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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cloud Apps Come Up Short In Support Of Globally Ambitious Small Business

As a small business, 3Point Communications has embraced the cloud-based applications and has enjoyed many benefits such as lower costs and easy, anywhere, anytime access. Many lists of excellent tools, of which many are subscription-based or pay as you go, for small business are readily available, including this list from Refocusing Technology that covers applications that help with communications and administrative functions for small business.

With lower barriers to entry and enablement by cloud applications, Going Global is a dream of many small businesses. Business can reach customers where ever in the world they happen live and work. Laurel Delaney, CEO of, recently penned an article which contains some solid ideas on how to expand business abroad. Tools like Skype and Gmail make it easy to stay connected with customers and partners, and there are many applications for sharing information and collaborating, such as Google Docs.

However, cloud-based applications fall short in supporting small businesses that seek to actually establish operations abroad. Selling products via the internet to customers internationally is one thing, but the complexities of establishing a base outside the U.S. requires a level of sophistication that apparently many vendors have yet to solve.

3Point Communications is on a path to expand internationally itself this year, and we have hoped to leverage cloud applications to help run our business, achieving cost savings and the flexibility that SaaS applications afford. Structurally we are geographically diverse, with associates spread across the country, collaborating daily via various cloud apps. And, as our teams are increasingly multinational, we need internet-based applications to enable easy input and access for team members wherever they happen to be.

Unfortunately, as we move to create a presence in both Europe and Asia, we have encountered limitations to some of the applications we use. Time tracking and accounting software are two areas where significant improvements could be made. For example, QuickbooksOnline, which we have successfully and happily used to manage the company's finances, does not accommodate multiple currencies.

In our business, we need to track time priced at local hourly rates in local currencies and consolidated into single currencies to invoice clients. Currently QuickbooksOnline is unable to accommodate this.

Some same limitations are found with time tracking software such as Freshbooks which states on its website “Every customer should look like a Fortune 500 company, based on the image sent by invoices, bills, or other accounting communications, no matter what size the company is.”
This is not quite so, as in the case of the small business who wishes to send a consolidated invoice covering activities in multiple countries, for multiple currencies, Freshbooks is not able to comply as Freshbooks can only support one currency at a time. So, all employees regardless of location would need to use a mutual currency or each employee would need to manually convert the hourly rates from local currency to the rate billed to the client. An unnecessary loss of time.

This may sound picky and certainly not all business would require the same level of capability, and I am assuming that most vendors are focusing on products for the domestic market. However, there are companies like 3Point out there that have ambitions beyond the borders of the U.S.

We will continue to audit applications that we can utilize with our business and will pass along our thoughts through this blog. Please provide us comments to this post and any leads to great small business applications.

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