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Cloud computing for business – grab these free services during Covid-19

5-minute read

Jessie Day

22 April 2020

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From phone automation to collaboration and cloud storage for business, SMEs are turning to the cloud for support during the coronavirus outbreak.

Many platforms are upgrading or making their tools free, but which cloud services for small businesses are right for you? Here’s how to use the cloud smartly during Covid-19, and how cloud computing works.

Covid-19 has highlighted the need for widespread adaptation, laying aside outdated, manual ways of working in favour of secure, internet-based tools, built to handle everything from your accounting and invoicing to meetings and quick chat options. All of this, and a lot more, is easy to set up in minutes, thanks to cloud computing for business.

But what is the cloud? How does cloud computing work? And what benefits does it give a small business like yours? Read our Covid-19 business cloud support tips for details on what’s available (and free) right now.

How does the cloud work?

What is the cloud and how does it work? Like with so many buzzwords, it’s something most of us (especially small businesses) use every day, but struggle to explain.

Quick definition: Cloud computing means using the internet to store and get hold of data, instead of your own hard drive, server or things like disc technology.

Cloud computing example: years ago you might have used your computer to store your photos, saving them from your camera using a USB cable. Using the cloud, you’re now able to take a picture on your phone and automatically upload it to a cloud-based photo storage solution, such as:

Cloud computing is almost the opposite of using your hard drive, because it lets you store and run lots of data and tasks remotely (somewhere up in the cloud), rather than locally (on your physical computer).

The cloud lets you access your data anytime, anywhere and from a whole range of devices. That’s another key difference between using the cloud and storing or running things locally on a piece of kit or hard drive. You can be in your kitchen accessing your accounting, even if the files are nowhere near.

So, what are the main uses of cloud computing? Keep reading for our top cloud-based systems, and some of the key options to look out for.

1. Cloud storage for business (keeping your files safe)

It’s worth highlighting just how powerful business cloud storage in itself can be, especially when you’ve been forced into a more online world.

The key benefit to remember with cloud storage is that you, your employees or colleagues, customers and suppliers will have access to files and data without having them physically to hand.

For example, your accountant doesn’t need access to your computer, or an emailed, password-protected file, to see your expenses. Instead, you can both use a cloud-based accounting option like Google Sheets to view and collaborate on your finance data, using a simple security set-up. It allows you to share files and data – looking at everything together, while on the phone or Zoom, if you like – making edits that you can both see, in real-time, without being in the same room.

For this reason, and many others, cloud business storage has become a crucial tool during worldwide Covid-19 lockdowns.

Benefits of cloud storage

Here are our top benefits of cloud computing storage for business, during Covid-19 and beyond:

1 Accessibility: your data is accessible anytime, anywhere and from lots of devices

2 Remote working: from the next room in your house to across the globe, you can share your files and data instantly (no need for a clunky email chain or gathering around a screen)

3 Cost savings: Cloud storage generally comes with smart payment plans, subscriptions and options, depending on your business size and requirements. You won’t be paying for traditional hardware (beyond the device you’re using) or replacement, or expensive subscriptions and upgrades for built-in software.

Another big benefit of cloud storage is that most applications you’ll be using will automatically update to the latest version, sometimes on a weekly or daily basis, without you even noticing.

2. Cloud accounting

Instead of relying on a desktop accounting system (where all your files and accounting system sit on a single computer), cloud accounting systems are accessed through the internet.

You can use any device to get hold of the information you need, at any time, as long as you have a connection. Some systems will even let you access and make edits offline (without an internet connection), and update everything when you’re online again.

Another key benefit of cloud accounting is the ability to share – you can check your data with your accountant, making edits together, even if you’re on opposite sides of the world. Read our best accounting software for small business comparison guide for the top options in 2020.

Free Covid-19 business cloud support: Cloud accounting software provider FreeAgent has launched a new feature, Radar, to help businesses cut down on admin and get day-to-day financial support. The service breaks down the tasks you need to complete for ship-shape finances, along with insights such as your top customers (in sales) for the last half year.

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3. Collaboration (and remote working)

From the very start of the coronavirus crisis, collaboration has been key to almost every industry. Whether it’s with a business partner stranded in a different continent, the shop next door to yours or your child’s Year 6 teacher, being able to work together, share resources and get jobs done is reshaping the working landscape.

Cloud collaboration tools have been popular for years, but with so many people now working from home, coronavirus has nudged lots of providers into offering products for free.

Free Covid-19 business cloud support: Lots of these products come with a basic-function freebie option, but during the crisis many have been developed to offer additional ‘paid-for’ features for free. You’d usually need to do a paid upgrade to access these.

For a basic starting point, take a look at:

  • Google’s advanced Hangouts Meet (which now includes access for larger meetings and increased live streaming options)
  • chat and collaboration tool Slack (whose paid version is now free for anyone directly supporting the Covid-19 response)
  • videoconferencing app Zoom

Even if you don’t qualify for the extended free options, these apps could be worth the investment, if you’re looking to collaborate quickly with clients and colleagues, and keep business moving.

4. Task automation

We all know the benefits of delegating, but it can be difficult to put into practice. When you’ve built a business up and know ‘your way’ of doing things inside out, handing that over can be work in itself.

But whether you’ve had to scale back your team or up-size your to-do list, coronavirus has meant that businesses need more help. Task automation frees owners and workers up to get on with newly critical jobs, like applying for financial support and pivoting their activities.

Cloud automation tools take everyday tasks (from marketing to invoicing) off your hands, keeping your data safe in the cloud and churning out the jobs you don’t have time for. Take a look at our support tips below for a few cloud-basedplatforms worth looking into.

Free Covid-19 business cloud support: Expense management platform Expend are offering full access for free, for up to 20 users, until September 2020, including an automatic invoice feature. The same applies to freelance career resource platform UnderPinned, who are now including portfolio and proposal builders, project management tools and automated invoices in their basic plan.

Need to automate your invoicing? There’s also our 7 best invoice apps for small business guide to get into – lots of these have specific Covid-19 support available, for free.

For your social media marketing, Adzooma’s services will be completely free until 1 June, and help desk software company Freshworks are offering all sorts of options in cloud-telephony, inbound/outbound communication and automated call tasks and insights.

Which cloud-based technology, app or tool has helped you most during coronavirus? Let us know in the comments below.

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