More than ever, small businesses are using technology to help them operate more efficiently and cost-effectively in an increasingly competitive environment. One type of technology that business owners are taking advantage of at increasing rates is Mobile Applications. As a matter of fact, according to a recent article in USA Today, apps are now considered by many to be key to small-business savings.
AT&T surveyed 2,246 small business owners and found that nearly 72% stated that they use apps regularly and almost 40% admitted that they would find it hard to survive without them. Mobile apps are great time savers – and in the business world, time is money.
Mobile apps can help small business owners save time—about 5.6 hours a week, according to a report published by the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council in June. The study estimated that small business owners are annually saving 373.8 million hours of their own time and 725.3 million employee hours by using mobile apps. The employee hours alone translate to about $17.6 billion a year, according to study co-author and SBE Council Chief Economist Raymond Keating.
While there are plenty of reviews and articles available that claim to have THE information about the “top” or “best” mobile apps for small businesses, which apps you ultimately choose really will depend upon your personality style, the needs of your business, and quite frankly, your budget. There is no “one size fits all” application that will make everyone happy.
What I have learned in my consulting business is that many owners are simply not aware of all the different apps that are available and what they can actually do to increase productivity and reduce expenses. For many, it is simply a lack of free time to do the research and to sort through overabundance of apps – and more keep popping up every day.
Rather than provide a list of specific “must have” apps, I believe that it is more important to talk about the top categories of apps. This is not an all-inclusive list, but rather categories of apps that are most likely to benefit all types of businesses, regardless of industry or size.
Barcode Readers – You may already be using a barcode app for personal use to do price comparisons and to scan QR codes for coupons and discounts, but they also come in handy to help keep track of your competition or to do market research. More advance barcode readers can also be used to monitor business inventory, which is especially convenient if you handle products on the road. Since there are many free versions available, and because there are benefits beyond your business, a barcode scanner is a no-brainer app to have.
Communication – Since one of the purposes of a mobile phone is to be able to talk to people while on the go, adding a communication app may not be something that you thought of as being necessary. However, mobile apps like Skype make it possible for you to use your phone to talk free without touching your data usage limits – talk about a powerful money saving tool, especially if you have international clients. Plus, you have the added benefit of being able to see the person you are talking to which definitely can come in handy if you need to actually see something in the field.
Credit Card Readers and Merchant Accounts – For business owners who work outside of a set location, mobile card readers are literarily a dream come true. Unlike the traditional table top card readers which often charge a monthly fee, there are many mobile versions that will send you the reader for free (it attaches to your phone when you need to use it) and will only charge a fee when a payment is processed. Choosing which merchant app is best for your business will depend upon your needs. To start your research, PC World conducted a formal test and comparison of four of the top mobile payment systems. There are many others available in the Android and Apple store. You can also check with your current merchant account provider to see whether they have a mobile app.
Document Scanners – Since many of these are free, it makes sense to download a document scanner to your mobile phone. There are general applications that can be used to take an “electronic picture” of any document, and there are apps that can actually “read” the information on the document, automatically filing either the form, the information, or both into preset categories. For example, a mobile document scanner can eliminate the need for taking paper receipts back to the office.
Document Signers – If your business requires getting signatures in the field, there are mobile apps worth checking out. These apps allow you to build a database of forms that can be signed and stored electronically, eliminating the need for carrying print documents. Since the documents are stored in the cloud, you never have to worry about lost or damaged contracts.
File Syncing and Sharing – In “Four Freemium Cloud Storage Solutions on the Fly” we discussed the benefits of cloud storage for business. All 4 companies profiled (Google Drive, SkyDrive, Dropbox and Box), as well as many others, offer apps that really give you the ability to store, synch and share files while you are mobile.
Financial Apps – If you are a person on the go, then you may definitely want to take a look at adding a financial app to your mobile tool box. There are apps available to assist with tasks such as accounting, book keeping, time sheets, invoicing and billing – and many of them are free. Make sure that you choose one that also offers an online version so that you have the flexibility to move between the two. Two free financial apps that are getting good reviews are Wave and Mint. Big boys like FreshBooks and QuickBooks offer mobile applications that work with their online accounting software. Zoho is just one example of a company that offers the ability for you to create and send invoices (and get paid) from your mobile phone.
Organizational Tools – There are many applications available that can really help you to stay organized and more productive. One great feature that most have is the ability to voice record notes and reminders. Highly recommended organizational apps include Evernote, OmniFocus and SpringPad.
Social Media Dashboard – If your business involves multiple social media accounts, especially if you are actively communicating through social media to your clients, it makes sense to have a App to help you
Time Tracking – Does your business require you to track either your actual time or the hours worked by your employees? If so, then consider downloading a time tracking app. Three that come recommended by many small businesses are Toggl, GetHarvest and MyClockWork.
Whatever type of mobile applications that you decide will work best for your business, take the time to read user reviews and ratings before downloading, especially if you are considering free or open-source apps.
To save you time, the following articles all provide independent, non-financially linked, reviews of some of the top apps for small businesses.