By Daniel Saks

Wearing multiple hats for their companies, including that of IT director, small business owners are pounding the cloud’s door for help. Cloud applications have simplified tasks for SMBs, from customer service to billing to storage. But with more applications on the rise, how do small businesses find, select and manage the best apps that are reliable and easy to use?

1.       Be Selective. Pick an app that meets your needs. Instead of an “all-in-one” approach, small businesses should identify their exact pain point and then consider software that addresses it most effectively. Multifunctional applications—such as invoicing software that also does sales forecasting and accounting—can be expensive and complex. Consider a less costly app that solves your main problem, invoicing.

2.      It’s Not a Popularity Contest. The most popular apps aren’t always the best. Just because an application is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for your business. Spend some time researching your options. If the app involves complicated setup or integrations, see what kind of assistance the vendor offers.

3.       Offer App 101. Educate your employees and partners. Even if an app is easy to use, that doesn’t mean that your employees and partners will automatically know how it works, or understand why you’re using it. Make sure that you take the time to demo the solution with your employees and talk to your partners, too; the last thing you want is to discover that your new accounting app isn’t compatible with QuickBooks, and your CPA can’t use it.

4.       Build a Circle of Trust. Turn to providers you trust. Research shows that small businesses prefer to obtain technology solutions—like Internet service and Web hosting—from trusted local providers.   Fortunately, many of these providers also offer Web-based applications, or will offer them soon. Not only can providers offer discounts by bundling applications and services together, but they can also offer robust customer support, just in case.

5.       Manage the madness. Use a single portal to access apps. Using multiple cloud applications can quickly get out of hand, especially if the software comes from multiple vendors. That’s why using a central location–such as an application marketplace–to manage all of your apps is critical. Many application stores offer time-saving functionalities like single sign-on, where users only have to remember one username and password to access all of their applications. Many telecom companies, ISPs and other providers offer tools like these, with more portals set to come online in the coming months and years.

Daniel Saks is co-CEO of AppDirect, which recently partnered with Small Business Web to launch the Small Business Web Directory, a Web-based application marketplace that gives small business owners access to robust software solutions without the high cost or hassle.