May 3, 2011

11 Cloud Apps to Make Your Small Business Run Like a Big Business

Building Your Business on the Cloud

Today's cloud computing applications give small businesses access to technology that only enterprises could afford in the past. Part of this is a matter of cost: Cloud subscriptions are typically much cheaper than traditional software licensing fees. And since the application and data live on the cloud provider's systems, subscribers don't need anything more than a Web browser to access and use them. That makes expensive IT staffing, hardware, maintenance, and upgrade costs a thing of the past.
With so many cloud-based services available, however, you still have to tackle one tough question: Where should you start? That's why we've sifted through the options to identify 11 cloud-based applications that allow small businesses to run like big ones. We also filtered out cloud providers that played coy about their service plans and pricing -- small business owners shouldn't have to field sales calls just to find out how much these things cost.
From helping you identify and track customers to managing inventory and improving your website, these cloud applications will give your business the boost it needs. Better yet, they'll do it at a great price.

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1. Salesforce.com Sales Cloud

Perhaps the granddaddy of business-oriented cloud services, Salesforce.com's Sales Cloud provides real-time information to support your company's sales efforts. The core of the offering is its suite of customer relationship management tools for recording and sharing information about customers and contacts, allowing you to update deal information, record interactions, and so on. It also includes Salesforce.com's Chatter collaboration platform, a way for team members to keep up with each other's activities. If that's not enough, the Salesforce.com AppExchange makes more than a thousand applications available to extend its native features.
The basic Sales Cloud Contact Manager version, which supports up to five users, costs $5 per user per month; the Group version adds opportunity tracking, the ability to capture leads from your website, and dashboards for $25 per user per month. Finally, for $65 per user per month, you can step up to a version that offers contract management, analytics, and more.

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2. Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is another CRM tool, this one from a well-known provider of cloud productivity applications. Zoho CRM tracks your contacts and accounts, and it stores a complete relationship history, including any deals completed. It also provides tools for generating leads from email campaigns, visits to your website, and trade show contacts, along with the ability to assign follow-up activities to sales personnel.
The free version of Zoho CRM supports up to three users with lead and contact management and website lead capture; the Professional version, intended for SMBs, adds inventory management, sales quotes, invoices, and other features for $12 per user per month.

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3. Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free tool for tracking website performance, letting you monitor traffic and analyze it according to a variety of criteria. You can see where your visitors are coming from and how they navigate your site, enabling you to assess whether your advertising and site design are working to drive visitors to the pages (and business opportunities!) you want them to see.





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4. Constant Contact

Don't believe the email-is-dead hype; email remains one of the most common, and most cost-effective, ways to generate leads and drive customers to your website. That makes email campaign management a vital business activity -- and it also makes Constant Contact, one of the oldest and best-known email marketing services, one of our top cloud software picks.
Constant Contact lets you manage mailing lists with templates for creating attractive and attention-getting messages. The service also provides tools for conducting online surveys and marketing events, letting you issue invitations and track responses. Pricing is by service: Send an unlimited number of emails to up to 500 addresses a month for $15 per month, or up to 5,000 addresses for $50 per month. (Intermediate plans are also available.) Surveys cost $15 per month for unlimited surveys with up to 5,000 responses, and you can run up to five open events per month for $15 (with unlimited invitations) or up to 10 events per month for $30.

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5. LoopFuse OneView

Like Constant Contact, LoopFuse manages email campaigns, but it also offers a good deal more. The service provides tools to support inbound marketing, which is the process of analyzing where visitors to your site are coming from and which search engine keywords are driving the most traffic. LoopFuse also provides a lead scoring system with rules to qualify how "live" a lead is according to criteria you set up, such as how much time they spend on your site. In addition, LoopFuse integrates with third-party software such as Web publishing and CRM systems (including Salesforce.com).
A free LoopFuse account lets you manage up to 1,000 prospects and 25,000 users, while the $350-per-month plan manages up to 10,000 prospects. Other plans go up in number and price from there. All of the plans include the same set of features.



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6. InstantPresenter

One good way to grow your business and generate leads is to host your own online events. InstantPresenter provides a Web conferencing system that covers all the bases. It supports event promotion through Facebook and Twitter, handles registration (including payment processing with PayPal), provides a shared whiteboard for annotating slides during the presentation, and stores your webcasts and webinars for online access or purchase later. It also offers various mechanism for soliciting feedback from attendees, including emoticons for during the presentation and surveys for afterward.
For $48 per month, you'll get the ability to host meetings with up to 25 attendees. You can bump that up to 50 attendees for $78 per month, with additional service levels and pricing that go up from there. InstantPresenter also offers less expensive voice-only conferencing plans.

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7. Google Apps for Business

The basic Google Apps suite is a familiar set of online productivity applications: a calendar, an office suite, and a collaborative website builder. But what really makes Google Apps for Business a worthwhile investment is that it's a platform for a host of other business applications from other vendors. In the Google Apps Marketplace, you can find third-party document management tools, CRM and marketing tools, accounting, project management, and much more. In fact, you could (and some folks do) pretty much run an entire business with software built on the Google Apps platform.
Google Apps for Business costs $50 per user account per year. Expect to pay a bit more, however, for most add-on services or expert support available from the Apps Marketplace.

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8. SEO Chat Tools

This is an odd one -- it's not a single application like the others on this list. Rather, it's a collection of free (ad-supported) tools to help you get your website recognized by search engines. In other words, these apps are search engine optimization tools. Examples include the Advanced Meta Tag Generator, which generates a list of meta tags based on information you provide about your site, formatted and ready to paste into your site's code, as well as the Keyword Typo Generator, which gives a list of likely human misspellings for your keywords so you can buy those, too. This set of tools will help you fine-tune your site for maximum performance. And did we mention they're free?


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9. Egnyte Hybrid Cloud Solution

There are lots of online storage and backup options out there -- Carbonite and Mozy are probably the best known for online backup, while Dropbox is popular as a file server and syncing solution. Egnyte handles all three of those tasks itself, providing an online file server and automatic backup from local computers. But Egnyte goes a step further by adding the Office Local Cloud, which lets you set up a Netgear ReadyNAS network-attached storage device as a speedy local server and have it automatically sync with the cloud.
The Egnyte online backup and file server starts at $10 per month, but that gives you a mere 20GB of storage space and licenses to automatically back up two computers; for $25 per month, you get 150GB and backup for 10 computers. The Office Local Cloud is an additional $40 per month per NAS -- and, of course, the NAS hardware will cost extra.

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10. Intuit QuickBooks Online

As a small business, you're probably already familiar with Intuit QuickBooks accounting software. Intuit also has a cloud version of QuickBooks, which offers the benefit of not needing to install or maintain the software in your office. And since your data is being stored securely in the cloud, Intuit also takes care of daily backups. Customer support is included, as is access from multiple locations and even from mobile devices.
The QuickBooks Online Essential plan costs $25 per month; it covers three users and your accountant. The $40 per month plan covers five users and your accountant, and it adds budgeting, time and inventory tracking, and purchase order support.





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11. Intuit QuickBase

Sooner or later, a successful business outgrows the spreadsheet approach to maintaining business data. QuickBase is a relatively inexpensive and easy way to move up to a real database that not only gives you many more ways to manage your data (generating charts, graphs, and other reports), but also makes it accessible remotely. QuickBase comes with hundreds of templates for common database applications and provides tools to build your own, if need be. For $300 per month you get room for up to 25,000 database records and access for up to 10 users, with more capable (and more expensive) plans available.



Source : 11 Cloud Apps to Make Your Small Business Run Like a Big Business

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