New Office 365 applications for small businesses

Microsoft Inspire was filled with announcements of new initiatives and products, but one that might have slipped under the radar somewhat (as Microsoft 365 stole the headlines) was the introduction of three new applications in Office 365 aimed at small businesses:

  • Microsoft Connections – for email marketing
  • Microsoft Listings – for publishing business information online
  • Microsoft Invoicing – for producing invoices and speeding up payment

Microsoft has also taken the opportunity to announce the Office 365 Business Centre, a central hub to manage these new applications.

The addition of these tools is a clear indication that Microsoft is putting small business at the heart of its strategy. Historically tools with functionalities like Flow (automation), PowerApps (app-building) and Power BI (business intelligence), as well as its flagship ERP systems NAV and AX, had only been available to large enterprises, but that’s quickly changing with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models and monthly subscription costs.

These new applications, in preview, will be rolled out to Office 365 Business Premium subscribers over the coming weeks at no extra cost, so we take a closer look at the latest Office 365 additions.

Microsoft Connections

Microsoft’s tagline for Connections is “drive more sales with simple email marketing”. Email marketing is essential for businesses across all sectors, but it can sometimes be financially out of reach for smaller businesses and start-ups.

Microsoft Connections comes with pre-designed templates so businesses can get started immediately; these templates include newsletters, announcements and e-shots. Like most Office 365 tools, Connections is available in-browser and as an app on mobile and tablet devices.

Businesses can easily manage contacts, subscribers, unsubscribes and will have access to a wealth of reporting tools to evaluate campaign performances, including open and click rates.

This sees businesses able to manage more tasks than ever within one area; Microsoft puts a lot of work into not only making its applications consistent, but into integrating these applications cross-platform. For example, the Dynamics NAV 2017 release saw an integration into Outlook that meant a significant amount of tasks could be completed in an application that most workers have open all day, every day.

Microsoft Connections is another arrow in Office 365’s ever-expanding quiver, allowing it to keep customers using its services whilst giving small or new businesses a platform that once would have been out of their price range.

Microsoft Invoicing

Invoicing services are nothing new to Microsoft, with a plethora of flagship ERP systems including Dynamics NAV and Dynamics AX sitting in the Microsoft ecosystem. It’s arguably not as significant a step as offering a completely new service as Microsoft Connections does, but it does give smaller businesses some of the functionalities that the power players have.

Microsoft Invoicing is fairly self-explanatory; it allows businesses to create invoices and estimates at the click of a button. Integration with PayPal is a significant feature, allowing small businesses to take credit card payments. QuickBooks, the forte of the small business, also integrates.

The tool will also track pending payments and allow for quicker processing. The latter in particular is essential for small businesses who don’t necessarily have the working capital that is available immediately to bigger companies. This readily-available digital invoicing tool has the potential to create significant savings for SMBs.

Microsoft Listings

With search engines now taking the lead when it comes to finding new leads and opportunities, businesses must have a clear and tangible online presence. Websites are essential at some point, but they might be too expensive for businesses starting out. This is where Microsoft Listings comes in, allowing small businesses and start-ups to manage their business listings on a number of services including Google, Facebook, Bing and Yelp.

Business owners can manage and update these listings – you’ve guessed it – in one central hub in Microsoft Listings. This takes a lot of the work out of manually updating important consumer information like opening times, addresses and services on multiple sites.

Like Connections, Microsoft Listings comes with powerful analytics tool that allows businesses to track and report on page views, ‘likes’ and reviews, with average star ratings. According to Microsoft, this allows business owners to “strengthen [their] online reputation”.

How do I get Connections, Invoicing and Listings?

Microsoft will be rolling out these features to Office 365 Business Premium subscribers in preview across the coming weeks. If you’re on an Office 365 subscription that isn’t Business Premium, you won’t have access to these tools. It’s worth weighing up the options to see if your business would benefit from a better package. A step up to Business Premium from Office 365 Business or Office 365 Business Essentials means the inclusion of all Office applications (both desktop and online), SharePoint, Skype for Business and more for what is largely a manageable price.

If you’re not on Office 365 already, why not?