How to find the best cloud services for your business

Cloud computing illustration

Business cloud services offer your company access to a wide range of tools, apps and software on a pay-as-you-go basis. For small firms, the best cloud services can deliver increased flexibility, security and significant savings

Email cloud services

Using a cloud email service means you don't need to set up and manage an email server in your business. You simply buy as many mailboxes as you need, then allocate them to your employees.

Powerful cloud email is included with the Google Workspace suite (which includes collaboration tools like Gmail, Calendar, Meet, Chat, Drive, Docs and Sheets). It's based on the company's Gmail platform, already used by millions of people in the UK.

"Gmail is very flexible and powerful, and more than sufficient for the vast majority of small firms," says Robert Davies, owner of IT consultancy Kashiko. Google Workspace allows you to use your own domain name to create company email addresses. It's free to use Gmail.

Cloud email is also available from many other providers. It's always worth comparing several email service providers to find a package that fits your business. Don't just focus on costs, but also on the functionality that you need.

Work with documents in the cloud

You can find all the productivity software you need through business cloud services, including word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation programmes.

Microsoft 365 gives you access to all the company’s essential business programmes at an affordable cost.  To ensure you’re not paying for functionality you’ll not use, Microsoft offers a range of packages.

"For most small firms, Microsoft 365 offers everything you could want in terms of word processing," explains Davies.

Some packages also include the full desktop version of Microsoft 365. This enables you to use all versions of the software on a desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile even when you don't have access to an internet connection.

Microsoft 365 is the agreed industry-standard and is suitable for most businesses. However, if you don’t have the budget to stretch to it, consider Google Workspace or Zoho.

Cloud services for finance and accounting

The cloud has kick-started a new era for accounting software. Cloud accounting packages are typically easier to use and understand than equivalent desktop software.

In fact, there's a wealth of choice if you're looking to manage your accounts online. Many packages allow you to grant access to your accountant, which can make it easier to deal with any problems or complete your end-of-year accounts.

Online accounting is essential for VAT-registered businesses. This is because the software is used to file VAT returns as part of the Making Tax Digital shift.

If you're just starting a business, it will probably make sense to use cloud accounting software from day one. If you already have an accounting system in place, you'll need to consider how to move your existing accounts to the cloud. Some business cloud services also offer data input or conversion options.

The main cloud accountancy software packages include QuickBooks, Sage, KashFlow, Free Agent, Xero and Clear Books. They help you create invoices, keep track of income and expenditure, manage your banking and file VAT returns.

"They give you a snapshot of your profit and loss," says Elaine Clark, managing director of Cheap Accounting. "I believe every business should know how profitable they are, if not every week, at least every month. Cloud options allow you to do that. And these services can also flag up issues - such as if a business is reaching the threshold for VAT registration."

Data storage and backups

Cloud-based storage is a secure way to store and back up your files. Once stored in the cloud, you – and anyone else who needs to access them – can do so with an internet connection.

Business cloud services store data outside of your company. This makes cloud storage a highly secure way to create offsite backups. However, you should rely solely on online backup, it's wise to keep a second backup copy of your data within your business.

"The good thing about cloud-based storage services is that all the information is stored externally," explains Davies. "In the event of fire or theft, it's all kept for you."

Finding the best cloud service for storage and backup is tricky because there is so much choice. Options include Rackspace Hosting, Just Cloud, ZipCloud, Dropbox, Mozy, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.

Search for a service that's easy to use, reliable and secure. Most providers will charge you based on how much data you need to store, so you’ll need to know how much you’re storing now. Build in plans for future growth, and understand how much it’ll cost to add extra storage.

As part of GDPR, you’ll also need to keep close control of where data is stored, particularly personal information about your clients and customers. Reputable cloud providers are transparent about where data is stored and process, so we recommend going with a trusted business.

Another advantage is that everything is centralised, ensuring users always have access to the latest versions of files, wherever they are.

Collaboration and project management

Cloud computing can help remote teams to work together more efficiently and effectively.

Business cloud services like Basecamp, Trello, Podio and Huddle all provide virtual workspaces where you can exchange messages, store files, post ideas, assign and track tasks, and more. They're powerful tools to improve communication and collaboration.

Selecting the best cloud service to manage projects in your business comes down to how your team works, what sort of projects you need to manage and personal preference.

For example, some services are designed for teams working on many different projects, while others are intended to address a single, large project. If you expect staff to adopt new ways of working, involve them in the process of selecting a software solution.

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