Back in the day (read: six years ago), businesses were split into clear-cut departments: finance, marketing, sales, operations, customer services, HR and IT.
They would physically sit in their own departments in the office.
Today, those departments still exist – but they look radically different. Nimble business owners now manage their day-to-day operations from home, from the airport, or from their kitchen – all through a device that fits in your pocket.
We asked a number of tech-savvy small business experts about the must-have apps to run a business from your phone.
1. Customer relationship manager: Hubspot (Free)
Happily, Hubspot is a free customer relationship manager platform that lets you view your sales pipeline, track your customer interactions, chat with potential customers in real-time, call your contacts and book meetings.
“The app means I can keep up to date with all our clients’ information (and make phone calls via the app) in one place,” said Jessica Brady, financial adviser and co-founder of financial advice firm FOX & HARE.
“Perfect when you are on the road! It also allows me to view, at a business level, how we are tracking to our business metrics.”
2. Productivity: Asana (from $9.99 per month)
Small business consultant Angela Henderson swears by Asana, a slick platform that works like a complex to-do list and helps you delegate projects and tasks to your staff.
“You can have up to 20 jobs going on through the week – from admin, marketing, HR and then servicing your clients,” Henderson told Yahoo Finance.
“Asana helps you map out your time and plan what each job or project entails. You can then delegate roles to others in your team or to your VA.
“You can keep track of where everyone is up to and communicated back and forth with each other. IT also integrates with Google calendar, so you never miss a task.”
If you’re not too hot on Asana, impact venture capital fund Giant Leap Fund managing partner Will Richardson prefers Trello, which offers many of the same functionalities.
3. Password manager: Lastpass (from $2 per month)
Brady enjoys Lastpass’ offering, which ensures FOX & HARE’s passcodes are stashed “in one handy and convenient app”.
“This is incredibly important for us given how much client data we hold; we never want easy-to-remember passwords or to have a spreadsheet with them written down.
“It also has double authentication through our mobile devices so if our laptops ever landed in the wrong hands they still wouldn’t be able to get into our systems.”
On the topic of security, Henderson recommends Authy, which provides two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security to sites where sensitive personal information is stored.
4. Receipts manager: Receipt Bank (from $19.95 per month)
This one is backed up by both Brady and Henderson, so you know it’s tried-and-true. Henderson observes that several businesses she works with have shoeboxes of receipts – or they bin them, meaning they can’t claim the items come tax time.
“This app lets you scan the receipt, allocate a category and then sends it to Xero right on your phone,” Henderson said.
Brady enjoys the integration of the app with their accounting system. “This saves a heap of time and ensures I don’t have receipts piling up every month!”
A slightly different offering is Concur, an app that lets you manage expenses and invoices as you travel. Unisys Asia Pacific lead advisory consultant advocates for the platform.
“Managing staff also means I can review and approve their expenses on the go keeping the business moving in the backend,” he added.
5. Conferencing: Skype for Business (free on Apple store)
Sayers describes this app as “essential” for working on the road, which allows him to “join conference calls from coffee shops or the car and be able to present”.
“This also enables my enterprise phone number to go to my phone as well as ensuring my business calls follow me everywhere I go,” he said.
6. Communication: Slack (free)
Do you and your staff use 101 different channels for communication? If you’re not on Slack already, this app – which puts the “T” in teamwork, as Henderson puts it – integrates so well with other platforms (such as Google Drive and Dropbox) across multiple devices that you’ll wonder how you survived without it.
“So often, I hear small businesses say they have missed emails or messages from their VAs or staff, losing jobs, missing important messages because there are just so many ways to communicate,” said Henderson.
“Slack can be used for chatting, storing files, project work and is awesome taking off topic conversations to the side in a way Facebook cannot. It is a great tool to use especially if you have team members spread across states or countries.”
7. Graphic design: Canva (free)
A favourite in the Yahoo Finance team as well as with Henderson, Canva is a free online graphic design tool with an endless supply of gorgeous templates to creating social media posts, presentations, book covers, resumes, infographics, and brochures.
“It is just perfect for the small business that has a limited marketing budget but wants to create beautiful designs,” she said. “It is so easy to use until you get to the point where you can hire a professional to do it for you.”
The usual suspects
Too obvious to deserve an individual spot but too essential to go without, these are the ones that almost definitely already exist on your phone already. Among them are LinkedIn, the Google suite, the Microsoft Office suite, Dropbox, Xero, MYOB and Shopify.
What the experts say
Sayers cautions business owners against accumulating too many apps, lest it result in unnecessary costs to the business and insecure or lost data.
Also read: 5 easy ways to simplify your app overload
So what does his phone look like?
“For my mobile device I run a very lean set of applications for both simple ease of use and battery conservation,” Sayers told Yahoo Finance.
“For me, the key apps on my mobile have to be used daily or at least once a week or it gets removed, otherwise you end up with a bloated OS and a phone that’s constantly updating apps.”
Echoing many of the same messages, Henderson has an age-old piece of advice: keep it simple.
“Just download the apps you are going to use. This means less storage space used and less distractions,” she said.
Making the effort to be more organised will help, too. “Take the time to set up folders on your phone’s home screen so you have easy access to the apps you use every day. Most phones have voice apps; these are great to use to save time dictating emails or messages and ideas.”
Most people have their business email linked to their phones, but it’s important to set boundaries, Henderson said – or you’ll never extricate yourself from work.
“It is so easy to work after hours because our phones are at our fingertips, we can become a slave to our device. Value your downtime.”
How to find what works for you
With so much to choose from, how do business owners know which app will be the keeper? Chancers are, others have struggled through the same struggle. Henderson’s trick of the trade is to find what fits your business by tapping into the wealth of knowledge and experience that can be found on business groups or communities on Facebook.
“To work out the right group, hang out in the space for a few days to check out the interactions between members – is it just a place to sell, sell, sell or are people really helping each other out?”
“It is really important to know what you want the app to do for your business; that is the key to knowing the right one,” she said.
“If it’s for an online store, finding apps to take payments, chat online with prospective customers and have an online cart will help narrow down the search.
“When choosing the right app, look at the reviews, functionality, integration with website and how often it is updated.”
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