05/22/2012 01:46 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2012

Managing Your Business (and Your Life) in the Cloud

For Women & Co. by Willo O'Brien,

We take our jobs everywhere these days. With laptops, we can file sales reports from home, conference from a hotel room, and (regrettably) update spreadsheets on vacation. What's becoming increasingly common, however, is that many of these tasks can be accomplished from your smart phone.

What's cloud computing?
So what make this handy technology possible? Something called "cloud computing." For those not familiar with the term (or who would appreciate a little geek-speak refresher), cloud computing essentially means that software installation as we've known it -- installed from a CD-ROM and requiring costly upgrades -- is practically a thing of the past.

Feelin' a little "SaaSy"?
The more official term for this new technology is Software as a Service, or "SaaS." While you may be unfamiliar with the term, you are most likely using this technology already. Examples of SaaS products include Google Calendar, Gmail, and Google Docs. People just like you use them every day to collaborate in real time with friends, family, and colleagues from different computers all over the world.

The mobility aspect of SaaS (meaning you can connect and access data on the go, practically anytime and anywhere) is certainly convenient. But what makes SaaS particularly impressive is this: it's extremely affordable, and in most instances completely free.

Added security and added convenience
Having your data "in the cloud" -- stored on remote servers instead of your hard drive -- also adds a layer of security. That's because most SaaS/cloud computing services are run on top-notch servers. Having your data in the cloud also means that your software is always up to date. And since the software updates happen on the servers, you don't have to do a thing to make it happen.

Which cloud computing products are right for you?

Here are some other SaaS products that you may find useful both at work and in your personal life:


All of us have written down notes we can't find later, or, don't have them on hand when we need them. Evernote is essentially a portable notebook, allowing you to upload, categorize, tag, and search for notes, whole websites, and images. You can even upload a photo of a sign or business card, and Evernote will make the text searchable! Evernote is totally free for basic storing services, but you can go premium -- which gives you features like more storage, offline access, version control and collaboration -- for a mere $5 a month.

Dropbox works just as any other folder would on your hard drive, except the information is stored in the fluffy, secure, and reliable Dropbox cloud. It's completely free for the first couple of gigabytes of data. They also provide monthly and annual plans to help cover all of your data, which can come in handy if your hard drive crashes. Another solid contender for this type of service is SugarSync.


Working on a project with a team? Asana is a place to track your tasks and project management progress. It's beautifully designed and totally free to use. There are even demo videos on the website to help you learn how to get the most out of it. You may also want to explore similar services such as Trello and Mindjet Connect.

Stitch Labs
After using clunky Quickbooks and Excel to manage orders and inventory for my product line, WilloToons, I was over the moon to discover Stitch. With plans starting at $12/month, Stitch can help manage offline and online sales (including seamless integration with sites like Etsy and Shopify), so crafters and fashion designers can get organized and save time, allowing them get back to what they do best: creating products!

Struggling to streamline your piles of receipts or business cards? With this handy service, you can simply snap a photo of the paper clutter with your phone, and then use Shoeboxed to transcribe the text into a spreadsheet- or address book-readable format. Shoeboxed iPhone apps are free, while paid plans begin at $9.95 per month.

Here's to leveraging the interconnectivity of our modern world, and seeing if we can't free up a little more time for (laptop-free) vacations.

About Women & Co.:
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