Business owners hear it all the time (including from me): “Take advantage of the cloud!” But businesses have several cloud options to choose from.

Though each has its advantages, when it comes to small businesses, I see a clear preference for the public cloud. The public cloud gives small businesses the technology capabilities of larger companies at a price point that won’t break the bank.

I often hear business customers say, “We’re sold on moving to the cloud, but where do we start?” Here are a few of the best practices.

RELATED: Jumping to the cloud changed my life and business

Why the public cloud is good for your business

Recently, small business expert Gene Marks called public cloud the “all in” cloud. When you go with the public cloud, you work with a trusted provider for services like servers, data storage, and applications delivered to you via the Internet. It’s like the technology equivalent of a public utility, meaning you pay for storage, computing, or networking resources as you use them, just like you do for electricity or water. With the public cloud, you’re up and running fast, you can scale up and down as needed, your team can collaborate in real time across multiple devices and locations, and your computer network benefits from enterprise-level security, reliability, and redundancy. Perhaps most appealing, the public cloud reduces the up-front costs associated with buying servers and software, in addition to the time and money required to manage and maintain such infrastructure. It also means you pay only for what you use.

DIY or work with a partner?

If you have the internal IT staff and expertise, performing cloud migration yourself may make a lot of sense. Not every small business has those resources, however, and many choose to hand the process to an experienced technology partner or cloud provider. A partner can do the heavy lifting while you focus on running and growing your business. Technology partners deliver value beyond the migration itself. Many provide planning, training, consulting services, and specialized industry applications that help you get the most out of your investment.

The public cloud gives small businesses the technology capabilities of larger companies at a price point that won’t break the bank.

An incremental approach to moving to the cloud

Not all companies are in a position to move all their data and applications to the cloud in one big push. In many cases, it makes sense to take a step-by-step approach that prioritizes some data and applications over others.

Take Microsoft partner Eastridge, which recently helped a small plastic-molding manufacturer overcome a significant email-related pain point that was starting to hurt the business. Eastridge quickly moved the company’s mailboxes to Office 365, giving all employees the ability to connect using any device, from anywhere, without running into the errors they had previously experienced with remote logon.

For many companies, email is a great first step. Chances are you and your employees are already accustomed to getting your personal email via the cloud, so shifting away from an on-premises email server is a natural shift. With a cloud-based email client, your employees will enjoy the same familiar experience, but you won’t bear the burden of managing an email server yourself.

Take the next steps in the cloud

You can also improve collaboration by using additional cloud productivity tools. An online software suite—one which includes word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation applications—is a wise investment. Because they run in the cloud, they typically sync documents across devices, so your employees can take their work with them wherever they go and work from whichever device is most convenient.

Work is also synced across users, allowing users to collaborate on the same document at the same time regardless of location. It’s a significant boost in flexibility and productivity with easy setup—at very little cost.

Over time you can begin doing more in the cloud with customer relationship management programs, device and mobile management, and so on. This stage is where an experienced partner is truly invaluable, making sure that your business isn’t disrupted during the transition and you get the most out of your investments.

Solving the cloud conundrum

Small business owners need to make informed choices about the technology that helps them reach their goals. What I described above is just one approach to the public cloud based on my own experience. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of a trusted technology partner or adviser who can help you determine the best way to improve your business. Remember that inaction has a cost, too. Don’t sit still. It’s time to move to the cloud.

By Thomas Hansen, Vice President of Worldwide SMB, Microsoft

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