Google Apps for Business is a solid alternative to Microsoft's Office 365 suite, and a good all-in-one solution for small businesses that don't have much of an IT budget. A subscription includes software to create, edit and collaborate on documents; a good videoconferencing app; cloud storage with unlimited space; and a calendar that makes it easy to schedule appointments. Read on for five ways to get the most out of Google Apps for Business.
1. View and edit documents
Google Docs is a full-featured word processor that lets you write, edit and annotate documents. Meanwhile, Google Sheets is a powerful spreadsheet editor, and Slides lets you create business presentations. Because all three apps run in your Internet browser, you can do all your writing and editing without installing dedicated software on your computer, giving you more flexibility to work on whatever machine you choose. And as long as you have an active Internet connection, Google Docs automatically syncs your files to the cloud so they're backed up and always accessible. It also works offline; any edits or changes you make to a document will be synced next time you're online.
Google Docs, Sheets and Slides also allow for collaborative editing. You can work inside a single document simultaneously with teammates or other colleagues, see changes as they're made in real time, and communicate through built-in chat. Advanced document settings let you tweak access to editing, viewing and commenting for each document.
Google Calendar is a reliable tool to help your team plan projects, coordinate appointments and schedule meetings. And subscribing to Google Apps for Business adds new features to make your team more productive. For starters, it lets you use a shared calendar to browse and reserve conference rooms and shared equipment such as projectors just by adding them to a Calendar event.
Google Calendar also makes it easy to schedule meetings, since you can easily let others know when you're available. You can also quickly check co-workers' availability, and even layer multiple calendars in a single view to see how your schedules overlap. Additionally, Google makes it easy to migrate from other business calendars, with tools to import your appointments and events from Exchange, Outlook and iCal.
3. Cloud storage
Google Drive is a solid cloud storage platform that lets you back up your files and documents, and access them later on just about any Web-connected device. Signing up for an individual Google Drive account gives you 15GB of storage per user, but you can pay a bit more to add extra storage and functionality. [Google for Business: A Small Business Guide]
A basic subscription provides 30GB of storage for each user, for $5 per user per month. But for an extra $5 per user per month, you can get access to Google Vault, an archival and document-discovery tool. You'll also get unlimited storage for all your employees as a bonus. Adding up to just $10 per user per month, that's about half the price of the biggest storage option previously offered by Google, which provided just 1TB of storage for each user. There's one caveat for the smallest businesses: Companies with fewer than five employees will still be capped at 1TB per user.
Google Apps for Business also adds new functionality to Google Drive. For example, it gives you more options to grant permissions for downloading, viewing, editing or commenting on documents. Additionally, you get access to integrated Google Drive apps such as DocuSign for digital document signing, and Smartsheets for project management.
Gmail is already one of the best Web mail services around. But signing up for Google Apps for Business opens up tons of new features for professionals. For starters, it lets you create professional email addresses for all your employees, of the format firstname.lastname@example.org. That's a huge plus for small businesses that want to appear more professional online.
Other perks for business users include twice the storage of personal Gmail accounts: 30GB per user instead of 15GB. That means you never have to worry about deleting an important message. Google Apps for Business also eliminates advertisements in Gmail, and provides a tool to sync your emails, events and contacts between Microsoft Outlook and your Google account. If you prefer to use a desktop email client instead of a Web portal, Gmail is compatible with Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail and Mozilla Thunderbird.
The free version of Google Hangouts is a decent solution for one-on-one videoconferencing. But a subscription to Google Apps for Business opens up new options. It lets you add a Hangout to any meeting on a shared calendar, so employees, co-workers and colleagues can join your videoconferencing session with a single click.
And Google Hangouts has features to make video meetings easier. For example, the screen automatically focuses on whoever is speaking at the time, and dynamic muting helps eliminate distracting background noise. The app also lets you share your screen to review slides or give a remote tutorial from anywhere. Meanwhile, built-in chat lets you easily share links. Hangouts is a good solution for small businesses, but the 15-person cap for video meetings might hinder larger companies.