In 2011, Small Businesses Will Get More and More Into Cloud Computing

Cloud computing may sound pretty foreign to many people, but it’s certainly been taking off in the last several years. And now many small businesses are looking to get into it as well, hoping to trim costs and stay up and running if disaster strikes.

Cloud computing refers to any service that operates over an Internet connection, allowing immediate access from any computer or mobile device with Web access. Business owners can access software or store information—such as customer contacts, accounting data and presentations—and leave the technical maintenance to the cloud provider.

As of April 2010, only about 7% of small-business owners were using cloud services, but that number is expected to grow to more than 10% by mid-2011, according to a survey by technology-research firm IDC.

Software that is accessed through the cloud is often free or pay-per-use—a more affordable model than paying big, upfront licensing fees. Half of small firms that use cloud services say it has improved their bottom line, according to a survey this fall by Microsoft, which provides cloud services.

So why aren’t more small businesses expected to use cloud services? The answer is that most small businesses don’t want to stray from familiar systems or invest in new ones. There are also risks. Security breaches, for instance, can happen if the cloud provider isn’t reliable.

But provided that one is careful in selected the proper cloud service, there seem to be both monetary benefits (cutting expenses by 10-20%) and accessibility benefits that one just simply can’t get elsewhere.

[Wall Street Journal]

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Small Business owners are getting more optimistic about the economy

I wouldn’t exactly say this is a cause to celebrate, but any increased optimism in this economy is good. And that’s precisely what small businesses are experiencing right now.

Small-business owners showed more confidence in the economy this month as a Discover Financial Service survey posted its biggest one-month gain since April.

The four-year-old monthly index rose to 84.2 in October, up 10.4 points from September. In August, it fell to 73, the lowest point in 1 1/2 years.

In the latest poll, 28% of small-business owners surveyed said they expect economic conditions for their businesses to improve in the next six months, up from 20% last month. That figure reached 30% earlier this year before sliding. The portion who said conditions will worsen was 43% this month, down from 55% in August and September.

This month, 31% of respondents said the overall economy is getting better, up from 26% in September and the highest level since May. The portion who said the economy is getting worse, 48%, was the smallest reading since February.

Of those surveyed, 9% said they are hiring, up from 6% in the past two months and the highest percentage since June. About 15% said they are laying off workers, up from 12% last month but down from 20% in August.

Regarding plans to spend on business development, 22% plan to increase spending, up from 16% last month, while 46% plan to decrease spending, down from 57% in September.

Discover’s survey polled 750 owners of businesses employing fewer than five people.

So what does this all mean? That things are moving slowly, but they seem to be headed in the right direction.

[Wall Street Journal]

Is social media helping your small business?

One of the hot topics in any line of business right now is social media. We’ve taken a look at it a few times already. While there are certainly pros and cons to social media, the general reaction to it seems to be primarily positive. But what are your thoughts on it?

Well, you now have the chance to weigh-in on it. Symantec is currently running a quick 10-question survey that let’s you answer questions about how social media is going for your small business and how productive you feel it has been. Symantec has said that they will post the results on their Social Media Center page once the survey is complete. We’ve already taken it and will post the results once they appear.

[Symantec Small Business Social Media Survey]

Can social media usage become profitable for small businesses? Yes, it can.

It’s only a natural question that small businesses would ask themselves “Does it make sense for me to get involved with social media?” It has the potential to pull you away from other work that needs to done, and sometimes it leads you down a rabbit hole.

But a new study seems to suggest that social media usage can in fact be profitable for small businesses.

Via Small Business Trends:

In June of this year, they [Network Solutions] worked with the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business to survey 500 small business owners by telephone.

According to the Small Business Success Index (download PDF report here), 20% of businesses actively use social media.  The top 3 social sites they use are Facebook (82%), LinkedIn (38%) and Twitter (30%).

Of those who use or may use social media, it’s roughly a breakeven proposition for at least half of them today.  But they have positive expectations for the near future, when 57% expect to profit from their social media activities within the next 12 months.

Here’s a graph of the expectations by these small business, in terms of what they expect social media use to result in after another 12 months.

Whether or not these profits through social media come to pass, one thing is quite clear: Social media is not going anywhere and it is not a fad. Small businesses see social media as a way to market themselves, make connections, and even make sales. And it makes sense. If social media is done properly by a small business, it is not a time suck, it costs almost no money and it can greatly expand your influence. It still has its pros and cons, but social media is something all small business should be getting involved in.

Welcome to the Buyful Blog

Buyful is an online community that revolutionizes the way local small businesses buy and supply from each other by enabling you to grow your business through trusted referrals. Think of Buyful as your online chamber of commerce—only on steroids. Buyful helps you extend your customer and supplier networks through the power of social networking, and provides an easy and efficient way to manage your buying and selling online.

When you buy, Buyful helps you get the best terms from suppliers who compete to fulfill your bid requests. You save time and money and get introduced to new suppliers through trusted referrals—all for free.

When you supply, you build closer connections to your existing customers, win new customers through trusted referrals, and pay only a small transaction fee on successful deals.

Join the Buyful community for free at www.buyful.com.

In this blog, we’ll try to cover topics relevant to you as a small business. We will share information we collect, discuss specific ideas and discuss issues/problems that affect your day as a small business. As an example, our next blog will be about the solar segment, covering small businesses who buy solar installations and the contractors who supply them. We are looking forward to your comments, suggestions and participation to make this blog a great place where small businesses communicate and share their experiences.

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