by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff

6 cloud services for growing your small business

Apr 11, 2016
Cloud ComputingCRM SystemsE-commerce Software

Small business technology and ecommerce experts discuss how investing in the right software and/or cloud-based services can help small online and bricks-and-mortar companies successfully scale.

cloud puzzle
Credit: Thinkstock

Most startups don’t have the budget, or the need, for enterprise software – or an elaborate website. But as your business grows, adding products or services, as well as customers and employees, it makes sense to invest in technology to help manage that growth. Does that mean you need to invest in an ERP or supply chain management system? Probably not. At least not right away. But these six cloud services, all targeted at SMBs, can make scaling your small ecommerce or bricks-and-mortar business a lot easier.

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1. Ecommerce software. Choosing a full-service ecommerce solution, as opposed to a simple shopping cart plugin, can make a lot of sense for small business owners planning (or hoping) to grow their business quickly. And there is no shortage of options – with pricing plans to accommodate most budgets.

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“Choose your ecommerce platform very carefully,” advises Mike Fisher, founder of Heartwood Creations, a manufacturer of handcrafted wooden jewelry and valet boxes. “We chose Magento for its customizable open source format and the thousands of extensions we can tap into. That said, it was an extremely labor-intensive experience with a lot of substantial resource allocation. So before diving in, make sure you’re making the right decision for your business.”

2. Online marketplaces and social media sites. If you want to reach a wide audience, or find your target audience, just having a website, or selling on a single shopping site, such as eBay or Amazon, is probably not enough.

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“Starting initially with our website, we began adding online sales channels and grew our sales dramatically,” says Mark Tyrol, president, Battic Door Energy Conservation Products. “We added eBay, Amazon, Rakuten, Sears,,, Facebook and many more. There are providers that enable retailers and manufacturers to integrate, manage and optimize their merchandise sales across hundreds of online channels. While it does take more set-up time, we preferred to set up our new online sales channels ourselves.”

3. Accounting software. “Getting a handle on finances can be one of the most challenging parts of a growing business, and SMBs inevitably reach a point where just using an Excel spreadsheet simply won’t cut it anymore,” says Suzie Blaszkiewicz, a small business researcher and editor at GetApp, a business app comparison site. “Getting accounting software can help make the accounting process more automated and less error-prone, especially one that’s integrated with billing, invoicing, time tracking and expense management functions.”

“Cloud accounting platforms allow small businesses to integrate the different solutions they use – everything from payments, to payroll, to CRM – eliminating the need for manual data entry,” says Karen Peacock, senior vice president of Small Business, Intuit. Not only does this save time, it provides small business owners and managers with an “integrated view of how money flows in and out of [the] business.” And they can “access their data anytime, anywhere, enabling them to make real-time decisions without being tethered to the office.”

4. Accounts payable (AP) software. Like accounting, accounts payable is another function that most small business owners would gladly outsource, or get help with, if they could afford to do so. And today there are a number of cloud-based AP solutions designed to help SMBs pay their bills and better manage cash flow.

“As we grew the number of properties we managed and did the financial reporting for, we had continual turnover in accounts payable,” says Russell Munz, president, Pyramid Real Estate Group. “So in 2004 we partnered with AvidXchange to automate many of the AP functions.  Our vendor invoices go to a lockbox. Get scanned into a workflow where pertinent info from the invoice gets digitized. Our team and clients can see the invoice as a PDF. And the invoice data gets imported into our accounting software,” he explains. “This has stopped the turnover in AP personnel and also benefits the customer with greater transparency – both of which have helped our company grow.”

5. Marketing automation software. “One of the most effective ways to scale your business is by putting many of your marketing and sales efforts on auto-pilot using marketing automation software,” says Stephen C. Murphy, partner & CMO, Red Bamboo Marketing. “By automating mundane tasks and creating predictable acquisition and follow-up workflows, you can free up time for your sales folks to do what they do best – close deals. Software like HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot and a variety of others offer options for businesses of all sizes, and can offer robust automation that can save hundreds of hours each month,” he says. “Best of all, you can meticulously track results and make adjustments on the fly, helping to continually improve ROI and operating efficiency as you grow.”

6. CRM software. “When your customer and client list begins to expand, proper organization is absolutely critical,” says Blaszkiewicz. “You want to make sure that you have a CRM system that can organize all of your clients, capture leads and track your sales pipeline. These capabilities will not only help you better nurture relationships with clients, but give more opportunities for growing sales and revenue.”

Just remember when choosing a CRM system to “choose a solution that will scale easily with your expanding list of clients, as well as one that’s accessible to your growing team,” she says. And “if mobile access is important for you, be sure to adopt CRM software that allows you to manage customer relationships from anywhere, and on any device.”