com. Salesforce is the market leader, and for good reasons; the features it boasts put the rest to shame.