Can you run a business from a smartphone?

Smartphone Business - Main Pic

The demands of running a successful business may mean having to be on call 24/7, and even though laptops and desktop PCs are ubiquitous, many executives are finding they can actually run their business from a smartphone. This enables them to better support their employees and keep customers happy, while being more accessible to contacts and sales leads – ultimately creating more opportunities that will help their business.

Just think, how many times you have been to a meeting and somebody pulls out a smartphone or tablet to check emails, make notes, or view slides. The times have changed, and smartphones are now being used by every employee to keep on top of their most important day-to-day tasks.

Moreover, many people find that being desk-bound stifles innovation and creativity, never mind the obvious health aspects that come with a sedentary lifestyle. Taking advantage of mobile apps and services allows you the freedom to be truly mobile.

Is it possible to ditch the laptop for a smartphone?

Businesswoman on Phone

Can you ditch the laptop and reply purely on a smartphone? Many executives are doing just that.

 

Thanks to improvements in mobile hardware, faster 4G networks and the advent of cloud services, is it easier than ever to manage every aspect of a modern business while mobile. Business leaders and owners in particular are being liberated from the desk, yet are still able to communicate effectively with colleagues, manage customer relationships, check-in with remote employees and attend virtual meetings.

Last year, Google surveyed 511 executives and discovered that 9 out of 10 used smartphones as essential tools for their business even when they are in the office. More revealing however was that 10% said they used a smartphone exclusively for day-to-day activities and decision making.

Likewise, a Forbes survey titled The Untethered Executive found that:

  • More than half of senior executives agreed that their mobile device is now their primary communications tool. Among executives under age 40, 73% see their mobile device as more critical to communications than their landline
  • All signs point to a mobile future. 45% of senior corporate executives said they believe a smartphone or Web-enabled tablet will be their primary device for business-related use within three years
  • Many executives utilize a full array of devices for business purposes. On average, respondents had 3.46 devices each; CEOs (4.21 devices) and CFOs (4.22 devices) had the most

It is clear that the phenomenon of mobile-only business management is already happening, and for SME’s that may be less restricted in their corporate IT policies, those employees are realising they can accomplish much of their work on a smartphone. Why sit chained to a desk answering emails when you could be doing it from anywhere?

The challenges of going mobile only

Businessman Smashing Phone

The challenges of going mobile-only can be extremely frustrating at times.

 

As mobile versions of today’s critical business tools are widely available, there is very little that can’t be done on a smartphone that would have necessitated a PC in the past. Granted, there are some limitations – the smaller screen of a phone size hamper your ability to edit documents and create spreadsheets; in those scenarios a tablet is obviously more effective, especially with an attached keyboard. Perhaps, a tablet and a smartphone would be the ultimate combination?

Printing documents can also prove to be a challenge, requiring hardware that works with Apple’s AirPrint or Android apps. But in the paperless office, the need to actually print anything is becoming rarer than ever.

Legacy desktop applications or those with strict requirements in terms of data security may also be impossible on a smartphone – even though there might be mobile versions of those apps, employees may not be restricted from viewing customer data on their personal devices.

A recent People Per Hour poll found that 73% of business owners use a smartphone to run their businesses every day. The company’s founder, Xenios Thrasyvoulou, is well aware of the advantages and pitfalls relying on smartphones. After all, many of the freelancers on his website do just that – they’re highly mobile individuals who rely on being constantly informed of available projects and deadlines, many of them using mobiles and tablets to get the work done.

How can you do it?

Take the fictional scenario of Bob, who is a Sales Director for a small technology firm that has a sales team in several European countries.

He contacts clients every day by phone (or Skype for international calls), emails the sales team daily, checks the latest figures on Salesforce and occasionally participates in a WebEx meeting to discuss the roadmap with the product team and the CEO in the US. Bob is also on the road 50% of the time meeting clients (but travels economy class – nice one Bob!), attending trade shows, and frequently spends evenings socialising and wooing potential customers.

In this case, a smartphone fulfils most of Bob’s needs and might well be the only device he needs 99% of the time. Booting up a laptop at the airport is inconvenient (and difficult to use on a plane) whereas a smartphone is always on and ready to use. All Bob’s files and emails are synchronised via cloud services, important documents are available in Google Drive, and he is always contactable one way or another.

The following chart courtesy of Statista demonstrates that executives are already using their mobiles for business in almost every situation, so it’s not such a leap of the imagination to consider just leaving the laptop at home.

Smartphone Use in Business

Executives are glued to their mobiles pretty much everywhere.

 

Even small enterprises and one-man businesses in a wide variety of sectors are discovering they can run things entirely from a smartphone.

Dan Perry runs a one man handyman company and startup advice business, and says that since he began he’s operated entirely from his smartphone. He recommends a range of apps such as Square (for credit card payments), Evernote (for note taking), ServiceCall and Breezeworks (who’s motto is “run your entire service business from your phone”) to manage the business.

When it comes to managing customers, quoting jobs, taking notes, tracking payments, taking credit cards, or scheduling, it’s all done on this amazing little device they call an iPhone – Dan Perry, handymanstartup.com

In an article about entrepreneurs who run their companies entirely using mobiles, the Wall Street Journal recounts Montreal-based LXR who sell vintage luxury products from outlets in Beverly Hills and New York. According to Fred Mannella, founder and CEO, they use cloud-based point of sale apps from LightSpeed Retail, so that sales staff can visit clients and swipe a transaction instantly. Those are the kind of high-spending customers that don’t like to wait, and the highly mobile nature of the sales team means they don’t have to.

Smartphone apps for the road warrior

Working primarily on a smartphone requires a wide range of versatile apps to get things done quickly with minimal fuss.

We’ve briefly described  small selection of some of the apps that we use, as well as a few recommended from around the Internet:

Document creation, editing and sharing

Google Docs. All you need is a Google account (and who doesn’t have one?) and you store and access all of your business documents up in the cloud, share them with colleagues, and access them on mobile devices, plus it makes it simple to collaborate on multiple documents. There’s a mobile app for smartphones, or the web apps can also be accessed through a web browser. Google provides 15 GB of free space, and up to a whopping 30 TB for $299.99 per month.

iPhone users might prefer Apple’s iLife suite of office apps (i.e. Pages, Numbers and Keynote) and store their documents in iCloud Drive. This works well as long as you have an iOS device, but also lets you share documents with non-Apple users via the iCloud.com website. On the whole though, Google Drive is the better option at the moment.

Microsoft’s Office 365 is a very capable set of office apps, sharing and collaboration tools available for Windows Phone and iOS, with a preview version due shortly on Android. It’s free to view documents, but requires a subscription the more advanced features (which also includes unlimited cloud storage).

Cheap or free phone calls

Skype is the most popular VoIP app and can be used for free Skype-to-Skype calls, as well as cheap rates for international calls (which are charged at local prices) as long as you have an account. There are several pay-as-you-go options and subscription plans for unlimited or reduced price calls in specific regions. As an example, unlimited calls to mobiles in Europe costs £12.49 per month.

Skype isn’t the only VoIP client, you could also use FaceTime Audio for calls to iOS devices, or apps like Viber and Google Hangouts.

Making notes on the go

Much more advanced than the built-in note taking apps on Android and iOS, Evernote is the most widely used note-taking app that works for computers and mobiles. It’s all synchronised on each device, and allows sharing with other users.

Evernote

Virtual meetings

Screen sharing and webinars are the staple of many businesses, often as an alternative for a face-to-face meeting. Cisco Webex, TeamViewer and GoToMeeting are all great tools for screen sharing (with audio) or remotely controlling a computer amongst multiple participants, whether on a smartphone, tablet or desktop. In our experience, TeamViewer seems to have the best video quality and least network delay when sharing screens.

Cloud drives and storage

Dropbox has been the leader in cloud storage services for some time. Access company documents (or any files for that matter) from a smartphone, and of course it’s kept in sync across all your devices. For business users, the 2 GB provided free isn’t really enough so you might consider buying more space or use “Dropbox for Business” which is $15 per month but includes lots more tools – the ability to separate work and personal documents for example, stronger encryption and more storage space.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

For leads and deals, some of the best apps for mobile sales teams include Pipedrive, Zoho CRM, Base CRM and Sales Tracking, PipelineDeals CRM, SugarCRM Mobile and of course Salesforce1. These apps are all designed to track and move contacts through your sales process, and makes doing it on a smartphone a cinch.

Salesforce1

Social media management

Any road warriors that manage social media accounts and advertising campaigns need to keep on top of sites such as Facebook and Twitter. With multiple pages to manage, an app such as Hootsuite or Everypost simplifies the whole process and lets you schedule posts at specific times. These apps are also useful as a central place to follow news and important industry influencers.

For anyone that needs to monitor their website’s statistics on the move, the Google Analytics mobile app (for Android and iOS) presents a real-time view of who is looking at your site, with breakdowns per page and audience demographics (age, gender, location, etc), social media traffic and top keywords and referrals. It’s an invaluable tool and also one of those apps you can’t help checking constantly during the day.

Final words

In this article we’ve only touched upon the ways in which everyone, not just senior executives, could actually run a business from a smartphone. There are plenty of people doing just that already, finding the convenience and flexibility of today’s powerful large-screened smartphones well and truly up to the job.

As mobile devices and applications become ever more capable, more people will find themselves being liberated and able to run a business on a smartphone. The important thing to remember will be to never stray too far from a charger…

As always, we love reading your comments so let us know if you primarily use your mobile for business and which apps you rely on every day.

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