As a business owner who works primarily on the web, I need to use online tools that help me collaborate with my clients all around the globe. I’ve introduced Basecamp and Wunderlist before, two great tools that allow you to collaborate on tasks, and this post’s tool is similar but is really focused on shared documents. It no longer makes sense to send documents back and forth via email, so if you are still doing this then you need to check out Dropbox.
What is it?
Dropbox is a shared folder system that integrates easily with your regular folder system. Instead of having to upload and download things in an online platform, you can save, edit and delete documents as you normally would. You can put items in a folder and the person or people who are shared on that folder can access the same documents. No more emailing back and forth needed!
You can access it through your browser and your smart phone and that makes it easy to share documents and access files when you’re not on your own computer.
Why I love it
Dropbox makes it really easy for me to access all my client and business folders from my main work computer, my travel laptop or my smart phone. That means I can work on the same files at home or on-the-go. Everything is always synced.
Also, my clients and I collaborate on many documents and we don’t have to send anything back and forth. I put a file in our shared folder, send a quick email that it’s there, and my client can see it, edit it, and then I have the final version.
3 ways it helps your business
1. Makes collaborating on documents really easy
Like I mentioned above, I can put a Word document in a shared folder and my client can edit it, save it and I”ll see the latest version. No need to rename the file to “final final FINAL SERIOUSLY FINAL.doc” and send it back and forth.
Dropbox will let you know if the other person has the document open and is working on it, and therefore you shouldn’t make edits. This can save a lot of hassle again with identifying which is the final version.
2. Uses your existing folder structure (and system)
To get started with Dropbox, you sign up for an account and then you need to download and install the shared file system. Add it to your C drive or main computer storage space and once it’s installed, the folder will look like your other folders. In newer versions of Windows, you may see a different icon next to your files and folders, and all those mean is that your files are shared and they are updated/not updated.
After that, you open your folders and files like you would with any other folder or file. You can save documents right in those folders, delete them (be careful because they’ll delete for all shared users), edit them and all people shared on the folder will see the same thing.
3. Free to start
You can get started with Dropbox for free and have a limited amount of file storage in your folder. This is a good way to test the system and see if it’s right for you. If you aren’t working with too many shared folders, you could continue with free forever. If you use it often and with a lot of people, the individual plan is $9.99/month (with a slight discount if you pay annually.)
For many, the investment is worth it to have access to all of their files anywhere they are.
Features to look out for
Commenting on docs in your browser
You can access all your files through your browser and one really useful tool is that you can comment directly on a document and have them saved for your colleagues to see.
I highlight a section where I’d like to make a comment, make my comment in the comment pane, and then it’s “saved” to the document. When my colleague (who’s shared on this same folder and file) opens up the document in their browser they’ll see the comments and can reply.
I can also @mention someone who’s shared on that file, that means Dropbox can notify that person and let them know that I’ve mentioned them in my comments. This can begin a discussion right on that document, keeping everything in one place.
This commenting and discussion feature just adds to the ways to collaborate on shared documents that does not rely on tracked changes and sending things back and forth via email.
Share link + settings
Each file in your Dropbox can be shared with a person or persons who are not already on the shared folder, and it can be shared publicly through a share link.
First, to share it with one person, roll your mouse over the file name and click on the “Share” button. Then you’ll see the option to add an email address of the person you’d like to share it with. Now they’ll be able to see or edit the file.
Second, you can share a file with the public, meaning anyone who has the link to that file that view that file. You can change the settings so that anyone who has the file can comment on it as well. This can be a useful tool if you want to share a large file, like a video or image.
Additionally, you can put a password on the file so someone has to use a password to view the file, and you can set an expiration date on the share link. This means that you could allow people to view it for a month, and then after that it goes back to being a private file.
Button with updates and options
When you open a document, like a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, that is in your Dropbox, you’ll see a button to the side of the document with a menu of options for working with that file. It gives you an update on who edited it last, and can allow you to easily share or email the document. Many of these options will open Dropbox in your browser to make those things happen, but it’s great to have this “quick” button on every document you open.
When you install Dropbox on your computer, you’ll get a new icon in your taskbar. That is the Dropbox icon with the syncing indicator. When it’s green like this it means that all the files in your Dropbox are synced between all of the shared folders of all of the people you have them shared with. If it’s blue, with little arrows, that indicates it’s actively syncing. For example if your colleague adds a file to a shared folder, it needs time to sync to your folder.
All of this goes on in the background while you’re working!
Viewing files in your browser
All of your files are accessible through your browser, but the real benefit is that you can see images or watch videos directly in your browser, without needing to open them on your computer. This is really helpful if you’re on the go: you can see the files themselves or watch a video right from your phone without having to download them.
This can be useful for freelancers or business owners where you want your client to view a document before you hand over the final version. Or where you want people to see a video without them having to download it themselves.
Would you try using Dropbox for your business?
Let me know in the comments why or why not.