Do you use productivity tools in your business, like spreadsheets, email, calendars, and word processing applications? What would you say if we could show you how to get all of those applications (and more) delivered either for free, or affordably, over the Internet?

Google Apps is the collective name for the suite of productivity applications available from Google. There are two basic options available — the free version of Google Apps or the paid, enterprise edition — “Google Apps for Business.” Here’s how to sign up for Google Apps for your company.

Google Apps vs. Google Apps for Business

Google Apps vs Google Apps for Business

How to Sign Up for Google Apps for Your Company

Before signing up for Google Apps, you’ll need to evaluate the needs of your organization to see which version of Google Apps is right for you — the free edition or the paid edition. Both versions come with what Google refers to as “Messaging apps,” consisting of Gmail (web-based email) and Google Calendar (appointment management), and “Collaboration apps” including Google Docs (spreadsheets, word processor, and presentations) and Google Sites (a website creation app).

The free edition of Google Apps is limited to 10 accounts per organization, whereas the paid edition allows you to create unlimited accounts. In addition, Google Apps for Business includes both the Google Video for Business and Google Video for Business applications, which make the sharing of videos, calendars, mailing lists and so on much easier within the organization.

Google Apps for Business also includes 25GB of email storage per account, Microsoft Outlook interoperability and perhaps most importantly, 24×7 technical support with a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee (according to Google). A complete comparison of features between the free and paid editions of Google Apps can be found on the Google Apps website.

Start With a Free Trial

Google Apps for Business

If you’re still unsure as to whether or not you need the free edition or the paid edition, start by signing up for the free trial of Google Apps for Business. Use the service for the duration of the trial period and evaluate whether or not you used any of the applications offered exclusively in the paid edition. By the end of your trial, you should also know whether or not you’re going to need more than 10 accounts for your organization. If you find that you don’t need what Google Apps for Business has to offer, sign up for the free Google Apps edition at that time.

To begin your free trial, navigate to the Google Apps for Business website and click the blue “Begin Free Trial” button in the top right corner of the page.

A new page will open and you’ll be asked to type the domain name of your business in the text field at the top of the page. Enter the domain name for your business (e.g. and click the submit button. Next, you’ll be asked to fill out a number of fields, including a username and password for your account, the complete mailing address for your business, along with a separate administrative email address in case you need to reset your account. Read through the Terms and Conditions and select (or deselect) the option to “automatically enable free new services as they become available.” Click the blue button at the bottom of the page entitled “I accept! Create my account.”

Setting Up Your Google Apps Account

After a few moments a pop-up will appear asking if you’d like to install the “Express” or “Custom” version of Google Apps. Customization can always be done at a later time if necessary, so for now choose the Express setup by clicking the “Go Express” button. Note that even the express setup takes about half an hour to configure. You’ll also need access to your company’s website domain to confirm that you own the domain you signed up with. If you don’t have access to any of the technical information required by the Google Apps configuration wizard, you can always choose “Do it later” and enter that information at a later time.

After clicking the Go Express button, the Google Apps setup wizard will launch and walk you through the following sequential steps to configure your account.

Verify Domain Ownership: The first thing you’ll be asked to do is to verify that you are the owner of the domain you specified in the initial Google Apps account setup. Click “Next” and you’ll be prompted to log in to Google’s Webmaster Tools website, using the account name and password you used to set up your Google Apps account.

You’ll be given a couple of methods of verifying the ownership of your domain; either by uploading a file to your domain or adding a metatag to your site’s homepage. Click “Verify”, or click the “Do This Later” button if you’d like to temporarily skip this step.

Set Up Users and Groups: You’ll be prompted “Do you have other users?” Click the radio button entitled “Yes, I have other users” if you’d like to set up additional users and Groups to share documents and applications with, or click “No it’s just me” if you have no Groups to set up at this time.

Set up your Apps: By default you’ll get the Gmail, Docs and Calendar apps added to your account. If you’d like to add additional apps, click on the “Add or change apps” link and you’ll be given options to add the Postini Message Security and Google Video for Business apps. You can either add and configure these now or add them later.

Gmail: Next, you’ll be walked through a series of steps to set up your Gmail account. You’ll be asked if you want to route your email through Google’s servers or use a different email server; Google recommends routing your email through their servers. In any case, you’ll be asked to change your domain’s MX (or mail server) records. You may wish to have one of your technical staff on hand to do this, or you can click the option to “Do this later.” Next, you’ll be given your Gmail address to access your email on the web, and you’ll be given an option to customize your settings if you wish.

Google Calendar: Following the Gmail configuration above, you’ll be given a URL to access your Google Calendar online.

Google Docs: Configure sharing options and other Docs features by clicking on “Docs settings,” or choose the option to “Do this later.”

Set Up Billing: Click the “Set this up now” button if you’re ready to commit to signing up for the paid version of Google Apps for Business (you’ll need a valid credit card on hand), or to continue with your free trial, click “Do this later.” Note that the account you set up will be temporarily suspended if you don’t either complete the billing setup or cancel your free trial before the trial period ends.

Mobile Access to Your Google Apps:. Here, you’ll be presented with the option of adding your Google Apps account to your preferred smartphone. Compatible phone operating systems include Android, Blackberry, iPhone, “Other,” or you can “Select All.” Instructions on adding your Google Apps account to your preferred phones are provided, or you can select “Do this later.”

Extend and Customize Your Apps: If you wish, you can get more apps from the Google Apps Marketplace. Google makes a series of recommendations and provides a link for you to browse both free and paid apps available on its online apps store.

Use the Chrome Browser: If you’re not already using Google’s browser “Chrome”, Google gives you the option to download and install it.

Training and Support: The final step in the Google Apps configuration is the presentation of various help and support options, links, online documentation, and so on. You can visit the Google Apps Learning Center, the Google Apps Deployment Center, or “speak to an expert” through the Google Support Page.

Benefits of Using Google Apps

The Benefits of Using Google Apps

Google lists a number of benefits of using Google Apps on its benefits page. Chief among these is the benefit of having a cost effective, enterprise-wide suite of business applications available online.

A not so obvious benefit to consider, but one that may prove very important in the longer term, is the intention of Google to provide a “social layer” to all of its applications. And the name of that social layer? Google+.

In other words, Google is integrating Google+ connectivity into all of its products. For example, Google+ Brand Pages are now showing up in some Google search results. It’s possible that by using Google Apps, you may increase the opportunities to integrate with Google+ and potentially increase your search profile on Google in the process.

Do you use Google Apps in your business? Share your experiences in the comments below.

[Image Credits: Google Apps, Google Apps/YouTube]