First-time small business owners often cast themselves as the underdog when they incorporate: inhabiting the idea of "us against the world," solving problems with paper clips and duct tape, and pinching pennies everywhere possible in order to reach that first big payday.
But cloud computing has changed the way small and midsize businesses (SMBs) go about their business from day one. Cloud computing and hosting companies can put SMBs on an even playing field with their biggest competitors. It's no great stretch to call cloud computing a game-changer for SMBs. Here's a deeper dive into the benefits of cloud hosting for small businesses.
1. Reduced costs
If you're like most small business owners, your eyes just lit up at reading that subhead. The high price of starting a business is a critical drain on your capital. You'll spend money on a hundred things you've never even considered when you get your business off the ground. In previous days, running a business meant worrying about computing requirements that would be necessary in a traditional setup. The power of cloud computing means no more costly purchases of physical processors and databases. Physical storage is no longer a concern, because the physical servers and databases housing your information and infrastructure exist somewhere else. Without onsite physical storage, your company's IT requirements shrink drastically as well. No more panicked calls to your outsourced IT service when the network goes down – your cloud computing host is on the problem within seconds of it happening.
2. Improved collaboration
With the world gone so very digital and mobile, you're lucky to ever have your entire staff in the same room at any given time. Heck, you're lucky if there's even a physical room that you can call your base of operations. In 2015, I worked for an art magazine that saw its staff spread across Oregon, California, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, Georgia, Texas, Mexico, England, Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Australia. Our workflow went effortlessly because everything was based in the cloud. We were a close-knit group in which almost no one had ever met anyone else. The only thing holding us back from having a virtual office Christmas party was that there wasn't any good time where we were all actually awake.
Hosting your workflow in the cloud means never having to worry again about that long chain of emails where everyone has made their own changes to the same document and hit Reply All. And let's face facts – when you're building your small business, you're probably going to be on the go a lot. CEOs travel a lot to make those initial connections and deals. Salespeople are out beating the bushes for customers. You likely have at least one employee who is a contractor or a freelancer who works from home or random locations. Cloud computing gives every type of employee the exact same access regardless of what their GPS or clock says.
3. Greater productivity
Think back to your first job in an internet environment. Remember when the servers would crash? Or those times the connection was down and everyone went to Starbucks for a two-hour break? Yeah, those days are pretty much over once you're running your small business in the cloud.
Cloud computing companies set their watch and warrant on their ability to keep your business up and available as close to every second of the year as possible. According to CloudHarmony, Google had just 74 minutes of total time lost in 2016, while Amazon Web Services had 108 and Microsoft Azure had 270. Even the worst of those (Azure) equates to only 4.5 hours of downtime per year, which is an uptime of 99.949 percent. Not bad for third place.
That sort of always-on confidence means a huge bounce in productivity, because your employees won't be spending countless hours doing nothing or repairing or reproducing documents and other work-related materials lost during downtime. And when cloud computing sites do go down, not only does your work save automatically, but you also have IT professionals whose sole job is to keep your website and/or infrastructure online, beginning the process immediately. The lag time of your staff noticing a problem, trying to fix it in-house, calling the company IT specialist, waiting for their arrival, and then waiting for them to restore service is cut down to almost nothing.
4. No more software updates
No one recognizes the power of cloud computing like the big software manufacturers. The likes of Adobe are shrewd to the fact that once you're in the cloud, they can become your company's provider of business software in perpetuity. Thus, instead of you buying new physical copies of the software products you use to run your business, when the time comes for an upgrade, a push of a button downloads the latest version of said software to your cloud space. No installation necessary, no ridiculously long activation keys for each user to enter off the back of the box, and, perhaps most importantly, no need to keep upgrading your business computers with more memory or higher operating speeds to handle the new upgrades.
A favorite story of mine comes from a firm I worked for in the early 2000s. We had been clamoring for new versions of the Adobe family of products for years and finally got the go-ahead from management. With our outdated operating system, Photoshop took 45 minutes to install on my Mac, and when you opened it, you couldn't have any other application open because it took up so much memory to run. Software companies provide bundles and better deals for companies that upload through the cloud, as it costs them far less to create digital copies of their software than to produce physical products.
Growth is something that every small business both desires and fears. We are thrilled with the idea that we've become desirable in our business niche and need to expand to meet demand. At the same time, the increased overhead and the difficulty in making a seamless transition to a larger business model can be terrifying and expensive.
However, when you employ a cloud computing company, you immediately rule out the need for potentially expensive upgrades like more databases, more processing power and extra hardware. Your cloud computing vendor can expand your processing power, available memory, or software needs in the blink of an eye and the press of a button. This is really useful if your upgrades and expansions are only for a select time of year or a special offer, such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday. If you offer great deals that mean your web traffic is going to double over Black Friday weekend, you can upgrade to more bandwidth and possible connections for your site for a few days in the cloud, then drop back down to your normal capacity when it's over for a minimal price increase during those 100 or so hours.
So, should you host your SMB in the cloud? Cloud computing so perfectly fits the needs of small businesses that the better question would be, why isn't your small business in the cloud?