What Is SharePoint? A Beginner’s Guide

SharePoint is a website-based application, part of Microsoft Office, that is a powerful tool for team collaboration. While SharePoint isn’t as well-known as Word or Excel, it’s a powerful tool that your team should be using to improve collaboration and communication.

In this beginner’s guide to Microsoft SharePoint, you will learn all about SharePoint – what it is, how to use it, how to get started, and some tips and tricks that you might find useful.

Let’s get into it.

Also Read: 15 Best SharePoint Intranet Website Examples 

What Is SharePoint?

SharePoint is a service by Microsoft that allows teams to share documents, files, and information with each other. These files are conveniently located on a central web page or site that other team members can access at any time.

For example, let’s say you have a document you want to share with your entire team. It could be a document that contains instructions or team guidelines for a project, for example.

You can upload that document to your team’s SharePoint page, so they can open it whenever they need to.

In addition to storing documents that the team can access, you can also upload lists and other types of content, such as news updates.

Think of it as a central resource for the team to get all the information they need about any project you are working on. Here is the list of 20 top SharePoint team site examples we have curated for inspiration.

It’s unfortunate that many people don’t know exactly what SharePoint is and hardly use it. While it’s not that complicated to figure out – it’s pretty simple, really – it can prove very useful by improving communication and increasing collaboration.

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SharePoint vs OneDrive: What’s the Difference?

Before we continue, it is important to explain the difference between OneDrive and SharePoint. Since they are similar in many ways, you may have wondered whether there is any practical difference between the two and why you would choose to use one over the other.

OneDrive is actually built on SharePoint – it was released years after SharePoint was. However, it’s meant for individuals as opposed to teams.

An individual can have a OneDrive account, upload a document, and grant access to other team members, so they can also view the document. However, at the end of the day, despite the sharing capabilities, the OneDrive account still belongs to one person who manages it, uploads documents, and controls access.

SharePoint, on the other hand, is truly a team effort. Anyone on the team can upload documents and edit them – provided they have been granted access.

That’s another thing about SharePoint – you can choose who can get access to or edit a specific document, as you may not want all team members to be able to access or edit it. Management will be able to track who is working on what.

SharePoint also allows for the addition of news updates, page building, and team memos, as it focuses more on team collaboration and sharing as opposed to being an individual storage space for one person.

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How to Access SharePoint?

If you have Microsoft Teams of Office 365, you can access SharePoint rather easily. Here are the steps you need to take:

  • Head to Office.com.
  • Click on Apps in the left-side menu of the screen.
  • Then, click on All Apps to see the full list of apps available in Microsoft Office.
  • Scroll down until you find SharePoint. The apps will be listed in alphabetical order, so it won’t be too hard to find.

SharePoint Online vs Server-Based

SharePoint is available online, in Office 365. It’s a great way for your team to collaborate over the internet.

On the other hand, your business can opt to host SharePoint on a local server with an Office 365 Enterprise subscription. There are some benefits and additional perks and features of going down this route, although most small businesses will find the online version sufficient.

The online version allows you and team members to create sites and upload documents to those sites for the entire team to collaborate on.

Your business will get access to SharePoint if you have a Microsoft 365 plan, or you can subscribe to SharePoint as a standalone service.

How to Get Started With SharePoint?

The best way to get started with SharePoint is to create a team site. Click on Create Site to do that.

You will be able to create either a team site or a communication site. They are slightly different: A team site is for a team to collaborate — everything we have been discussing until now.

Your team members will be able to upload content and view content others have uploaded. You will be able to stay on track of everything going on in the project and coauthor content.

A communication site is more like a portal for a few authors to communicate with hundreds or thousands of people. It’s more suitable for larger organizations, like large enterprises or schools, when you want to share updates, memos, news, and other information with a large number of people.

Then, continue creating your site by entering the required information. If you are creating a team site, choose whether you want it to be public or private.

Once you have created your site, you are ready to go! The next step will be uploading documents for your team members to view.

You can start by creating a list or a document library. Alternatively, you can create a page or news update – just choose any of the available options that show up when you click the plus button.

If you select “page,” for example, you will be able to create a webpage on the site, complete with articles, text, images, and more.

Note that things will be slightly different if you are using SharePoint Online vs the server-based version.

For example, when uploading a document in SharePoint Online, you will click on the Upload option in the top menu. On the other hand, if you are using the server-based version, you will click on the Documents option in the left menu and then on the Upload button.

SharePoint Top Features

In this section, we will discuss the top features of Sharepoint that you can use for your business, group, or team.

Create Sites

SharePoint is designed to allow teams to create intranet sites where they can communicate with team members more effectively and efficiently.

After creating a site, you can upload documents, images, multimedia, and anything else the team might need to see.

Alternatively, you can create a communication site if you have a large group of people who need to stay on top of updates. You can choose between one of two themes – one allows you to add news updates and other content, while the other focuses more on images – best for showcasing a product or event.

Alternatively, you can choose a blank theme for your communication site if you want to start from scratch.

People who are in your company can search for various sites from the organization and follow them. When they follow a site or person, they can stay up-to-date more easily.

A team site comes pre-populated with a news feed, quick links, and an activity feed. In the modern version of Microsoft 365, team sites are connected and linked to team groups in Microsoft Teams.

When you create a group on Microsoft Teams, you can instantly allow them access to your SharePoint site. Groups is a feature that Microsoft added to Teams – it spans multiple apps in Office (it is not limited to SharePoint) and makes managing access to resources easier.

When creating a site on Microsoft SharePoint, make sure to add an email address that anyone can use to contact you. Furthermore, choose the privacy settings – either entire members in your organization can access the site or only specific members.

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Create a Page

On your site, you can create pages. Note that Microsoft has introduced a modern look and design to much of SharePoint, although some pages, like the wiki page, only have a Classic design and no modern element.

Administrators can allow team members to create pages or turn off this ability. Alternatively, even if page creation is allowed on the organizational level, administrators can turn it off for specific sites (see more information here).

So, what can you share on a page? You can upload images, share Excel or Word documents, share videos, and more. Modern web pages are designed to be mobile friendly (Classic pages are not), and you can also customize the layout after initially creating them.

You can also add web parts, which are blocks of content that make your web pages more engaging and interesting to viewers. Here are some web parts you can add to your page:

  • Charts
  • Dividers
  • Calls to action
  • Images
  • Sections
  • Columns
  • Quick links
  • A Bing Maps widget
  • A code snippet

You can also add a Connectors element, which allows you to feed updates from Trello, Facebook, GitHub, an RSS feed, and other third-party platforms and news feeds.

If you are a teacher, you can add an Assignments web part, which allows students to see their upcoming and due assignments (you need to be on an EDU plan for this feature).

Another web part is the Events web part, which allows you to display information about upcoming events, including schedules and locations.

When creating a page, you can add it to the news feed or add a link to it in the navigational menu to make it easier to find. Alternatively, you can send a preview of the page via email or notify your team members of the new page via Yammer.

Add News Updates

Adding news updates is one of the most useful features of SharePoint. Think of it as a private news feed for your entire team or group.

When you create a news feed, you can also add images and other web parts, as well as a background image to catch people’s attention.

Alternatively, if you have already published the news update elsewhere, or if you simply want to inform people of an article published on a third-party site, you can enter a link and SharePoint will pull the update from that link.

Create Lists

One of the crucial features of SharePoint is the ability to create lists. A list allows you to conveniently share important data with your organization.

For example, a product list can show your customer service reps a full list of products available in case anyone calls to ask. You can create all types of lists, though, not just product lists, and filter your lists to find specific items quicker.

You can also manage who has access to your lists.

SharePoint Tips and Tricks

In this section, I will go over some more advanced tips and tricks that will come in handy when using SharePoint for your team. These tips will allow you to be more productive and get more done.

Customize Your Site to Reflect Your Brand

Did you know that you can customize your site in SharePoint and add your branding? You can do this in the modern version of SharePoint, available in Microsoft 365.

You can do this by going to the settings, where you can change the header and theme. You have a few options there – there are some pre-made themes, but you can also create a custom company theme with your own branding and use it for your site.

When customizing your header, you can choose from several layouts. The minimal layout, for example, is just a thin header with basic information; the extended layout is larger with a header image, title, menu, and more.

You can change the header color and upload a custom background image.

In addition to the header, you can also add a footer and customize it as well. You can add a separate menu of links to your footer.

Back to themes – you can choose from the modern or classic themes or create your own with the theme designer tool.

Share Files and Folders Outside the Organization

SharePoint is primarily designed for you to share files and documents with people in your organization. However, it is also possible to allow access to people outside your organization.

If you’ve ever used sharing in Google Docs, this will be somewhat familiar. For example, you can create a link that anyone can access or restrict the link to certain approved people or groups.

You can also get granular in what people you allow access to the document can do with it. For example, if you don’t want them to have editing capabilities, you can only allow them to view or download the files.

Alternatively, you can allow viewing but block downloading. Other options include only allowing people to leave comments or requiring a password for people to access the file.

Use the Mobile App

Did you know that you can access SharePoint on the go using the mobile app? The SharePoint app allows you to find links and sites you frequent, share and save content, like, comment, and more.

You can find the mobile app in the app stores, or you can go to this page and enter your email address to get a download link for the Android or iOS app.

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Use Workflows and Power Automate

Microsoft introduced workflows into SharePoint to make it easier to get things done. For example, workflows can be used to automate collecting signatures on a document.

Alternatively, if a document needs to be reviewed by several parties (such as the legal department and sales team) before being approved, a workflow allows you to easily route the document through the appropriate channels.

You can create workflows by going to your Workflow Settings, which you can find under List Settings.

Here are just some of the types of workflows you can set up:

  • Route a document to the required parties for approval
  • Route a document to collect feedback from select parties or people in your organization
  • Collect signatures on documents and files
  • Track a project or document through a three-step process (great for sales leads or customer support issues, for example)

Using tools such as Microsoft SharePoint Designer and Office Visio, developers can also create custom workflows for Microsoft SharePoint in case any of the built-in workflows are not sufficient for your organization’s needs.

In addition to workflows, there is something called Power Automate. Power Automate is a tool by Microsoft that spans multiple apps and allows you to set up automated workflows from the many pre-built templates, using triggers to start workflows.

There are over 100 templates for SharePoint in Power Automate. Some of the SharePoint templates include:

  • Save email attachments to a SharePoint library and receive a notification
  • Send a custom email when a new SharePoint list item is uploaded
  • Copy items from one Online Sharepoint account or folder to another

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How Much Does SharePoint Cost?

Finally, the last section in this article will discuss pricing – how much SharePoint costs.

First, let’s discuss standalone pricing – if you are interested in SharePoint Online alone but don’t need an entire Office 365 subscription. There are two standalone plans available:

  • SharePoint Online Plan 1: This plan costs $5 per user per month, billed annually. It’s great for small and midsized businesses. It includes 1 TB of OneDrive storage for each user and all core SharePoint features.
  • SharePoint Online Plan 2: This plan costs $10 per user per month. It offers unlimited storage for your users as well as advanced features that make it perfect for enterprise-sized businesses. For example, you can use advanced DLP to identify and protect sensitive info or search for content in case of litigation or audit scenarios.

For updated pricing for SharePoint Online, check this page.

SharePoint is also available as part of an Office 365 plan. It is available when you get any of the following Office 365 plans:

  • Office 365 E1: This plan costs $10 per month per user. It includes business services such as email and file storage but no Microsoft 365 apps. You do get Outlook, Exchange, Bookings, and Delve. You also get OneDrive, Sway, and Stream for file storage.
  • Office 365 E3: This plan costs $23 per month per user and comes with additional Office apps, including Word, Outlook, Publisher, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access. It includes additional services such as Yammer, Skype for Business, Teams, and Delve as well. It also comes with business email hosting and much more.
  • Office 365 E5: This plan costs $38 per user per month. It comes with everything that E3 does but with advanced security and analytics, including Power BI Pro and Viva Insights, as well as threat and information protection.

For updated information on Office 365 plans, check this page.

Finally, SharePoint is available as part of a Microsoft 365 subscription.

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Most Microsoft 365 Business plans (designed for small and midsized businesses) include access to SharePoint, although the cheapest plan only includes access to online versions of SharePoint and other Microsoft apps. Plans start at just $6 per user per month – check them out here.

The exception is the Microsoft 365 Apps for Business plan, which costs $8.25 per user per month and does not include SharePoint. Note that this plan only gives you access to the desktop versions of Microsoft apps.

All of Microsoft 365 Enterprise plans also include access to SharePoint. They start at $8 per user per month and go up to $57 per user per month – check them out here.

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Wrapping It Up

There you have it – a complete guide to SharePoint for beginners.

SharePoint is like a team website managed in Microsoft Teams, which everyone can access on the web or from their phones, subject to the permission rules set by the administrator.

SharePoint is affordable when purchased alone or as part of a broader Microsoft Office or Microsoft 365 plan.

However, if you sign up for one of the latter plans, make sure that SharePoint is included – the pricing page will always tell you which apps and services are included in which plan.

About Author

Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.