Cloud services: 24 lesser-known web services your business needs to try
Approval Donkey - cloud-based approval workflows
How many times has a project come to a screaming halt, simply because the next approval in the chain never happened?
Often, these bottlenecks aren't because a higher-up didn't actually want the project to go through, but simply never got around to signing off. Approval Donkey automates this process. It can integrate with hundreds of other applications, set up certain approval workflow patterns, track the status of any approval, and provides a centralized interface.
Asana - a work manager application
Imagine if your favorite to-do manager and Slack got together and had kids.
That's Asana. Asana is a project management app that organizes projects across teams. It manages sets of tasks across people and groups and allows for connected conversations, reporting, and tracking. If you've been managing projects through a pile of spreadsheets or emailing attachments to everyone, Asana will be like a breath of fresh air.
Airtable - a mix of cloud-based spreadsheet and database
Airtable is an interesting product.
It's billed as part spreadsheet and part database, but it's really a flexible information manager. It allows you to store information, structure it, share it among collaborators, and work on it in a variety of forms. The key is that iy comes with a wide range of templates, so you can structure your data to look like an inventory, a Kanban chart, a calendar, a catalog, or whatever.
Backblaze - easy and less expensive cloud storage
Backblaze is trying to straddle two aspects of the cloud storage market: End-user backups and object-based cloud storage.
It offers a set-it-and-forget-it backup system that keeps copies of your local data (including some system files) in the cloud. You can backup any drive inside the machine, as well as any drive connected via a USB connection. It also competes against object-based cloud storage like that offered by Amazon S3 and Azure. Backblaze's service is called B2.
Cloudphone - a virtual PBX
Today, of course, we have the cloud.
We don't need physical boxes or phones. We don't even need landlines. But we still need to be able to route calls, have automated attendant services, business voice mail, conference calling, and business phone numbers (because no one wants to give out a personal number to every customer). Enter Cloud Phone. It's like having a fully-functional corporate PBX without all the hassle.
Cloudways is cool in a way only an over-worked geek or overwhelmed web developer would understand. To fully grok this service, we need to chunk up a bit and look at infrastructure as a service. Elsewhere in this guide, we profiled Digital Ocean, a service that provides virtual cloud servers nearly instantly. The problem with Digital Ocean (and don't get me wrong, we like it a lot) is that its support stops at the OS install.
That's where Cloudways comes in. Cloudways actually runs on top of AWS and Digital Ocean (and a bunch of other IaaS platforms as well). When you buy infrastructure on Cloudways, you can specify the underlying infrastructure provider. It'll automatically do the configuration, set up your servers, and customize (usually, with a single click) your applications on those servers. Plus, it offers 24/7/365 actual humans that can provide you with support.
Digital Ocean - alternative to AWS
Digital Ocean provides IaaS (infrastructure as a service) services.
You can create virtual machines in the cloud, load them up with resources, and operate them as if they were physical servers. In addition, Digital Ocean now also has managed Kubernetes clusters. What I like about Digital Ocean over Amazon's AWS is the simplicity. You create droplets, provision them with RAM and processing power, decide what region you want them to run it, and you're up.
Drip - marketing automation
Drip used to bill itself as "the CRM Salesforce didn't build," but now pitches itself as ecommerce CRM. That's still now quite right, because it's more marketing automation and less CRM.
In reality, it's a marketing automation tool that automates customer interactions, mostly via email. Think of it as a list manager on steroids. It integrates with many different shopping carts and lead capture tools. Once a customer's contact is brought into Drip, it can be subject to any number of campaigns, which are drip mailings sent out over time.
Help Scout - help desk software
Help Scout helps your small business manage support interactions with customers.
While the core of Help Scout is a shared email support environment, Help Scout has integrations that allow it to manage incoming voice calls, voice mail, and more. It can route customer requests to individual agents, as well as prevent collisions (when more than one agent tries to manage a ticket). It also has a support chat, centralized knowledge base, pre-canned replies, any more.
Hootsuite - social media management
Without help, it's almost impossible to sift through all the chaos across services ranging from Twitter to Facebook.
That's where Hootsuite comes in. It allows you to schedule and prepare corporate messaging across many popular social networks, listen for requests from consumers and prospects, watch for key trends, and keep up with the constant flow. We particularly like the browser extension that allows you to immediately grab the article you're currently reading and share it to your audience or queue it.
HubSpot - inbound marketing
Inbound marketing is a buzzword for what is, essentially, the opposite of outbound marketing.
It's creating an environment where you attract interactions to you. Inbound marketing can be used to drive all the content creation, social media, SEO optimization, mail list subscription campaigns, and other activities where customers self-select their interest in your products. HubSpot manages this process and does a bunch of the things other services in this guide perform.
Jira - beyond bug and issue tracking
Jira is a tool for software development teams.It is known for being a bug and issue tracker.
It allows you to create a database of bugs and development issues, track how they're being handled, and follow-up on fixes and solutions. But Jira, is owned by Atlassian, adds a number of agile team coordination tools, including scrum and kanban boards. The Jira scrum boards also provide for management and roles.
MailChimp - mailing list management
MailChimp is a mailing list management service that, like Drip and HubSpot, does basic marketing automation via email.
What we like about MailChimp is that its very careful about list management, has a great management dashboard, and excellent integrations with tools like shopping carts and blogging systems. The company also provides sign-up templates and other tools that allow you to easily integrate mailing list capture into your website. Recently, MailChimp added display ad retargeting to its offerings, too.
Shopify - Turn-key ecommerce
Shopify is about as complete an ecommerce experience as you're likely to find.
Not only will Shopify set up an online store for you, the company offers mobile apps and two variations of "chip and swipe" readers for use in physical point-of-sale retail environments. The company has a full cash register option as well. Add in integrations with Pinterest, Facebook selling, and Amazon, and you have an end-to-end selling system that gives you a lot of choice.
SurveyMonkey - survey building and tracking
SurveyMonkey lets you design and field surveys online.
Surveys can be simple, or have multiple stages based on the information you're trying to gather. What we particularly like about SurveyMonkey is the many different types of questions and formats you can include in your survey. You can even turn a survey into a quiz. Additionally, SurveyMonkey supports robust report and analysis tools and will help find folks to fill out your surveys.
Teachable - cloud-based learning management system
Online learning is a fast-growing field. Teachable helps create online courses.
It combines the necessary learning management features of course preparation, grading, and reporting with the business necessities of a great landing page and payment processing. In addition, Teachable allows you to create quizzes and group class discussions. It also provides integrations with conferencing and video collaboration software.
Twilio - Add voice services and SMS messages to cloud apps
Twilio is another service aimed mostly at software developers.
It provides a series of communications APIs (applications programming interfaces) that developers can use in their applications. These include inbound and outbound SMS messaging, voice, and chat. The company provides all the communications infrastructure to back-end the communications services. This means that if you want to add SMS messaging into your app, all you need to do is add the code.
Unbounce - drag and drop landing pages
Unbounce is a service that helps you build landing pages that... wait for it... bounce less.
The service has a webpage builder with a large array of very highly customizable templates. You can drag and drop elements to create the destination page that best meets your needs. Unbounce also allows you to A/B test your pages, so you can experiment with different approaches and see which format works better. You can also use tools for lead capture, capture on scroll, and more.
Earlier, we talked about CloudPhone and called it a virtual PBX. Now, we're looking at service called VirtualPBX. So, what makes it different from CloudPhone?
From my perspective, the most interesting and forward-thinking aspect of VirtualPBX is how it integrates smartphones into the solution. VirtualPBX issues you phones as if they were the carrier. You can get Apple and Google phones, so you're not sacrificing performance. But your phone number is part of the PBX, outgoing calls are part of the PBX, and your phone is completely integrated into the PBX system. Yes, you can also have landline phones as well, but we know that we're all so much more mobile-centric these days.
This approach also allows you some very advanced capabilities if you want it. VirtualPBX has the ability to integrate web hooks with more than 750 other applications, including click-to-call from SalesForce -- on your mobile device! Other features we like is the ability to make calls using nothing but your browser, international numbers and the ability to send and receive faxes.
WuFoo - Online form generator and database
WuFoo goes beyond traditional form-filling by allowing you to design forms that upload files.
That way, you can build out a form that captures more than just text. You can build a form that captures images, PDFs, or other files as well. Another feature we like is that WuFoo integrates with many other web services, ranging from CRMs to project management services. WuFoo forms can also be integrated with payment processing services, so you can create forms that result in transactions.
Xero - accounting alternative to QuickBooks
Xero is often viewed head-to-head against QuickBooks Online.
In reviews, both are considered very strong competitors. QuickBooks tends to have slightly better integrations and features for the US domestic market, while Xero is particularly strong in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia. The differences between these products is subtle. If you want a more straightforward entry-level tool, you might prefer QuickBooks.
Zapier - inter-application automation system for cloud apps
If you've ever tried to automate smart home devices like light bulbs, you may be familiar with a service called IFTTT.
Zapier takes that to a whole new level, allowing you to link more than just one input and one output, but entire sequences of behaviors across many different sites. These sequences are called Zaps. You can, for example, create a Zap that monitors Twitter, and based on certain phrases, triggers a new help log in Help Scout while also posting a note on Slack.
Zoho One - almost everything (and more) that G Suite does, without the Google
At its core, Zoho One has a web office offering, comparable with G Suite or Office Online.
But there's more. Zoho One is actually 40 different web apps, along with companion mobile apps. There's a full-featured CRM application, a help desk application, a complete accounting application, a survey system, a conferencing and chat system, an e-commerce system, an HR management system, and on and on and on. And each application is a fully-powered solution.
Zoom - video conferencing alternative to Skype, GoToMeeting, and Hangouts
Zoom is a video conferencing and webinar alternative.
While it offers many of the same features as the market leaders, in my experience, Zoom has been a more solid application than Skype, less expensive than GoToMeeting, and has better conference management tools than Hangouts. It's also easier for participants to join meetings. Your participants only need the URL provided for the meeting. Click it, install a little helper app, and go.