If you are setting up your own small office or small home office, take time to learn about the latest online software and services that can help you to boost productivity, without having to invest in expensive hardware.
You will need a reliable phone system, e-mail service, fax service, and CRM system for your small office business. You will also have to choose between proprietary software and open source software. Some of the most important online systems for small offices are mentioned here:
1. Virtual small office phone service: A dependable phone system will help you to communicate with customers, partners, and suppliers. There is no need to invest in expensive hardware.
You can join a virtual small business PBX service, which will use your current phone lines or add a local or toll free number. This will serve as the main telephone number of your business and all callers will be greeted by a virtual receptionist.
You can arrange for calls to be routed to any phone number and receive calls on your home phone after office hours, or have them routed to your cell phone when you are on vacation.
2. Small office email service: A reliable e-mail service can help you to communicate with people in the same building or on another continent instantly, and at an affordable cost.
You can access your e-mail service from anywhere by means of a browser, and an off-line mode will allow you to work in areas where there is no Internet service and in airplanes. The service should also support PDAs, so you will be able to access your e-mails while you are on the move.
Microsoft Outlook will allow you to organize your work, search your communications, and share information with others. Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 offers additional protection and reliability, though it is expensive and requires more support. .
3. Online fax service: You can use an online service to send and receive your faxes, without having to pay for a fax machine or dedicated phone line.
There is no need to spend on long distance charges, paper, or toner. You don’t have to worry about keeping a fax phone line or fax machine in working order. You can opt to have your faxes delivered to any fax machine or PDA.
Once you sign up for an online fax service, you will be assigned a dedicated fax phone number. Incoming fax messages will be converted into email attachments and forwarded to your email address. You can also send word documents, PDF files, and pictures to physical fax numbers as regular faxes.
4. Web based CRM system: A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system can help you to identify the customers who make the biggest contributions to your profitability. You can prioritize your selling efforts and give them better service. This can lead to improved customer loyalty, with higher sales and profitability.
If you have a fast Internet connection, you can opt for a Web based CRM system that has a lower cost of ownership than a traditional desktop based system. You will only have to pay a periodic subscription and can access your customer data from anywhere.
Look for a dependable and affordable CRM system that is easy to use. Most small businesses only use the basic features, so systems that have too many features may not be of much use.
5. Open source small office software: You can avoid buying expensive software licenses by getting free open source office small business software. There are lots of Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer alternatives that you can choose from. Some of them, like Open Office, can be downloaded for free, while others, like Google Docs, are hosted online.
However, open source small business software may not be as powerful as proprietary software and may not be as easy to use. You may need the help of an IT to learn how to use or customize some open source programs. Open source programs may not provide any technical support.
6. Cloud computing: Instead of investing in several powerful small office computers and small business software, you can use Web based cloud computing services and access software that is hosted online.
These services can be accessed from anywhere via the Internet. Your data will be hosted at several locations and if any of those locations stops working, the other locations will be able to provide copies of your data. Your email account is also a type of cloud computing service.
The technology is still in its infancy and there are concerns about privacy of accessibility of personal data. However, there is a lot of interest in the concept and many people consider it to be the technology of the future.
Consider your business needs and budget before you choose an online small office home office system. Look for dependable, affordable small office solutions, with good service backup, which can be expanded to meet the needs of a growing business.