Entrepreneurs love cloud services, and toll free numbers lead all cloud services in importance and utility for startup companies.
Entrepreneurs depend on cloud services to get the job done, today, for low cost, without commitment of startup capital or long-term contracts. Of all cloud services, toll free numbers and hosted PBX service is often the first selected. This includes successful startups of all sizes, from home-in-the-basement virtual companies, incubator-based shops, as well as larger startups in mid-size facilities.
How Cloud Services Help Entrepreneurs
Cloud services like toll free numbers work really well for entrepreneurs because cloud services don’t require capital investment and because they can be set up quickly without much or any IT help.
Startups can often fail because business owners get distracted setting up internal services that should be outsourced. In one real-life example, a well-known radar systems expert started a company to deliver specialized radar testing equipment to a NATO country. The future of his startup depended on a big delivery that was in jeopardy. With the truck scheduled for a 6AM pickup, his staff found him at 1oPM under a printer on a card table in the corporate office. The radar guru was trying to figure out how to load blank checks into the printer to pay some bills.
Instead of helping with final assembly that guaranteed a 500K$ bonus payment, he was wasting time doing the bookkeeping work that he could have contracted out for $300 a month or less.
Pedro Hernandez, writing in his article 5 Mistakes for Entrepreneurs to Avoid says
“For startups and small business owners, the days of devoting a huge chunk of the budget to stuffing a server closet with servers, storage and networking are practically over.”
What he’s saying is that setting up and hosting your own services is a major distraction that successful startups now avoid.
Here are the key ways in which cloud services help start-up companies and the entrepreneurs that lead them:
- Drastically reduces or eliminates need for IT function that small shops can’t yet afford
- Instant deployment
- Very limited or no capital expense
- Nearly all immediately extensible on a month to month as needed basis
- Avoids distraction – article on the server closet
Why Toll Free Numbers and Cloud Hosted PBX Service Are Vital
Toll free numbers let distant customers and international customers call your business at no cost. This helps overcome any reluctance on the part of a staff member in a prospective customer organization from calling. The toll free number also makes your company appear to be well-prepared to do business. In addition local numbers are available from AVOXI. as an example, in more than 100 countries around the world. This makes it possible to open a local virtual office for pennies a day.
The top benefits for a startup company, and there are many more, would include these features:
- Customer access – distant local and international customers call toll free
- Hosted IVR / Auto attendant – an automated switchboard replaces the receptionist you don’t have
- Call forwarding – lets you hear from a prospective new customer while you’re away from the office
- Voicemail to Email – when you can’t answer, important calls reach your smartphone as emails
Top Rated Cloud Services
Toll Free Numbers and Cloud Hosted PBX Service
AVOXI.com is an outstanding provider of toll free numbers, local numbers around the world, and the AVOXI Core cloud hosted PBX service. With AVOXI Core, you get a complete automated phone system with all the powerful features your startup needs. It’s highly configurable, and you don’t need to buy or host a PBX at your office.
A simple web interface lets you quickly configure or change your settings on where calls are forwarded, and what messages visitors will hear. With the web interface, your team can control the VoIP phone system included from anywhere in the world.
The most popular hosted email services lead all others in features and popularity.
- Google Gmail – integrates with Google Docs, easy to use.
- Outlook.com – integrates with Microsoft Office 365, supports familiar Office documents.
Online Office Cloud Services
This one’s a no-brainer. MS Office and Google Docs are miles ahead in user base and compatibility.
- Microsoft Office 365
Project Management and Collaboration
Basecamp is the standard. There are a few competitors, but it’s hard to beat. Also easy to share across organizational boundaries, so you and a customer can share a project you are doing together. Google Docs is a good option for shared files, but in truth, most of that can be done in Basecamp if it’s project related attachments.
- Google Docs
Online File Storage, Shared Folders, and Backup
Great tools for file sharing amongst team members, or file sharing with a customer when attachments are just too big for email. Dropbox is widely used, but Box.com has an additional FTP access capability that lets you store files there that are not synched to your desktop. This is a huge advantage – you can store project archives on Box.com without filling up your laptop’s hard drive. Googledrive.com has the benefit of being free.
Paypal has the true lead here, supporting also international payments.
Undeniable leader in this space, Evernote is dirt simple, hyper reliable, and easy to understand. It’s just notes you take and organize into notebooks by subject, customer, or projects. Full support for tags, including search by tag, makes it easy to keep everything organized and to find notes you need. This is not a to-do list, but many people use it for that. Instead of a list of tasks, Evernote is best for taking task notes – the ugly gritty details about a task that you need to retain.
Task notes can include key milestone dates to remember, image dimensions, processing rules, how-to steps, colors and sizes, employee assignments, customer quote details, and so on.
Cloud Service Synchronization
When your project is in Basecamp and you keep notes in Evernote, you might want to sync over project notes and to-do items into an Evernote archive notebook. How to? Use a web synchronization service that copies between web services.
- Cloud HQ
Sales Management and Lead Tracking
Leads, Opportunities, Sales. Nothing is more popular than Salesforce.com. It’s not perfect, but so many people use it that it’s the de facto standard. Don’t buy it unless you’re going to really, really use it. Dive in and use it up.
- Sugar CRM
Tracking hours online lets you build and refine your understanding of your real costs. Keeping track of billable hours is important for consultants of all types. And of course, your contractors and staff will appreciate getting paid.
There are several competitors in this space of good quality, but Bill4Time and Harvest stand out as being easy to use. Harvest had some integration with Basecamp Classic, but we haven’t tested it since Basecamp moved on to a new API with its most recent product.
Accounting and Reporting
If you’re not already set up in ground based Quickbooks or another desktop tool, it’s well worth your time to try Quickbooks online or Freshbooks. The advantages of a cloud tool are large – you can generate your own P&L any time, even from home or on the road. And if you want to check if a customer invoice has been paid just before you walk into a meeting with the customer, this is a great way to do it.
- Quickbooks Online
Marketing Automation and Landing Page Building
Marketing automation varies from simply generating effective landing pages and being able to A/B test them online, to complete solutions that include campaigns of all kinds – PPC, email, banner ad, print media, and letter campaigns. In this space, Marketo focuses on the online campaigns and lead treatment with landing pages and drip marketing, while Hubspot is a campaign management tool that provides a website builder as well. The last three companies listed focus primarily on helping you landing pages that convert well.
- Ion Interactive
These vendors have fairly complete kits to get you started in email marketing, and to grow your customer base. Email marketing is important because you can get up to about a 3% response rate on email campaigns, compared to about 1% for organic search.
- Mail Chimp
- Constant Contact
Even if you are a web business with a nice web site, let someone else host it. GoDaddy is the most popular web hosting service and registrar. WPEngine is the top-rated service for WordPress hosting. Amazon has a lot to offer companies that want to build a web app or web service.
- Media Temple
- Blue Host
- Host Gator
- Amazon Web Services
Tracking Your Website Traffic
Google Analytics is a full-featured web analytics tool, and it’s free. Most webmasters and SEO’s know how to use it, so it is your first choice. And it’s free.
Crazy Egg is the first great heat map tool that shows you where visitors click on your web pages. It finds some very surprising things, like places people click that don’t have links. Clicktale shows you a bit more, including where customers hover (park) their mouse while reading your pages. Kiss Metrics offers additional insights beyond Google Analytics.
- Google Analytics
- Crazy Egg
- Kiss Metrics
Monitoring Your Web Site
You and three colleagues run the company. You are selling and delivering. Who’s watching the web site? You’d be surprised to find out how many outages your web site actually has. Unless you want to hear it from a customer or find out in the middle of a presentation, you better use an external website monitoring service.
Two great services you can use are Are My Websites Up? (AMSU) and Server Density. Both services offer affordable plans, and Server Density monitors from sites around the world – useful if you have customers overseas. Note that both these services can actually perform a full-page download to look for specific footer text. This helps ensure that they aren’t “faked out” by partial or broken page loads.
- Server Density
The best alternative to cloud-hosted Adobe Creative Cloud is the desktop hosted Adobe Creative Suite. No other tool has the popularity or availability of trained professionals to go with it as does the Adobe Suite. The Creative Cloud version of the Adobe Creative Suite (CS6) simply lets you pay for use of this tool on a monthly service, and get updates by download every week. No more need to sell a used car to buy the package, and no more need to take a second job to afford updates to the package.
Even though this product is “cloud hosted”, the application runs on your desktop and you can access it without a network connection for up to 2 weeks. All the authorization, software updates, and support are in the cloud, and the service provided is charged at cloud-hosted pay-as-you-go rates.
- Adobe Creative Cloud
Promoting Your Business in Social Media
Although Google Wildfire just launched, it’s too soon to know if it’s going to be a major player in the social media promotion market. Today, far and away, Hootsuite is the top of the line and most universally appreciated social media marketing tool. It provides access to most other social streams, including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+. Hootsuite also as a very reliable built-in Tweet scheduler that lets your messages go out at the right times in the right time zones.
- Hootsuite – top tool, easy to use, connects to the other social streams. Start here.
- Facebook – decent for link building and presence, ROI so-so
- LinkedIn – great for professional networking and pinpointing an audience
- Google Plus – Google is pushing authorship for search rank, and this is where you get “authorship”
- Pinterest – more challenging to find and present to your niche market
Toll Free Numbers and Cloud Services References
You can find all the products mentioned via Google or Bing search. Here are a few articles and product links that help you learn more about what you need for your startup company.
- Toll Free International Numbers
- AVOXI Core Cloud Hosted Virtual PBX Service
- The Most Popular Cloud-based Tools For Startups Around The World
- Why Cloud is A Boon for Entrepreneurs?
- 5 Mistakes for Entrepreneurs to Avoid
- Best Web Analytics Tools