Running your business with internal server systems is so 20th Century. If you’re not utilizing cloud technology, I highly suggest that you check out all the awesome things that are available to you. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about when I mention “cloud technology,” just stop what you’re doing and email me, right now…. I’ll explain and help you get on the right track!

Now seriously, this has always been my plan: to have a business that could operate from any location at a cost-effective price that did not require a lot of maintenance. I wanted to ensure that I would have 100% access to our entire vault of project files, business information, and everything else at all times. It wouldn’t matter if I was in my office in Norfolk, VA, in my living room, at a meeting in San Francisco, or working out of the back of a Winnebago.

One of my favorite stories is from when my wife and I were traveling to Canada. We were sitting in line at border control on a Saturday. I suddenly get a call from a frantic client that has “lost” a PDF that we sent him earlier that month. He needed it for a Monday morning meeting and was worried that since I was out of town I couldn’t send him a replacement. No worries, I grabbed my iPhone, opened my Dropbox account, navigated to his PDF, and forwarded him a direct download link via email. In a matter of ten minutes our client’s fears were relieved and we were crossing into Canada!

So, how do we do this? The fast and easy answer is that we use Dropbox Team Accounts for our folder structures. This costs us less than $800/year for 5 of our team members to have full access. We set up the account online, then each team member downloads the Dropbox software to their machines. Then, as the account owner, I select the directories that I want my team to have on their machines (mainly the client project folders). I can easily mark each of those directories and “hide” other directories from their view. This allows me to securely store financial data and other sensitive information on the same system and have that sync with my machine.

What this leads to is a centralized server holding all of our clients’ project data in one place. Additionally, all the files are on everyone’s own machines. This makes it easy for our designer to open a Photoshop file, make updates to it, then call me to open the same file and take a look. Because we are all synced, we are seeing the same files at the same time. But because each of our machines host duplicates of the files, everything opens super fast.

The downside is that as your company grows, this can take up a lot of machine space on your teams machines. I talk about how I solved that problem in another blog entry – Amazon Web Services for backing up archived projects.

Dropbox isn’t the only cloud server solution out there. I tested quite a few and put simply Dropbox is the only one I trusted when we settled on their technology a few years ago. Since then other vendors have come to market, but no paid solutions have grabbed my attention enough to migrate away from Dropbox. That said, another option that we are testing out now is BitTorrent Sync. This is software that allows you to set up a similar environment to Dropbox, but it’s much less expensive. The downside is that you have to build and maintain the servers on your own. Look out for a future article about how to set up BitTorrent Sync for team collaboration.