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Grow Your Business Technology

Beginner's Guide to Office 365 for Small Business

Beginner's Guide to Office 365 for Small Business
Credit: Shutterstock

Much of the working world runs on Office 365. If you have a small business, Microsoft's suite offers a reliable set of cloud tools that are getting better all the time, thanks in part to the company's rivalry with Google's G Suite.

While the setup and many other elements of Office 365 may be straightforward, there are still some nuances and lesser-known software to be aware of. Additionally, the rapid pace of new tools means you might now know how much you're getting for that monthly fee.

So, if you're thinking about going the Microsoft route or just looking for a refresher, check out our tips in this starter guide to Office 365.

It's a Microsoft service, so of course there are multiple versions to explore. You can choose from three small business plans.

The most basic plan is Office 365 Business Essentials. It's $5 per user per month (all prices are with an annual commitment), and the focus is on communication and web-based software. You get web-based versions of Outlook with custom email addresses, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Skype, SharePoint and 1TB of OneDrive per user. It seems designed to compete with G Suite, which has similar pricing for tools that primarily live on the web.

However, if you want downloadable, desktop versions of Office or full access to the mobile apps, you'll need to jump up to Office 365 Business, which grants each user 1TB of OneDrive storage and downloadable versions of the suite on up to five PCs and Macs, five tablets, and five phones. Other goodies include Microsoft Teams, Sway and Skype for Business.

The ultimate package is Office 356 Business Premium, which gets you the above tools and unlimited HD video conferencing through Skype, SharePoint, access to Microsoft Bookings, and a team intranet.

From the Office site you'll manage downloads of the software to a Mac or PC and be able to check which machines have already installed it. You're able to send out invites to others on your team. You can also check OneDrive storage and where you stand against your installation limit.

 

Credit: Manage your Office applications from the main hub.

By default, you and your organization will be on the stable ring of Office's software updates. But if you want to live more on the wild side, you can sign up yourself or opt in others to the Office Insider program. This gives you features before they roll out to everybody else, but it may come with some bugs. Proceed with caution.

 

When it comes to offering customization, Outlook is also a platform on its own, with many third-party plugins that can add extra functionality. For example, the Office Store has plugins for Boomerang, Evernote and other popular productivity services.

Everyone's familiar with the major Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. But there are a few others that might make sense for your organization.

One is OneNote. Microsoft has really ramped it up in the last couple of years, tempting a lot of people away from Evernote. The latest redesign makes the interface consistent across devices, and it has some great collaboration features. Your team can use shared notebooks as a collaboration space for ideas and random thoughts as they build to fruition. [Read related article: Evernote vs. OneNote: Which Is Best for Your Business?]

Office Sway is a modern rethink of a presentation app. Much like Haiku Deck or Prezi, it can be embedded on a website and breaks away from the one-slide-after-another mode of storytelling.

 

Office Sway breaks outside of the mold of the boring PowerPoint slideshow deck. Credit: Microsoft

 

Microsoft Bookings may also be helpful for businesses that rely on client bookings, as it syncs and displays shared calendars to avoid double bookings or missed appointments. These are two examples of how Office 365 is much larger than just the core apps you may be used to using.

As a monthly service, you'll maintain access to your software for as long as you keep renewing your annual commitment. You can use the admin portal to cancel your subscription if you have fewer than 25 licenses. Otherwise, you may need to call Microsoft directly.

Microsoft is locked in an intense battle with Google's G Suite to rule small business productivity. The upside of this is that both companies are working furiously to improve their services and add compelling features. If you've chosen the Office route, you can be assured that you won't get bored with a steady flow of new tools to try out.

Derek Walter

Derek Walter is a freelance writer in northern California. He is the founder of Walter Media and author of Learning MIT App Inventor. Follow him on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn or Google+.