At frevvo, we sell cloud-based mobile web forms and approval workflows. But, we’re a small business ourselves and we LOVE the cloud. We use many cloud services to lower costs and accelerate our own business. We love ease of deployment, pay-as-you-go, smartphone access, no infrastructure headaches etc.
So, what are the key cloud services that we use?
- Infrastructure: We use Amazon Web Services (AWS). EC2 for compute, S3 for storage and RDS for the database. Obviously, as a cloud vendor, having a solid infrastructure is critical. AWS has been effective for us though we’re fast approaching the point where we need a dedicated Infrastructure Engineer.
- Email: This is a no-brainer and no SMB has any business operating their own email. We use GMail. It’s easy and low cost, well supported and reliable. But in addition, for us, one of the biggest advantages is the fantastic Search (something to expect from a Google service). It’s super easy to quickly find relevant emails and that’s a huge plus.
- CRM: We use salesforce.com. There are now many alternatives and, if we were choosing today, we might pick something nicely integrated with GMail. Salesforce has plenty of quirks and headaches and can also quickly get quite expensive but a disciplined sales and lead management process is so important that this is no place to skimp. Besides, our own frevvo forms are integrated with salesforce.com (see below) and that’s a big deal.
- Billing: Freshbooks has worked brilliantly for us. We don’t have to worry about credit cards and PCI compliance, it’s drop dead simple to use, works overseas (we have customers all over the world) and it’s very affordable. Some kind of cloud billing system is a no-brainer for SMBs.
- Email Marketing: We went with Constant Contact though there didn’t seem to be much difference between them and many of the other vendors out there. For us, Salesforce integration was the deciding factor though it’s so horribly buggy that we’ve turned it off. We simply export our contacts from Salesforce to Excel and import them. It’s not automatic but works well enough for our needs.
- Web Analytics: No question here. Every company has a website and you need to see what’s going on. Google Analytics is free, extremely detailed and well supported. One huge recent problem is Google’s encrypting of the search keyword (the infamous “not provided” issue) but that’s not a Google Analytics issue.
- Customer Service: We’ve been using Salesforce. It’s nice that it’s integrated with the CRM side of things but it’s been quite limiting. We’re experimenting with Zendesk and think we’ll probably switch for more effective customer support. One of the biggest issues with Salesforce is the inability for our customers to create and track their own tickets easily.
- Online Documents: Sharing documents has always been important. Where possible, we avoid e-mailing Word, Excel, PDF around but sometimes you can’t avoid it. We’ve been mostly using Google Drive – it’s by far the cheapest choice and very convenient for sharing internal documents for quick and easy collaboration. Externally and for large files, we use Dropbox.
- Online Meetings / Webinars: We use GoToMeeting for online meetings and GoToWebinar for webinars. Easy to use, inexpensive and [usually] quite reliable. Even though we’re small we’re distributed across multiple locations on 3 continents so sharing screens, built-in audio and video conferencing are essential. GTM works well. Of course, we also use Skype, IM (GTalk, MSN …) and the host of other chat tools out there.
- Phone System: Skype’s very popular, of course and they offer inexpensive Internet calling. But, it’s simply not good enough to be considered “a landline”. We currently use VOIP services from 8×8 for our phone and voicemail. It’s not dirt cheap but it’s not much money either and it’s been 100% reliable for us.
- BONUS – Web Forms and Approval Workflows: And, finally, of course we use frevvo 🙂 for our online forms and approval workflows. The forms on our own website (Contact, Pricing, Registration) are all frevvo forms integrated with Salesforce so a new lead is automatically created in the CRM system and relevant emails are automatically sent out. We have an internal portal (a frevvo space) that contains our Leave Approval, Expense Report, Order Processing and other everyday business workflows. With a new Cloud release imminent (next week), we’ll update these and roll out new features like being able to collect a signature anonymously for our various order forms (Software, Services, Training etc.). Obviously, it’s very cost effective 🙂 and works well for us.
Finally, check out this interesting infographic from IBM (click to view a larger version). The sooner you adopt the cloud for your business, the more competitive advantage you will drive.
Infographic by Wayward and Sons.