by Erin McDermott.
What small business owner hasn’t wished that their tall pile of tasks could be finished with just the push of a button? Well, if that wish hasn’t quite come true for every beleaguered owner, it’s not for lack of trying by the exploding App (application) universe, with its hundreds of thousands of offerings aimed at the one in four Americans who now own a smartphone. Among the apps are thousands that claim to be the business, finance, and productivity solution to your most onerous entrepreneurial chores.
But which options really work for small businesses? With an eye on tight budgets, demand for information anytime and anywhere, and practical tools that won’t sit idle among the Angry Birds, here are 12 easy apps that entrepreneurs and non-Jetsons say made their mountains of work more manageable.
With DropBox you can sync files across all of your computers. Drop a folder on your laptop into the app’s icon, and you’ll be able to view it for free on your iPhone, BlackBerry or Android-based phone—or by logging on to the DropBox website. There’s no charge for up to 2GB of data, but after that plans start at $9.99 a month for 50GB. It’s also an easy way to back up data. For teams, it’s a good place to share all of a company’s documents quickly and easily.
For Rebecca Geffert and Jane Cormier, co-owners of Boardsports School & Shop, managing kiteboard and windsurfing lessons and instructors across four locations in the San Francisco Bay Area can be hectic. But Google Calendar makes scheduling easier (and free), with real-time updates accessible to all staffers, while keeping the owners’ personal schedules available to each other, Geffert says.
Kim Barrington Narisetti has learned to run her publishing company, Urban Crayon Press from a parking space at her daughters’ Maryland grade school. Her no-cost app solution: Skype Video, for meetings with people in different time zones. “My illustrators are in Paris and New Delhi and one of my authors is in Switzerland, so I find that it is indispensable on the BlackBerry,” she says, hands-free of course. The app also offers free voice phone calls to other Skype users.
For wider discussions, there’s the Campfire app, a secure real-time group-chat website that can break out into several lines of discussion to aid collaboration. It’s ideal for teams with remote workers and people in the field, where everyone—even clients—can chime in to ask questions and help solve problems, whether through an office-bound PC or on the go via their mobile phone. Plans start at $12 per month for 12 chatters.
Follow Your Money
It’s arguably the most popular small-business option: apps linked to your bank account. Todd Barket, co-owner of Unionmade Goods, a year-old men’s fashion boutique in San Francisco’s Mission District, regularly clicks in to monitor his bottom line. “I’m always looking to see what sales were, as well as what checks have cleared,” he says. Check with your bank—chances are they have just such an app.
And just because you’re away from the cash register, doesn’t mean your small business can’t take plastic. Square allows anyone—from Girl Scout cookie-sellers to taxi drivers—with an iPhone, iPad, or an Android-based operating system to accept credit cards, using a small, complimentary device that hooks up to a cell phone via the headphone jack. Downloading the app is free and it handles all major credit cards, but it does charge a processing fee of 2.75% plus 15 cents for swiped transactions, and 3.5% for those purchases that are keyed-in.
Paper and the Paper-less Trail
As brilliant as smartphones claim to be, for some reason many don’t address certain basics—such as the need to print when you absolutely have to have a physical document. For the iPhone and iPad, PrintNShare ($8.99 on iTunes) connects directly to any printer, allows you to view and store documents on the device, and has built-in email that allows you to send attachments.
Does a tattered envelope stuffed with receipts make your accountant shudder? Shoeboxed can ease that pain. Mail your expense receipts via their prepaid envelopes, or snap a photo of your tabs with their free app. Everything is then organized and made available for review online, making you ready for tax season. Shoeboxed plans start at $9.99 a month. The apps for ProOnGo also keep track of your spending, but they add useful tools like a built-in GPS to track your mileage and a platform to total billable hours by client. It’s good on the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry, with plans starting at $27 a month for five users.
If you’re running your business from the road, Invoice Now ($1.99 on iTunes) is the on-the-go way to ensure billings are going out and cash keeps coming in. Create a customized, professional invoice—featuring your business’ logo—with a few clicks and a PDF is emailed to your clients (with your home office copied). The software also builds an accessible history as you bill and receive.
It’s a travel assistant in your pocket: TripIt keeps track of itineraries and reservations in one spot. Just forward TripIt all the details as you make plans—car, plane, train, taxi, hotel, whatever—and everything is assembled in the order you’ll need to know it. The itinerary is accessible from the TripIt app, their website, or your calendar software. For individuals, the service is free. For companies that need to know the comings and goings of several employees in the field, there are business options that start at $29 a month for up to 10 users.
Need cheap wheels quick? Ayo Omojola recommends ZipCar, where a rental reservation is just an app away. The MBA candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School says the car-sharing service has been useful to him in his role as co-founder of the startup Juncanoo, which helps cultural institutions embrace their mobile side. After an annual fee of $60, ZipCar’s sporty cars are available in most major U.S. cities and on more than 100 college campuses nationwide for rates that start at $7 per hour, including fuel and insurance costs.
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