Woman lounges with a tablet in the clouds

Cloud technology has radically changed the way I do business every single day.

Some of my clients are cutting-edge IT businesses who provide cloud solutions, so I have a firsthand understanding of what truly amazing technology it is. I count myself lucky to be able to write for these clients, because getting this close-up view of cloud computing is like looking into the future. It’s breathtaking.

What Is the Cloud?

The cloud is less of a “what” and more of a “how.” Using the cloud means using computing resources that are located off-site and accessed over the network. Typically this means servers in a secure datacenter somewhere that you access over the Internet.

This article from Fluid IT Services goes into much more detail about the technology, if you’re interested.

The cloud has enabled small businesses like Horizon Peak access to flexible, scalable software and computing resources — from any device with an Internet connection. I can share files with a client in Toronto, have a video conference with a colleague in Houston and keep track of deliverables for multiple projects, all from my smartphone.

These four cloud-based apps in particular have changed the way I work. Here’s how:

1. Dropbox

Dropbox is a file-sharing service that works in a browser, a downloaded desktop app or a mobile app.

The desktop app looks and functions just like the documents folder on your desktop – but it syncs to the cloud so whatever you put in those folders is accessible from any device.

I keep everything in Dropbox. Documents, spreadsheets, slide decks, photos, audio files and video. I’ve had too many hard-drives crash over the years, locking my files into systems that I could no longer access. Not to mention, every time I bought a new computer, it was a hassle trying to transfer all my files. Since I run a business from my computer, always having access to all my files from any device is critical. Dropbox is my #1 business tool.

Though the free version gives you a ton of storage space, I upgraded to the Pro version for even more space because I rely on this cloud-based technology so much.

Another reason I love Dropbox is because I can selectively share folders and individual files with my clients. No more emailing large files and taking up precious inbox space!

2. Evernote

Evernote is a cloud-based note-taking app that lets you keep text notes, handwritten notes, and web clips all in one place that can be accessed from any device. You can even attach photos and PDFs to your notes.

The notebook-like organization makes it easy to file and find your notes.

I love taking meeting notes on my desktop PC and being able to pull them up on my iPhone later. I also use Evernote a lot for taking and keeping snapshots of webpages that I want to reference later.

The free version has everything you need for an online note-taking app. But if you want offline access or collaboration capability, you’ll need to upgrade to one of their really reasonably-priced premium plans.

3. Google Drive

Though it touts itself as cloud storage service, I (and most people I know) use Google Drive as a word processor, as mobile spreadsheet software or as a file-sharing service.

The great thing about Google Drive is that if you have a Gmail account, you already have access to this service. You don’t have to sign up for anything special or download any apps (unless you want to download the app that syncs the files on your desktop with the files in your Google Drive).

I would never replace Microsoft Word or Excel with Google Drive apps, but they are really handy to have on the road or on the fly. One thing that Google Docs (the word processor app in Google Drive) does that Word does NOT do, however, is real-time document sharing. I can be on the phone in Denver with a client in Austin and we can both be editing a Google Doc at the same time — we can see each other typing on the same document! This makes collaboration so easy.

4. Asana

Asana is a cloud-based to-do list – on speed. If you’re a productivity fiend like me, you’ve likely heard the rule, “Never use your inbox as your task list.” Asana makes sure you never have to.

Beyond the radical flexibility, the useful keyboard shortcuts and the startlingly simple interface, I love Asana because it lets me check things off as I complete them. There’s something so satisfying about checking off a finished task! (Admittedly I do get awfully excited about productivity tools.)

Asana is free unless you want to upgrade for more team collaboration options. It works right in your browser, and they also have a new mobile app.

Asana makes my weekly planning a snap. It also lets me set tasks to recur on a daily, monthly or yearly basis.

Now and Later

Gone are the days of buying software on a disc and having to install it on every new computer you buy. Gone are the days of being tied to a desk.

The cloud has made running my business so much easier. What has it done for you lately?