Over the past year or so, you have likely heard numerous executives in the information technology industry promoting the idea of “democratizing business.” If you cut through they hyperbole, what the democratization of business technology really comes down to is making software that was once affordable to only a few available to all. This feat is accomplished through the benefits of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and the power of cloud computing.

For a small business, democratization means gaining affordable access to applications that allow a one-person operation to appear as sophisticated and powerful as a Fortune 100 global conglomerate. Many of the new applications found in Microsoft Office 365 are designed to do just that. The latest new feature, rolled out to subscribers in October 2017, is the Business Center, where small businesses can more easily manage customers, access social media, and invoice for services rendered and products sold.

SEE: Set up Office 365 Small Business Premium in five steps (Tech Pro Research)

Office 365 Business Center

One of the more difficult tasks for a small business, especially one that is just starting out, is getting your product or service in front of potential customers. Websites, social media, and search engines can help, but it can be difficult to manage your message across all platforms. Microsoft Listings, now available as part of the Office 365 Business Center, can simplify the process.

Listings allows you to create one branded identity and one consistent message and then disperse it to Facebook, Google, Bing, and Yelp. By establishing an online presence in this way, small businesses can project a consistent brand across all platforms.

SEE: 50 time-saving tips to speed your work in Microsoft Office (free TechRepublic PDF)

Another task small businesses find particularly troublesome is email marketing. Before the democratization of the required applications, sending engaging professional newsletters often involved expensive specialists and services. But with Microsoft Connections, small business owners can engage customers from the Office 365 Business Center. All they need is customer contact information.

This may surprise you, but an invoice template has been one of the most requested downloads from the TechRepublic Resource Library over the years. Creating, sending, and tracking invoices is one of those administrative functions that small business owners sometimes think about only after they have made a sale or performed a service. The Invoicing app available in the Office 365 Business Center eliminates the need to scramble for a solution after the fact.

Microsoft Invoicing allows users to generate estimates, accept online payments with PayPal and other services, track pending and partial payments, and set up sales tax calculations. Small businesses can also review previous invoices for each customer and each service or product, essentially establishing a searchable database without formally creating a database.

In addition, the Office 365 Business Center grants access to apps that track vehicle mileage (MileIQ), arranges customer meetings (Bookings), and manages client contact information (Customer Manager). All of these applications are available to subscribers to Office 365 Business Premium or higher and can be accessed from the new Business Center Dashboard found on the online Office 365 apps list.

SEE: Advanced Business Skills Bundle (TechRepublic Academy)

Bottom line

The Office 365 Business Center is just the latest example of Microsoft’s continuing strategy to become the only productivity software any business will ever want or need. By using the power of SaaS and the cloud, Microsoft offers small businesses the sophisticated software they need to compete with larger and richer competitors. This is what the “democratization of business” is all about.

If you are a small business, or even a not-so-small business, and you are looking for an edge on the competition, it would be hard to ignore the benefits of a cloud-based productivity suite like Office 365. It is really the only way to get on the same playing field as everyone else.

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