****Update**** As of December, 2012, Google Apps will no longer offer a free version of Google Apps. To use Google Apps, you will need to sign up for the Business (paid) version, which is currently $50 per user a year. Still a good bargain by any standards. If you have an existing free version of Google Apps, you can continue to use it as you are grandfathered in.
As a small business owner, trying to organize your business and yourself can be quite a task. With so many things to do and keep track of, keeping it all neat and organized can seem like an impossible task. Keeping paper records or storing everything on your computer is still a very valid option, but what if there was a free and easy way to organize everything? Google Apps is a suite of tools that is perfect for your small business, and best of all, it's free!
Google Apps For Small Business
Google apps is free suite of products that is perfect for the small business owner. The free version allows up to ten user accounts and is made up of:
- Gmail powered email account that uses your own domain but works exactly like Gmail
- Google Calendar – Each user gets a Google calendar that has too many useful features to list here
- Google docs – Cloud based document storage that let you create and share documents, spreadsheets and presentations
- Google sites – Create your own custom intranet site or website for free. Very easy to use.
Key Features and Benefits:
- Hosted entirely online, you can access all of the services from anywhere with an internet connection
- Can be used with Outlook and offers integration with Microsoft Office with Google Cloud Connect
- Add hundreds of web based business services with the Google Apps Marketplace
- It's free for up to 10 users
Gmail is a web based email service that packs powerful features and allows you to customize your email service with many different applications and themes. Having a web based email service has many benefits:
- Mobility – login and view emails from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection.
- With over 7 Gigabytes for free (25 Gigs with the paid version), you may never have to delete an email again.
- Send and receive emails using multiple email accounts such as gary @mydomain.com or gary @myotherdomain.com
- There are dozens of great 3rd party applications to supercharge your email such as Boomerang and Wisestamp
- It doesn't matter what computer you use, everything is hosted online
Google calender is an excellent tool for small business. Google calendar allows you to share, invite or take control of other team member calenders. You can also create multiple calendars for different activities such as a payroll calendar and a marketing calendar, all easilly color coded and organized. Google calender has the following features:
- Integrates perfectly with your Gmail account. You can create calendar events from any email in your inbox
- You can receive SMS messages as a reminder ofr events, when someone invites you to an event or if someone makes a change to a calendar that you share
- Mobile phone sync – you can sync your phone's calender with Google's calender on your Android, Blackberry, Windows or iPhone device.
- You can create and publish calendars on your website or intranet
- Easily share your calendar with others so everyone is always on the same page
Google Docs is Google's own suite of productivity tools. Think of it like Microsoft Office, but free and hosted entirely online. While it is not perfectly compatible with Microsoft Office, Google is constantly improving on it, making it a very serious option if you are looking for a free suite of productivity tools. If you are a serious Microsoft Office user, Google offers a paid plugin called Cloud Connect that gives you all of the great Google Docs features for your Microsoft Office documents. Some key features are:
- Share and collaborate with team members on documents – no need to email documents back and forth, create a single document and let everyone work on it as a team
- Security – You can decide who can view or edit your documents.
- Revision control – Every time a document is edited a new version is created. You can go back and view what has changed
- Real time collaboration – Multiple people can access and edit a document, allowing everyone to see changes in real time
- Create custom forms that you can embed in an email or on your website, having the collected data automatically imported into a Google Spreadsheet
- Google Docs let's you work across multiple operating systems, so no worries if you use a PC at work but a Mac at home
- Store all of your documents online for easy access. Store any documents like images, PDF's and Microsoft Office Documents
Google sites is a very simple but feature packed site builder that allows you to construct an intranet for your business. You can build sites to host your operations manual, create a shared file cabinet or a human resources site where you can store employee files such as evaluations and any other documents related to that employee. Some of the key features are:
- Quickly create intranet sites for your business using the easy to use drag and drop editor. No coding or HTML knowledge needed
- Allow access to only your team members or allow certain customers or vendors to access it also. You decide on the level of access
- If it is a private site, you can make it private so nobody can find it searching online. You can also password protect it
- Access the site from anywhere there is an internet connection
- Store and embed documents such as videos and power point presentations, a great way to create an online employee training site
Google Apps Marketplace
Google Apps Marketplace is what really makes the Google Apps product stand out. The marketplaces offers hundreds of web-based applications that work seemlessly with your Google Apps account. Inside the marketplace you can find productivity, marketing and customer relalationship management (CRM) tools to help power your small business. Many big name companies such as Box.net, Weebly and Mailchimp can be found here. While many of the applications are a paid service, many of them are free. Some key features are:
- Integrate dozens of productivity and marketing tools directly into your Google Apps account for seamless control over of all your services
- Have a single sign in for every account in the marketplace, no more trying to remember dozens of passwords
- Have all of your services located on a single dashboard with your Google Apps account
- New companies are added to the marketplace each week. Check user reviews for each service and see what others are saying before you use a product
So there you have it, a free and easy way to organize your small business. Google offers step by step instructions on how to transfer over from your old email service and there are also companies inside the marketplace that can make the switch for you for a fee. My recommendation is that unless you have alot of employees and a large amount of data to integrate, ask a friend or family member that is pretty knowledgable with online stuff as it really isnt that hard to do and like I said, Google gives pretty detailed instructions on how to set it up. If you have any questions about Google Apps feel free to contact me and i'll respond as soon as I can. Cheers!