When Sanjay Nasta started his technology training firm, MicroAssist, in 1988, he took his trusty manila envelope on every business trip. It held his all-important stack of itineraries, tickets, and client notes. And it was awkward.
Today, mobile technology has replaced Nasta's unwieldy envelope with smartphone and tablet apps that handle everything from travel planning to meeting notes and presentations. Based in Austin, Texas, MicroAssist designs, develops and delivers training to clients in medicine, public health, public safety, and other verticals.
Nasta's favorite app is TripIt ($0.99 basic, $49/year pro; available for iOS and Android devices). Travelers forward reservation and itinerary emails to the app, which distills and organizes the data into an easy-to-follow format. Users can also share their plans with fellow travelers, staff back at the office, and even family and friends, if desired. TripIt also alerts users when something changes, such as their flight status or airport gate.
"It replaces the assistant that none of us has any more," Nasta says.
Mobile apps have revolutionized business travel, and as a result, they level the playing field for smaller businesses. Apps like TripIt help condense travel prep time, freeing up small business owners like Nasta to prepare for that meeting or conference itself. And once on the road, there are apps to provide instant access to your contacts and documents, track your expenses, and even complete a sale or sign contracts.
Here are more must-have apps for the small business traveler:
Hotel Tonight: For the last-minute traveler, there's Hotel Tonight (free; iOS, Android, Windows). Hotels with excess inventory post them here for deep discounts, and travelers who need rooms on short notice reap the benefit. Brandon Baker, owner of Loveletter Cakeshop in New York City, says Hotel Tonight has helped reduce both the stress and expense of business trips; he travels two to three times a month."I've been so impressed by HotelTonight that I purposely book my hotels at the last minute," Baker says. Nasta used it with success when he had to stay an extra night in Omaha and his original hotel was full.
Evernote Business: The organizational app's business version allows teams to collaborate in real time wherever they are ($12 per user, per month; for iOS, Android, Windows). Evernote helps manage projects by keeping all research and notes in one location, for everyone to access in the cloud. Business users can access notes when offline and turn notes into presentations. The app also lets you save web links and emails into project files, scan business cards, annotate PDF attachments, and secure data with encryption.
Handshake: Known as "Salesforce for wholesale," Handshake is a handy partner for trade shows. Make a sale on the road, and start the fulfillment process right away. (iOS only; annual subscriptions start at $29.95.) Salespeople praise the app for eliminating the need to carry paper forms and catalogs everywhere they go; they can show products on the iPad app with multiple views.
DocuSign: Whether you need to sign a contract on the road, or a document back at the office needs your signature, there's DocuSign (business packages start at $20 per user, per month when paid annually; for iOS, Android, Windows). Upload documents from your computer or any cloud-based storage site such as Google Drive or Dropbox. The app's eSignature format is legally binding in 188 countries. You can specify multiple signers and order of signature, and accept signatures in person.
Nasta says MicroAssist is in the business of keeping pace with technology so that the firm's clients can, too. That's especially true with mobile tech. "It makes your life more agile, because you're doing things at the point of need," he says.
And as our dependence on mobile apps grows, remember this caveat from Nasta: Always carry a backup battery.
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