Starting a business is no small task, regardless of what it is your business does. Whether you provide a service, product, or a mixture of the two, your business will depend on tools to help you and your team get more done. Google has evolved from a simple search engine to an all-inclusive source of free tools and services that can help your startup thrive in its early stages.
Google’s services are cloud-based solutions that allow you and your team to work from anywhere together or individually, allowing for seamless collaboration and planning without having to invest large amounts of cash on an IT infrastructure. Granted, not everything your company needs to operate will be free, but there are a few tricks here that can save you a lot of money.
Google Analytics, Gmail, and others are extremely useful tools for private individuals and companies alike. We use Google Analytics here at LockerGnome quite a lot to better understand and predict what our readers enjoy, and what they don’t. For any Internet-dependent business out there, having quick and easy access to data about your visitors can help you determine what your site needs in order to grow, and where your traffic is coming from. Finding out that the majority of your visitors are coming from one site over another is helpful in determining where your ad dollars can best be placed. For a content site such as this one, it also helps in finding out whether or not a specific topic or type of article is of greater interest to our readers.
Here are some ways that Google can help you start a company.
Google Docs allows you to create and edit business documents including text, spreadsheets, presentations, tables, graphs, and more in a way that is both seamlessly collaborative and easy to share. You can even use Google Docs to create a form that can be published for your customers (or potential customers) to fill out which is instantly made available to you by way of a spreadsheet.
An integrated chat feature allows members of your team to come together and share ideas while looking at the same document. Add to that the fact that everything is kept nice and safe in the cloud, and you have a great cache of information available to you and your team at the click of a button.
Google Hangouts, a part of the Google+ social network, are great for collaborating with a remote team. Much of my days lately have been spent inside a Google Hangout with coworkers and customers, allowing us to discuss matters as if we were sitting in the same room even though we’re actually over 1,000 miles apart.
This is an excellent tool for any business that wants to cut the costs of flying someone out for a meeting or sacrificing that important face-to-face interaction for something less intuitive. Email and chat rooms are notorious for being poor conduits of expressing context, making it easy for someone to misinterpret your words or leave you in a seemingly endless cycle of back-and-forth messages while everyone in the team attempts to understand the initial thought or assignment. With Google Hangouts, people can ask questions and respond right away. They can even share their screen and/or a specific window to give visual examples of whatever it is you’re discussing.
Google Voice has been a lifesaver for me. I use Google Voice for just about anything business related, allowing me to forward calls and accept voice messages on Skype, my phone, and any other communications device I can attach a phone number to. When someone calls my business line, Google Voice rings my iPad, iPhone, desktop PC, and even my Android tablet all at once. I can choose to pick up the call from whatever device is nearest to me, and talk as if I were on the phone.
Voice mail is also translated into text and sent to me by way of a text message and email each time someone leaves a message. This gives me an instantaneous way to receive and find out about whatever it is someone called me for.
For a business with a rotating support staff, you could forward Google Voice to whomever it is that is currently on duty. The call logs and voice messages are all kept on a central account, allowing you to look back at anything you might have missed while someone else was handling the line.
As part of the Google Apps for Business product, Google Vault is one of those services that is exclusively useful for businesses that want to keep track of everything and anything that goes on in their company.
Google Vault is an optional extra priced at $50/year/user which allows you to retain data including email and chat messages, place legal holds on users which keeps them from deleting information, export that data, and prepare data for litigation and compliance audits.
For any business, this is one of those essential considerations that could meant the difference between having what you need to endure the legalities of operation and not having it. These days, more and more companies are operating with contractors and remote employees, and much of the information we deal with happens outside of a manageable intranet.
Just about everyone with office experience understands just how testy an internal calendar system can be. You may be invited to a conference in conference room 12, but never receive the message because your connection to the internal server failed. Google Calendar allows you to keep a personal and business calendar separate, invite people you work with to meetings and other events with ease, and sync that calendar with virtually every mobile and desktop machine you have.
My Google Calendar syncs with my iPad and iPhone, and I keep it open throughout the day on my desktop and laptop. This enables me to receive alerts before meetings wherever I might be, and keep everyone on the team updated as to any schedule changes as they occur.
I’ve used Google Calendar to great success for managing production workflows as well. Knowing who can cover what timed event on any given day is a big plus, and one that is enhanced by Google Apps for Business.
You can also make a calendar public, allowing your business to keep the public updated on the latest news and events related to your company. This is especially helpful for venues and shops that have upcoming sales or booths at public gatherings.
Google Drive gives you and your team the ability to access and sync files both locally and in the cloud, accessible at any time. As part of Google Apps for Business, this is a great way to share videos and photos with your team as they related to shared project duties, as well as ensure that information is readily available even when conditions are less than optimal.
Have you ever been to a meeting where one member of the team forgot to load the latest version of a presentation or spreadsheet? Google Drive is a great solution for that, especially when coupled with Google Docs.
Intranet sites are a great way to keep a team updated with the latest news and information, especially in medium to large businesses that have multiple departments with a number of employees in each one. Google Sites makes setting up a group website pretty easy, allowing you and your team to organize objectives and ideas in a comprehensive fashion.
At one call center, we gave each team a site, allowing members to see team stats and other updates in addition to other information including team birthdays and events. Updates and process changes can also be better relayed by way of an internal intranet site.
Google Apps for Business
Many of the tools listed here can be used without the need of a dedicated business account within Google, but it should be noted here that the full power of Google’s cloud services can be better utilized through Google Apps for Business.
Google Apps for Business allows you to use your business’ domain as the primary managing hub of information. Every member of your team can be assigned a branded email address that is managed through Gmail with 25 GB of storage per address. These team members are also put in a managed cloud environment where you can store and access email, chat, and documents from anyone on your team without having to ask them to access their private account, which isn’t necessarily the best place for business documents to be.
Google Apps for Business gives you the same type of power you might expect from an internal network without the hassle of having to set up or manage the various tools yourself. I’ve been in offices that use Zimbra as an all-in-one internal mail, documents, and calendar solution and find Google Apps for Business to be better in virtually every category.
Craighton Miller, a contributor to LockerGnome and a business owner himself, said: “Google Apps for Business has the best management tools for giving out email addresses, and managing users. I think that Google Apps, over all, is the best when using email and other related apps.”
Neil Morris, another member of the community, added: “I’ve set up Google Apps for Education at my school. It has been nothing short of brilliant.”
Steve Mayne, a small business owner, recommends: “I run a very small business (five people) and we use it for everything from collaborative document editing, spreadsheets, chat/voice and of course: email. I would heartily recommend it to everyone.”
Where individual apps are great for person-to-person collaboration, Google Apps for Business creates a comprehensive solution for business owners that all-but replaces the need for an expensive IT infrastructure entirely. It’s a solid solution for small businesses without a lot of money to spend on an IT backbone. Keep in mind though that you are giving up some level of control by having these things managed by Google.
While some of the features listed here require some financial investment on your part, Google’s primary business is in advertising. You shouldn’t be surprised to find an ad here and there, even within your day-to-day operations. This can be distracting or otherwise unpleasant for some people’s tastes, so it’s worth considering.
In addition, Google is all about gathering data. It’s important to read the terms and conditions of Google’s apps and services very carefully before committing your company and your customer’s data to the cloud.
Google is also a cloud business, and as such your data is transmitted back and forth over the Internet each time it’s accessed. Encrypted or not, all you need is one employee to leak a password and things could go sideways. Many companies still don’t allow employees to access email outside of the workplace for this very reason. Google is all about outside access, and that’s a consideration each business owner has to make.