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Cloud 9 - How we run the business completely online from anywhere

Written by Simon Tolson on

Time for another short technical interlude.  Last month I wrote about getting your own domain and now that I’ve finished wading through the fan mail from that article (see blog.abovebeachcottages.co.uk if you missed it) I’m ready to share some more details of the setup that we have in place now that technology has evolved and we have had to find solutions to cope with out steady expansion.

It’s not that long ago that we had one spreadsheet on one computer that was updated with all the booking information and used to produce statements for owners.  I backed up onto a disc every week and we took turns to sit in the special chair to add in expenses or anything else.  Now we have half a dozen of us working in the office, at home, on laptops and desktops and I run things remotely when I travel.

The Cloud is an all embracing term that is used to describe lots of things but in our case it has meant running the entire business with the data off site- anyone can be on any computer anywhere in the world with an internet connection and work in the same way as if they were at their desk.  Crucially we can have one document that can even be worked on simultaneously which still looks like Voodoo to me when I see someone else adding things on the same page.

This technology has had a big impact on my quality of life allowing me to split my time between locations, slope off to France or Spain and even work in the car with a mobile connection as I my private chauffeur whisks me around. (OK my wife!)

I’m often asked to show people the systems we use so here’s a summary of the key elements that allow us to be much more efficient than I would ever have believed possible.  There are many different options for each of these elements and I’m sure many are just as good but these are the ones that we have chosen after a lot of trial, error, pain, suffering as well as joy!

Email

Gmail was a revelation when it came out and it just goes on getting better and better.  We have multiple people working on the same inbox, a dozen different domains all on the same system with replies showing the same one that was emailed.  No filing system we just archive and use search to get back what we need.  No backing up and almost unlimited storage so we just keep everything.  The most mindbending thing is that you can have it for free though we do pay a little for the pro version for extra storage and no adverts.

Documents

Linked into Gmail is Google Docs- Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and document storage all in a package that’s included with Gmail.  It’s this that really changed our lives allowing everyone to to work anywhere and there’s only one version of every document that is always up to date.  You can go back and see every change, download and send as a Microsoft document or a PDF, all things that I spent thousands of pounds on in the past.Website & Content Management

I had the great good fortune to go to school with Paul Tansey who went on to found Intergage with his ubertech brother.  They have built a system that has allowed us to manage our own site completely even though we can’t write a line of code.  On top of this they run training on marketing, optimisation and everything else we need to get the job done ourselves instead of paying for a developer that costs more than my solicitor.  Everything works entirely online of course from a browser on any computer.

Booking System

When we needed to make the step up to online booking and payment there were a lot of potential candidates varying from tiny companies to huge corporates.  We chose Holiday Bookings Online www.holiday-bookings-online.com and lucked out as the system has grown with us and links seamlessly into our site.  If you really want to know it’s combined with Secure Hosting www.securehosting.com providing the link to our credit card system (Streamline) and allowing us to take telephone payments on any screen- we don’t even have a credit card machine.

Document & Photo Storage

We have years worth of legacy documents from a dozen old computers pre cloud and tens of thousands of photos, scans of bills, invoices and all sorts of things.  All are stored on Dropbox www.dropbox.com which gives us vast storage accessible to everyone in the company from anywhere and shared with our accountant or anyone else and it is so cheap that it makes my head hurt to think about it.

Hardware

Of course now everything operates online we are able to buy the lowest spec cheapest PCs and I’ve also become a huge fan of the chromebox/chromebook operating system. I remember buying a clunky heavy laptop for £2,000 and spending the best part of another £1,000 on software- MS Office, PDF maker and Dreamweaver.  Now our desktops are under £500 including twin screen setup and I travel with a £250 Chromebook that includes a sim card allowing me to work online anywhere.

If you’re still reading by now then you must have serious work to get done or you need to get out more but you may start to understand how we run an effective business and can charge our owners so much less than the norm.

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Making great holidays happen in Cornwall