As a small business, focus on what you do best. Leave most everything else up to high-speed connections, software-as-a-service vendors, and the "cloud."
When I built companies back in the 90s, one of the requirements was the creation of an expensive, difficult-to-maintain data center with raised floors, air conditioning, rack space, staffing, and bandwidth. This was the only way to give employees access to the company's systems.
Today's technology gets rid of most of those headaches. My company only has a small closet with a couple of machines that support our research functions. We create and use a tremendous amount of data by storing research findings and over 3,000 hours of video annually. We outsource as much and as often as we can.
Here's why I recommend you do too:
The tools you need to run your business effectively can be found online. You don't have to go to the store. And gone are the days when you had to purchase software packages or licenses for each computer as well as upgrades, sometimes on an annual basis.
Take everything with you
Having everything stored online, or in the "cloud," as it's called, means that information can be accessed from any computer, anywhere, any time of day. I recently used the Dropbox app while I walked through the Muir Woods to send a file needed at the office to complete a customer bid.
Upgrade in real-time
The best part of using an outsourced service is that upgrades and feature add-ons are automatic. Your company benefits from the latest and greatest and it's installed for you without any work or worry on your part.
Spend money wisely
Many programs are free or can be purchased at a minimal cost. Of course you get what you pay for, so choose tools that make sense for your business, even if it means paying to get premium features or more authorized users. Outsourcing to cloud-based tools will save hiring an employee or two.
How do you find the best tools? New tools and technologies are emerging every day and it's easy to become overwhelmed. I rely on colleagues and industry reports to gather information and make an informed decision. There are tools for general business needs (accounting, for example) as well as industry-specific, specialized options.
Some of my current favorite tools for outsourcing include:
In addition to taking and sharing notes, Evernote lets you send websites or e-mails to others and store audio and video clips. You can collaborate on a document without opening any other application, and notes are available even when you are not connected to the Internet.
Dropbox gives you access to all of your files anywhere you go. It's just as easy as putting a file into a file folder on your computer. It allows for collaboration and handles version control very well.
We use a "software as a service" version of Quickbooks, which makes it easier for us to share financial information across the organization, as well as with our external controller, accountant and other financial consultants. The built-in dashboard gives you up-to-date information on your income and expenses, and provides a historical comparison.
There's even an application that allows you to outsource cutting checks! Just like an online banking application lets you pay personal bills, Bill.com can be set up to take in invoices from your vendors and pay them electronically. There are multiple review steps that allow you to keep control of your cash.
The appeal of these services is that you can reduce overhead and maximize limited resources. Many tools can be customized to your company, too.
At a conference I attended recently, a VC said his firm will not consider investing in a company that is building out its own data center. This is a good reminder to focus on your core strengths; outsource tools and systems as often as you can.
More from Inc.com: