Technology has changed the way that people do business, and none more so than the small business community. Now that the owners of SMEs carry smartphones in their pockets that are faster and more capable than many desktop computers, they can handle the intricacies and admin of their enterprises wherever they are, at whatever time.
And fuelling this technological shift have been the apps that people download onto their mobiles, allowing them to balance their books, send out invoices, ensure their customers are happy, and keep abreast of the latest news, all from their handset. A recent report from communications watchdog Ofcom found that smartphone users have an average of 23 apps on their phone, of which they use ten regularly. The study also suggested a trend towards individuals preferring the use of apps over conventional browsers for many activities, so chances are that businesses will be run increasingly via apps and on the move in the future.
One thing that the digital world has revolutionised is the way that companies communicate with their customers, with a two-way conversation made much easier by email and social media. So, it’s not surprising that many SMEs are using apps that focus on customer service in particular. Rankings from GetApp.com, one of the biggest business software marketplaces, include customer support services Zendesk, Happyfox and Freshdesk among their most popular downloads. Apps for cloud accounting, such as Freshbooks, are also highly favoured by business owners, as is software relating to sales and marketing, including Infusionsoft.
Boost Capital talked to Carl Barlow, digital marketer and founder of Digital Eyes Media, an online marketing consultancy that works with small and medium-sized businesses, to find out which apps he believes entrepreneurs are using to keep their organisations up-to-date and operational. Here are five of his recommendations:
- Copy.com: This app is a great way to store, share and access your documents anywhere, with a massive 15 gigabytes of storage for free. It’s really simple to use and makes it easy to share large files with customers, suppliers and staff.
- Onavo.com: Smartphones are data-hungry, and all of these apps and activities such as getting mapped directions and browsing the web eat up memory. The idea behind Onavo is very simple – it shrinks the data your phone uses when it’s not connected to wifi. Once you’ve installed it – again, for free – it runs in the background, saving you money every time you use your phone.
- CardMunch: We may live in a digital age, but the old-fashioned business card is still common currency in many professional circles. This app allows the user to scan all of those little bits of card that accumulate in the folds of your wallet, store the details in your phone, and also connect with the individual on LinkedIn.
- Flipboard: A common complaint of business owners is that they never have enough time, so keeping up-to-date with what’s happening in the world can seem a chore. This app does all the work of searching both personal sources, news and other favourite sites to distill the information into a storyboard format that is quick and easy to read – effectively creating a personal magazine. The software collects content from social media and other websites based on the user’s choice of topics, news outlets, people, and blogs, creating a one-stop-shop for the information that they really want and need.
Aside from how business owners use apps to run their enterprise – and their lives – behind the scenes, apps also play a vital role in how SMEs’ websites function. Wix.com, a website builder favoured by small firms, has revealed in the past some of the apps that proved most popular with small business websites. Top of the list was LiveChat, which allows visitors to a company website to communicate with a business in real time, facilitating better customer service. Instagram was the next most popular, enabling firms to post new pictures and images on their sites to promote events or products, keeping content fresh and improving the site’s search engine optimisation (SEO) along the way. And third-ranking was 123contactform.com, an app that generates customised forms for websites, be they email notifications about events, automated responses to customer queries, or web forms to get quotations for work.
There’s an app out there for almost everything, and there’s every probability that a download exists for one or another of your business’ needs. If you’re one of the slowcoaches who’s still resisting the smartphone revolution, or who has a high-tech handset, but fails to use it to its full ability, then you could be doing yourself – and your enterprise – a disservice. Whether it’s keeping up with payments, or making sure that customer queries are dealt with promptly, it’s worth investigating the world of apps to see what’s available to save you time or improve your firm’s performance. The fact is that a good proportion of your customers will be up to speed with the latest technological developments, and many will expect your company to be doing the same. Welcome to business in the 21st century.