There was a time not that long ago when the traditional folder and file storage on your own computer was your main storage medium and that was usually backed up with an external backup drive that was kept in your place of business or your home office.  Today, online cloud storage solutions have come to replace the traditional on-premise storage and almost all businesses are now either using or migrating to the cloud.   Today, one of the most important things you can do for your virtual assistant business is to start saving yours and your clients files in the cloud.  It’s pretty much a requirement in todays digital world.

As a virtual assistant, it’s important that you choose a cloud storage solution where you can not only safely back up your files but also collaborate with your clients by being able to both accept and store documents online.  In this article we’ll take a look at 5 of the most popular service providers to help you select the best cloud storage solution to fit your needs. Each offers similar, but slightly different services and they all offer a free starter service to get you going.  Which one you choose may depend on the kinds of files you store, how much security you need, whether you plan to collaborate with your clients, and which devices you use to edit and access your files. For instance, if you’re just saving Microsoft Office files, probably any of the free services will serve you well for now but if you are saving large graphical and video files, you may need to upgrade to a larger capacity server.  The ones we’re going to take a look at are services that offer not only good backup capability  with folder and file syncing but can also be used as collaboration software offering real-time document co-editing.

Best  Cloud Storage Solutions

  1. DROPBOX

DropBox is great for virtual assistants as you can it use to store everything from photos and videos to large graphic files and PowerPoint presentations.  You can also access your files easily from your computer, phone or tablet.  Dropbox is one of the oldest cloud storage services out there and it comes with 2GB free storage to get you started with very affordable plans that you can upgrade to as your business grows.  The nice thing about DropBox is you can create and edit your work, including Microsoft Office files, directly in DropBox so you don’t waste time switching between apps or searching for files.  You can also connect your other tools to DropBox, like Slack and Zoom, which is a great feature to have when working from home.

Another extremely important feature is the File sharing capability you get with DropBox.  All you have to do is just share the link with your clients and you can send them anything – from photos and videos to zipped folders and large graphic files – You clients don’t even need to have a have a Dropbox account to view files you send them as all you need to do is send them a shared link to the file or folder via email, chat or text.  It’s so much more safer than sending files with email as you can share links and files from anywhere, using your phone, tablet or computer as long as you stick within your cloud storage space quota (2 GB and up).

GETTING STARTED:  To get started using DropBox and claim your 2GB of free space, go DropBox for Personal Plans.

TRAINING:  To learn more about DropBox, its features and how to use them, visit the DropBox Features page.

2.  ONEDRIVE

OneDrive is Microsoft’s free cloud-based storage solution whose purpose is to provide a single place for you to store and access your files.   The real value of OneDrive is that you can access it from multiple devices including Windows computers, Mac computers, windows, iphone, Android Smartphones, iPads and other tablets.  OneDrive is particularly useful for individuals and businesses that use Word or other Office products as you can store and access your Office files, pictures, and other files all from one central location. This allows you the ability to collaborate and work together with anyone in your workplace and personal life.

There are currently two types of OneDrive solutions – one for personal use and one for business use.  The personal OneDrive storage gives you 5 GB for free but if you need more space you can currently get 100 GB for just $1.99 a month.   If you have an Office 365 subscription, you’ll automatically get 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage.  OneDrive for Business is provided with every business level Office 365 subscription and is usually configured as part of an organization’s Office 365 online infrastructure.

The wonderful thing about using OneDrive to store your files in the cloud is that you can edit and share your documents without having to download them to your computer.  You can simply share files, folders and photos by just sending a link via email or text.  Files can also be synced with your computer and OneDrive so that your changes are automatically copied between the cloud and your computer providing an instantaneous back-up capability.

GETTING STARTED.  Sign in to office.com and select OneDrive.  You will need a Microsoft Account to get started using OneDrive.

TRAINING:  Microsoft offers a great video series on everything you need to know about OneDrive including Getting Started with OneDrive, managing your files, share and sync, using the mobile app and securing, protecting and restoring your files. You can access the video series here.

EBOOK:  There is a free, downloadable e-book from Microsoft that teaches you how to add files using your computer or the OneDrive website, get files from your phone or tablet, and create, edit, and share Office docs on the go.

3.  GOOGLE DRIVE

With a Google Account, you can get 15 GB of storage for free which sounds generous, but keep in mind that this storage gets used by Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos, so you need to be cognizant of items that take up space on your drive and learn how to delete any unnecessary or unneeded files.  The good news though is if you are just using Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and Sites, they don’t take up your free storage space.  Neither do Google Photos and videos stored in”High quality”.

You can store your files securely and open or edit them from any device using Google Drive. You can also save your email attachments and back up photos and videos. If you need more than 15 GB, you can upgrade to Google One. You can pretty much store any type of file in Drive including photos, videos, presentations, PDFs and Microsoft Office files.

When choosing a file storage service, it’s important to understand the implications of working with Microsoft Office files as this is a fairly common situation you will encounter.  One particularly nice feature of Drive is that it allows you to collaborate in Microsoft Office files without the need to convert file formats.  However, if you want to edit an office file, you will either have to edit the file using Office Compatibility Mode or convert the file to Google Docs, Sheets or Slides.  Once you’ve edited the file, you can then save and export it as an Office file to share with your clients.

You can also edit and store over 100 other different file types including PDFs and different image formats.   The drive is built to work specifically with Google so if you are a Google power user, this might be a good solution for you.  It has all the important share and collaborate features so,  as with other popular cloud storage services, you can invite others to view, comment, and edit any file or folder you choose.

4.  ICLOUD

If you’re an Apple user, iCloud may be a good choice as iCloud is built into every Apple device so all your photos and files, etc will be automatically updated and available wherever you are.. Everyone gets 5GB of free iCloud storage to start, and it’s easy to add more at any time.   One of the main benefits is that it is super cheap and even if you upgrade to 50MB, it’s only 99 cents US at this time.  Cost of plans vary depending on what country you live in.  Keep in mind that this price could change at any time but as of writing this blog post, that is the price.  Even though iCloud is supposed to work for PCs as well, I have not successfully got it to work so I don’t necessarily recommend it if you’re using a PC.  You’re probably best sticking with Microsoft Onedrive.

iCloud Drive lets you organize your files with folders, rename them, and tag them with colors. And when you make a change, the update is made across all your devices. You can even have everything in your Mac Desktop and Documents folders automatically available in iCloud Drive.

iCloud Drive makes it fast and easy to work with others from anywhere. Just send a private link and they’ll get instant access to the folders and files you’ve chosen to share, so it could be a viable solution for your VA business. You control whether they can view, share, or edit each file, and you can change these settings at any time. Anyone can participate since it works across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows PCs, and the web.  Also, iCloud automatically backs up your iOS and iPad OS devices when they’re connected to power and Wi-Fi in case you loose any valuable data.

GETTING STARTED:  Login to your icloud at icloud.com.

TRAINING:  There’s not a lot of free training on icloud but you can find out more about pricing and features at Apple ICloud.

5.  Box.com

While there is no free storage option, box.com is worth considering because for just $5.00 per month, you get up to 100 GB of storage and the capability to collaborate with up 10 different users.  Another great feature is there is complete built-in integration to many of the popular apps such as Office 365, Adobe, G Suite, Zoom and Slack making it simple to collaborate with your clients as well as access your files from any device.  This built-in integration allows you to open, edit and save different types of files all without leaving box so no uploading and downloading is necessary every time you receive a file from your client.  Another nice feature for those working remotely is that you can easily open up PDFs stored in Box directly in Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Acrobat Reader to edit, share and sign.  This could be useful for getting approval on projects and quotes as your clients can approve and sign proposals directly from Box.

With Box you can upload files and folders and use shared links to actively collaborate on them in real time with your clients or partners. It’s easy to control permissions and enable view-only access when needing to send drafts for client approval.

GETTING STARTED:  Go to Box.com for more information on pricing and features.

TRAINING:  The Box.com Knowledge Center provides lots of “How to” information on using Box.

 

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