The days of folders and filing are in the past. Here’s why and how to simplify your business life by organizing it in the cloud, using Google products and more.
When Michael Salvatore joined Bowery Lane Bicycles as chief officer of nearly everything, he set out to streamline their processes. The start-up based in New York was formed in 2008 as a locally born, locally supported, and locally sustainable business. Founders Patrick Benard and Sean Naughton make a point of working with local vendors. As they state on their website, 'ninety-nine percent of bikes sold in the U.S. are not made in America. We are a part of the 1%.'
Salvatore quickly noticed that everyone was using their personal email addresses so his first step was to create a Google Apps account and @bowerylanebicycles.com email addresses for the employees. They organize their calendars (and sync them on various devices) using Google Calendars, and all of their manuals, marketing materials, and more are Google Docs accessible to their freelancers and vendors, regardless of location. Why Google? Because at their core, Google is a company that set out to organize the World Wide Web via search.
As Douglas C. Merrill's writes in Getting Organized in the Google Era, using new digital tools and technologies can help your business, regardless of size, become more organized, efficient, and successful.
'The core element of the book is to question how you're assuming that things need to get done the way they always have,' says Merrill, former chief information officer of Google and current founder and CEO of ZestCash. 'And by doing that questioning, you can find tips, tricks, and ways to be more effective, lowering your stress level so you can make more effective business decisions.'
This guide will cover why businesses need to take the strain off their brain and organize their businesses in the cloud, the tools (both Google-owned and others) that can simplify those processes, and the biggest benefits your company will see.
Getting Your Business Organized Using Google: Why Use Google?
As technology and connectivity changes the way we live our lives, it has also changed the way we should do business. Just as written messages were replaced by voicemail and beepers were replaced by smartphones, files, folders and internally housing knowledge in your head are quickly becoming less important.
As Merrill writes, 'the root of our problem is our brain; it's simply not designed to deal with the competing demands of our time and attention in today's fast-paced, information-saturated, hyper-linked world.' Every day, we are all becoming more and more overwhelmed by information. So cutting through that clutter becomes increasingly important.
'Google Apps was an obvious choice for us,' Salvatore notes. 'Are there other options? Sure. But none of them are as comprehensive. From a business suite perspective, there's nothing better for small businesses than Google. It's shaped the way we run ours.'
Merrill, who also has a Ph.D. in cognitive sciences and an undergraduate degree in sociology, spends a good amount of time in his book explaining how much we overwork our brains as we try to manage this increasing influx of information, which is the biggest hurdle we deal with in trying to become organized.
'Why use Google? It's all about presenting the facts,' Merrill says. 'Gmail has about 99.97 percent uptime. The average email exchange infrastructure is up about 95 percent of the time. So in addition to paying more, it's more likely to be down or lose your data. So quite simply, if you care about accessing your email anytime, and anywhere, in a way that is far more likely to be available, Gmail is just a better option. People are used to it from the private email service, so getting people to use all of the Google Apps is not that hard.'
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Getting Your Business Organized Using Google: Stop Multitasking
Many successful businesspeople consider themselves great at multitasking. But by trying to do so many things at once, you are actually hurting yourself more than helping. According to a 2009 Stanford University study on the topic, 'chronic media multitaskers are born with an inability to concentrate or are damaging their cognitive control by willingly taking in so much at once.'
'All of us, particularly small business owners, are convinced that we should multitask and so we try to do twenty things at once,' Merrill says. 'Google Apps takes the stress out of that situation. When we're designing a product and brainstorming, we take a picture of the whiteboard, make a Google Doc, which has just enough notes in it along with the picture so that we can find it later, and recall our thoughts. So whenever I want to revisit that particular product development, I just do a search across my files for one of those words and phrases that were in my notes to see the image that captured all of my notes. And we do that using Gmail, Docs, and Dropbox, We also have people in different places around the country, so we use Google Docs, because it's really easy to make and share notes in Google Docs. So if you're physically in the room, you can make notes. But if you're not, you can still see it.'
At any given moment, your brain can hold no more than 5 to 9 items at once in short-term memory, as Merrill notes in the book. As you need more space (when multitasking) and try to remember more, your brain pushes items into long-term memory, until they are needed again. That process is far from foolproof.
'Because of all of that back and forth, it turns out empirically that you drop more information by multitasking than you do by working on tasks independently,' Merrill says. 'So not only does multitasking make you more stressed, but it makes you less effective.'
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Getting Your Business Organized Using Google: Stop Filing
'When you get a piece of paper in your hand, you grab a manila folder, label that folder with something related to that piece of paper and you stick it in your file cabinet, never to be found again,' Merrill says. 'You'll never see it again because you won't know how to find it. The way long-term memory works is in terms of stories, not facts.'
This simple mantra is part of what Google built their platform on. With search, there is always the ability to find the information you are seeking on the web. Similarly, the applications that Google has built for business productivity make folders and filing no longer an important part of business. It's all part of doing business on the cloud.
How useful is it to store on the cloud? When Salvatore was at a conference and ran out of printed materials, he logged into Google Apps, printing out more marketing materials at a local Kinko's, all without his own computer. Without housing their documents on the cloud, they would have been out of luck with the potential customers he met.
'We rely on electronic cloud storage services as much as we can,' Salvatore says. 'Personally, I hate printing. It's an antiquated system to have all that paper flowing around. Instead, everything is on the cloud, and you can share, email and fax it via computer. There's no need for the traditional receipts or invoices anymore. Everything is online.'
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Getting Your Business Organized Using Google: Tools to Organize Your Business in the Cloud
Once you realize the importance of getting information out of your head and on the cloud, where do you put it? In-house management systems are expensive and often not as flawless as Google. As the guys at Bowery Lane Bicycles did, it's as simple as setting up Google Apps. Here are the essential tools Merrill recommends and the direct business benefits:
• Google Mail: lets you store and retrieve your information from one place, with labels and automatic email filtering. Most importantly, it uses Google Search, so you'll be able to find messages easily even if you only remember a few words or the sender's name. It also offers instant messaging, text messaging, video chat and a phone number, making it a complete communications solution.
• Google Calendar: makes it easy to share your calendar with other co-workers (and see theirs), syncs directly with your smartphone, and you can search through it using Google tools.
• Google Docs: It doesn't offer the comprehensive suite of Microsoft Office products, but again, since it is free and cloud-based, the text, spreadsheets, presentations and forms are more than useful for basic, real-time document collaboration. And more importantly, if you have employees working externally (outside of your office or in a remote location domestically/globally, they can access the documents and make changes anywhere).
• Google Analytics: A completely free service that generates detailed statistics about visitors to your website, Google Analytics is the simplest and most robust web analytics offering. Currently used by over 50% of the top 10,000 websites in the world, the analytics allow you to measure how many visitors are coming to your website, how long they're staying there, where they are coming from, and more. There are plenty of other analytics options available but the free offering from Google does the job just fine.
• Dropbox: not a Google product, but an online backup, storage and file syncing service. An extremely simple service to share information, files and more with others. It works great in transferring and storing large files that often exceed email capacity. 'I travel often with just my iPhone, and if somebody needs a file, I can pull it up in the Dropbox app and send it right there,' says Merrill.' (note: free, but priced up to $19.99/month based on how much storage you are looking for).
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Getting Your Business Organized Using Google: More Tools You Can Use
Those are the basics, but if you're really looking to improve the way your business actually conducts business online, a few more can't-miss services that are not from Google:
• LastPass: a password manager that organizes your passwords and makes it easier to access all of your accounts across the web. Enter one master password and never worry about a forgotten or stolen password again. Create different passwords on every site and let LastPass remember them and manage them for you. (Free, Premium = $1/month)
• Adium: a free, downloadable tool (only for Macs), it allows you to integrate and access multiple instant messaging services in one place (because who can keep track of their communication across all of the different instant messaging platforms.
• Mozilla Firefox: Google Chrome is still a fairly new interface and takes some getting used to. For most Mac users, Firefox is still the Internet browser of choice, and it is available cross-platform. With easy search, organization, annotation, bookmarking and plug-ins that are available on Macs, Windows and Linux-based computers, you can't go wrong with Firefox.
• Hootsuite: a social media dashboard for organizations who want to recognize and monitor their presence across different networks all in one place (including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn). It allows you not only to follow your networks, but broadcast to all of them and schedule messages by time and date. (Both free and paid options)
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LOU DUBOIS is a Philadelphia-based Social Media Editor for NBC Universal's local news affiliate (WCAU-TV). He is an experienced writer, editor and marketer who has worked with and written about Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, focusing on social media, emerging technologies, small business success, entrepreneurship, sports business and corporate policy. Previously he worked for Social Media Today, Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and SOBeFit Magazine, along with various newspapers.