• Box.net (free for 1GB of storage; $10 for an individual plan; $15 monthly for three or more users) is an online workspace service for file sharing and collaboration. Paul Rosenfeld, cofounder and CEO of Fanminder, a mobile marketing firm with 12 employees, calls it "incredibly easy to use and powerful": "Having a virtual team makes it nearly impossible to coordinate workflow without their tools," Rosenfeld says.
• QuickBooks Online ($10 to $35 per month), unlike QuickBooks installed on PCs, makes collaboration easy across a small team. "It enables our bookkeeper, accountant, and outsourced CFO to all look at the same up-to-date information to advise us on our financial situation," says Nicolas Boillot of Hart-Boillot, whose company uses the service.
• Skype is popular for its free video chats as well as for the low-cost calls to landline and cell phones that it makes possible. Brand Thunder, a browser customization firm with 11 members, uses Skype for all-team meetings, says Patrick Murphy, the company's founder and CEO. Though Skype call quality varies, the service "allows easy and open communication between team members, despite their being geographically dispersed," he says.
• Highrise for CRM and Basecamp for project management ($24 to $149 per month each, depending on the level of service you choose) both come from 37signals. A number of small businesses we contacted recommended these services for their feature sets and ease of use.
The Benefits of Cloud Computing
Cloud-based services can help small businesses dramatically reduce their software and other computing costs.
For example, Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Business will cost $199 for a downloadable version and $279 for a boxed version. By comparison, Google Docs, which offers office productivity tools via the cloud, is free. (Microsoft is currently working on Web-based versions of Office 2010 apps.)
Storing files on a secure, reliable, cloud-based service helps eliminate backup worries and gives you anytime access to your files. Usually, cloud-based services are simple to use--the only things you need are a computer (or in some cases, a mobile handset), a browser, and an Internet connection. And such services require no maintenance from the user.