…Or Cpanel or any Linux system or anything else that I’ve worked with.
- It’s free.
- It works.
- It’s simple.
What more do you need? Don’t you wish all business problems provided a solution that met those criteria?
As I go through this blog I will provide links to the tutorials and programs that I reference to help simplify your implementation so click on a link to learn more. If you need help for setting up a different client, such as Thunderbird, just Google it and you’ll find a solution pretty quickly.
Here’s some background. Google Apps is a way to take your own domain name (like EthicalBusinessBuilder.com) and setup a FREE email management system so you can create custom emails such as firstname.lastname@example.org. You can then use that within your business to provide everyone with their own email address that can be tied to a calendar, contact list, and Instant Messaging with Google Talk. But wait… There’s more! If you want to get more advanced you can use Google Docs to share documents on the cloud or integrate your calendar and contacts with your Blackberry, iPhone, Palm, Droid, or other smart phone. The administrator of the account can set permissions on who can see and do what. So for instance, you can define who can access certain Google Docs, who can just see your calendar or who can see and modify your calendar, and who will receive the emails sent to Sales@EthicalBusinessBuilder.com or any other generic email lists.
Besides not costing you a penny, everything is on the cloud… In other words, Google maintains the servers where all of your emails, contacts, calendars, and documents are stored including updates, security and backups so you can focus on your business instead of creating your own IT department.
Other than to keep your local Microsoft vendor in business, is there any reason to keep maintaining your own Microsoft Exchange Small Business server with Outlook???
Every tech geek tells you the latest technology is easy, right? Well this time it’s actually true. Google’s step-by-step tutorials are excellent. They have done a magnificent job of stepping you through the setup. Here’s an example of how to setup Google Apps for your domain hosted at GoDaddy.com. Google has tutorials for just about all of the other major registrars as well. You can be setup and running within about 15 minutes by following their instructions. If you have no idea what an MX record is then expect setup time to take you more like 25-30 minutes. Once you think you have it setup, make sure you send yourself an email to test!
Google has provided a simple tool, again with tutorials, to help you import your emails, contacts, and calendar from Outlook. Keep in mind, that if you’re using outlook to access your email from your local Internet provider, you can keep using the Outlook program on your desktop to access your new Google Apps email address. You would still have all of the benefits mentioned above, but in your Outlook program. Actually, you can even keep your old email address and setup Outlook to also access your new email address all from your existing Outlook program.
So again I ask, why not make the switch???
Now that we have all of the geek stuff out of the way, how does this really help the small business owner beyond the IT department?
- Better Communication
- Complete Integration
- Improved tracking of marketing
By now, everyone has email, but few businesses really appreciate the power of Instant Messaging. Every time you setup a new account in Google Apps they are instantly also on your internal instant messaging program. So what? To better communicate in your office, here are a few ways my small business utilizes instant messaging.
- To replace hand-written notes. It saves time and money. It’s faster, it’s instant and it’s search-able. Google saves all of your chats (unless you turn that feature off) and then allows you to search for conversations. Don’t you hate when you lose that paper your receptionist gave you with the phone number to call back? With Google Talk, that’ll never happen again. Even if it’s weeks or months later.
- To communicate when you’re busy. If you’re on a phone call and someone in your office needs you, what usually happens? They interrupt. Sometimes it’s for something worthwhile and sometimes it’s not. Instead they can shoot you an IM (instant message) that you can quickly review and determine if you need to end your call or ignore till you’re done.
- To stay in touch remotely. With Google Talk integration with your Blackberry, iPhone, Palm, or Droid, you can be connected to your office wherever you are. While you’re waiting in line at the bank, or waiting for a client to show up for an appointment you can respond quickly and easily to your office without having to text. Why is that important? Because texting isn’t allowed in my office. Personal cell phone use is against the rules. If your office staff is allowed to text, then how do you know if they’re texting for business or personal reasons? And if you don’t want to be bothered, simply don’t login to Google Talk on your phone.
- To stay connected across multiple locations. Do your sales reps work from home? Do you have multiple office locations? Do you ever take business trips where you still need to communicate back to your office? No matter where you or anyone on your team is located you can communicate instantly with them. You can even utilize the microphone and video features to have a true video conference call which is a great way to have team meetings across multiple locations.
Once you get used to all of the ways IM makes your office run more smoothly you’ll wonder how people ever got things done the “old fashioned” way. We even use Google Talk to communicate with major vendors. How do you use it at your business?
Complete integration is about a few different pieces…
- Document and file sharing with Google Docs. If you don’t have a method for remotely accessing your files and sharing them with your team members (like a Windows Terminal Server) then this is a great way to manage and share documents. The biggest drawback is that Google Docs’ folder system is a bit cumbersome to organize and performance is a bit slow even with a high-speed connection. The beauty is that you can have multiple users updating and modifying a spreadsheet or document from different locations in real-time. Google Docs will assign each person a color and any time they start typing in a cell, that cell is highlighted in their color. It’s a great way to collaborate on documents. Realistically, for the small business owner, this feature will probably not be widely used because of its limitations.
- Calendar sharing and syncing – With Google Apps, your calendar is linked to your account. That calendar can then be shared with anyone on your team with a Google Apps or Gmail email address. This way your secretary can set appointments for you or your lead catcher can set appointments for your sales reps. I always had a Business and Personal calendar so that I could separate who could see or modify each. The best part is both calendars integrated with my Blackberry so whether I was adding an appointment to my phone or at my desktop, my calendar was always with me. You can create as many calendars as you need so you can have a calendar for each of your service technicians to help manage appointments even though they don’t have access to a computer.
- Contact syncing – Don’t you hate it when you add an email or phone number on your computer to find out, when you need to call them, they aren’t in your phone’s address book? Well with Google Apps and a Blackberry, iPhone, Palm, or Droid, that’s no longer a problem. It will automatically sync your entire contact list whether you input the contact from your phone or desktop. Keep in mind, this is all done completely wirelessly utilizing your phone’s data plan.
Improved tracking of marketing is about utilizing email lists. A list is a simple way to create a custom email address that can be forwarded to one or more people on your team. Here are a few ways we utilized email lists:
- Tracking sales leads – Our business had multiple territories and each territory was handled by a sales representative. We had a 24 hour answering service who was trained to determine the proper rep based on the territory. In addition to calling the rep, they would send an email to something like email@example.com. That address wasn’t an actual email account, but a list. And on the list was the email address for the rep, the email address for the sales manager, the email address for the lead catcher in the office responsible for putting the lead into our database, and the email to text address for the rep (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org). So our answering service sent one email that went to all of the important parties immediately. We use a similar system to track all of our web leads as well.
- Tracking lead sources – We decided to partner up with a local home builder to market some of our products and wanted to know how many people contacted us based on the handouts he gave his clients. So, in addition to asking people what prompted them to call us, we created an email list for email@example.com. That list sent an email to the lead catcher and sales manager who then passed it on to the rep. Instantly we know exactly what prompted them to call us.
There are plenty more ways to improve your office with Google Apps so comment below to let me know how you’re flying high on the cloud in your small business.
To your success with firing your IT department, Bryan