Tag Archive: technology

Building Business Apps

Building Business Apps

Every day, hundreds of new apps are released. Many of them sound exciting, but which ones have proven to be truly valuable to the busy small business owner? Here are five apps you can use to accomplish more in less time.


To help you stay informed and organized

Information is power, which is why so many small business owners are voracious consumers of articles and blogs. Managing the flow of information and keeping track of the most valuable content is a daunting task, but it becomes much easier with the right apps.


1. Feedly

“Feedly helps me keep up with all the news in our industry, and actively share information through social media,” says Adam Ware, CEO at SwellPath, a digital marketing agency. Feedly is one of the most popular news aggregators available today and replaces Google Reader. It has highly customizable layouts and a recommendations feature that makes it extremely simple to find more information on subjects of interest to you. According to Ware, “It’s a must-have for anyone who likes to scan and read articles from many blogs or publications.”


Feedly works on the iOS and Android Platform.


2. Evernote

Forbes calls Evernote “one of the most essential apps”. Its users can store notes, ideas, lists, and even complete webpages, and then access that data from any of the devices they’ve synced to the app. It’s easy to organize, edit, and share your information.


Chris Murphy, owner of MFX SalonSpa, recommends that business owners use the Evernote Hello feature as an integral part of their recruiting process. “Using Evernote as the central hub for our recruiting has allowed us to be a lot more efficient and provided more clarity around the recruitment process.” During the recruiting process, Murphy uses Evernote to make notes on potential applicants, which his managers can see in real time. “Plus, they can add their comments to all of the notes, so the interview and hiring process is really collaborative.”


Evernote works on the iOS, Windows phone and Android platforms.

To let you do business anywhere

With the right technology, we’re free to live, work, and do business anywhere we’d like. This app enables the entrepreneur to do exactly that, by erasing the need for an on-site staff.


3. Basecamp

This project management app has proven to be essential in working with an almost-entirely remote staff. “We use Basecamp from 37 Signals to coordinate with our editors, proofers, and book scheduling,” says Lorna Hinson, publisher at Torquere Press in New Mexico. “We love that it can host files, message boards, calendars, chats and more. We use it on the web, but it has also recently revamped its iPhone and iPad usage to be fully featured.”


Basecamp has an iPhone app and mobile websites optimized for smartphones running the Android or Windows phone operating system.


To help you connect

Running a business means a lot of time interacting with people, both in person and over social media. The smart use of technology minimizes the amount of time devoted to the administrative end of networking so you can focus on building meaningful connections.


4. Hootsuite

“My favorite app is Hootsuite Mobile,” says Tristan Bishop, senior director of social marketing at Informatica. “It allows me to manage multiple social media networks and accounts, on the go, from a single mobile app.” In other words, if your business has a Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest account, you can monitor and manage all those accounts from a single dashboard. It’s a free, fast, and simple way to streamline social media.


Hootsuite Mobile runs on iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows phone.


5. Cardmunch

Cardmunch is an app developed by LinkedIn. Here’s how it works: You go to a trade show, convention, or networking event. You come away afterward with dozens of business cards in your pocket. Use your iPhone to snap a picture, and Cardmunch instantly uploads the data from the card into your LinkedIn network. It’s reliable and super simple: more than two million cards have officially been “munched”, according to LinkedIn’s blog.


Cardmunch is currently available for the iPhone, but versions for Blackberry and Android are said to be coming soon.


4 Ways to Get Results From Remote Work Arrangements

Working remotely has become commonplace for businesses of all sizes. According to a recent IDC report, the United States has the highest percentage of mobile workers in its workforce, 119.7 million workers or three-quarters of the workforce expected to be mobile by 2013. Currently, nearly 85 percent of employees work remotely one day a week or more.

Technology has made telecommuting a viable and attractive alternative. Advanced laptops, smartphones, wi-fi, high-speed internet and cloud computing applications enable operations from anywhere at any hour. For small businesses with limited resources, remote arrangements can be particularly attractive. First and foremost, telecommuting could substantially reduce rent, utility and other overhead expenses. Moreover, eliminating aggravating commutes and providing employees with greater flexibility to manage childcare and other commitments enhances work-life balance and improves morale – both critical factors in attracting and keeping talent.

However, while businesses are increasingly embracing this trend, without the right policies and guidelines in place, out-of-office can become out-of-business. In fact, a Microsoft survey of small and medium-sized businesses found that nearly half don’t have official policies to govern the nuances of telecommuting.

When deciding to transition some, or all, of your workers to remote schedules, there are a number of considerations you should keep in mind:

Who is right for the (remote) job – Remote work isn’t necessary the right fit for every employee. When hiring or transitioning workers to remote schedules, jobs skills relevant to the role are only one part of the equation. Being comfortable and effective outside of a conventional workplace and away from a manager and colleagues generally requires someone who is team-oriented, a self-starter and a strong communicator.

Better safe than sorry – Guidelines for using and securing company technology should be updated to reflect the realities of remote work including specifics steps for ensuring that company equipment is protected from damage and loss and that confidential information is not compromised. For example, the policy should include specific standards for encryption, firewalls, virus protection, remote wipes in case of loss/theft, etc. Depending on the nature of your operation, you may want to consider retaining an IT professional to assess whether company data or customer information will be adequately protected on external servers or employees’ personal computers. Out of sight, but not out of mind – A prevailing concern regarding remote arrangements is that without regular supervision and oversight, workers might slack off or be less efficient. However, the key to maintaining performance and productivity high in or out of the office is setting specific expectations and keeping the lines of communication open. You should maintain the same schedule of routine meetings and check-ins as you would with in-office teams and enforce office policies and deadlines. Lead by example by remaining engaged and accessible via phone or email. Finally, there are a number of affordable web-based software programs — Basecamp, Zoho Projects, Liquid Planner, 5pm, and others — that can help add more structure and clarity by enabling you to assign tasks and deadlines and receive updates when milestones are completed.

Staying close-knit while working apart – Clearly, there are cultural advantages to having staff under one roof. Opportunities for in-person collaboration, impromptu brainstorms and social outings build a bond between employees and a connection to the company. However, it is possible to preserve a sense of culture even if the majority of your workforce is remote all or part of the time. Scheduling group events/meetings at regular intervals is one easy idea. Another is using interactive technology like Skype and other video/audio conferencing systems. Unlike traditional conference calls, these tools put remote workers “face to face.” Many also have simultaneous chat features that make it easier for every person on the line to be an active participant in the conversation.

The A to Z of Small Business Technology Trends

As a small business, you might find it daunting to try to keep up with new technologies. There may be technologies that you can’t even define. The following is an “A to Z” overview of hot technology trends that you might want to explore for cost savings, marketing penetration or helping streamlined operations:

Analytics encompasses such new forms as “next-generation analytics,” which allows companies to make forward-reaching business decisions, and “social analytics,” which measure, analyze and interpret interactions among people and online content.

Browser add-ons are third-party software tools that can be accessed on the toolbar of browsers such as Internet Explorer, Safari and Mozilla Firefox. Add-on tools include design, collaboration and communication functions. Small business owners can use these third-party software tools to bolt quickly onto existing browser software. Now once-unimaginable services run natively on web tools.

Consumerization of IT refers to the fact that many companies, large and small, are saving money by allowing employees to use their own devices – such as tablets or smartphones – at work.

Data visualization has currently reached a lower price point and may be useful for data-intensive businesses, i.e. those that do high-volume Internet sales.

Easy mobile payment allows small businesses, and even microbusinesses, to take credit and debit card payments in settings that might have been cash-only in the past, i.e. arts and crafts fairs, mobile kiosks and homes.

4-G wireless cellular devices receive service that’s similar to the robust, plugged-in Web access that can be found in the office. Now, small business owners can browse the internet quicker. Additionally, all major phone carriers will be offering it.

Geo-coding converts a street address to equivalent geographic coordinates. Geo-coding creates the maps that local businesses often display on their websites.

Hybrid cloud is a combination of private intranet-based applications and public applications housed on a server by a cloud vendor. Small businesses might want to have both in case their customers have sensitive data and if small business owners want to avoid hiring internal IT staff to install and configure applications.

iOS and Android operated devices are gaining popularity among businesses, particularly small to mid-sized business owner. Given Apple’s focus on updating its operating systems to be more secure and manageable, the iPhone established a foothold in the enterprise space, opening the door for exploring uses for the iPad and Android-powered devices. Increasingly widespread adoption of various mobile technologies will allow small business executives on the go to access online information and multimedia content, and even have videoconferences with partners and customers in remote locations.

Jobcasting involves using podcasts to advertise open positions at a company..

Knowledge management tools are the process through which organizations generate value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets. This insight can help businesses foster innovation by encouraging the free flow of ideas, improve customer service by streamlining response time and boost revenues by getting products and services to market faster.

Location-based mobile and Internet marketing is particularly effective for small businesses that want to reach out to customers in real time to offer discounts, promotions and invitations to events when the customer is in the vicinity of their establishment.

Multimedia marketing and communications will involve video being integrated into consumer electronics, digital and Internet-based television, mobile computing and social software. Increasingly, small business owners will need to use create content using video. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2012, more than 25 percent of the content that workers see in a day will be dominated by pictures, video or audio.

Network appliances allow small businesses to use one piece of hardware that can encompass phone servers, document servers, e-mail servers, firewalls and routers.

On-the-go videoconferencing is now possible for businesses of all sizes to connect via smart phones and tablets with built-in video cameras and video-calling features.

Predictive financial modeling tools are being developed that can alert small businesses if they are at risk of losing money.

QR Codes are two-dimensional barcodes that small businesses can embed into advertising and direct mail pieces. The codes link potential customers to a website, allow them to call your business or offer them a vCard when they scan the code with a smartphone.

Redundancy of data, documents and applications are facilitated by having cloud- and PC-based tools side by side.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a practice by which small businesses can drive more traffic to their websites. Strategic keyword, tagging and coding techniques are becoming more sophisticated and may require the advice of an outside consultant.

Pull Quote.pngTouch-controlled work tools, inspired by Apple products, now include products that streamline small businesses’ daily operations, like printers and desk-top PCs, and that allow more interaction with customers via less-expensive touch-screen point-of-sale kiosks.

Unified communications is a relatively new term that refers to using a single interface for various types of communications. For example, small businesses can use a UC system to view their voice, text and e-mail messages all in one inbox.

Voice-activated software is improving in quality and reliability and allows small business users to navigate a computer and create documents more quickly than they could with a keyboard.

Web-based office software offer cloud-based word processing, spreadsheet and other applications that increase work product efficiency and allow backup and sharing in real time from anywhere.

Xtranets, also known as extranets, are growing in sophistication to allow secure outside access to internal intranets for the purpose of information sharing and ecommerce.

YouTube continues to be a fast and cost-effective forum for small businesses to post online videos as a means of advertising, marketing and communicating with customers.

Z-Wave is a wireless mesh networking technology that allows business owners to manage and control lighting, appliances, HVAC and security systems in their establishments even when they are offsite.

Cloud Computing: No Longer Pie in the Sky

Cloud computing is more than an IT buzzword. With the worldwide cloud computing market estimated at $10.7 billion (the U.S. accounts for approximately 40 percent of that total), cloud computing is quickly becoming the technology of the future. In fact, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 70 percent of Microsoft employees are doing work that is related to cloud computing, and that figure is expected to continuously increase.

So what is cloud computing?

Simply put, cloud computing is a model in which services and storage are delivered through the Internet instead of a desktop application. Sometimes referred to as ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), a true cloud-computing solution requires no software to purchase and install. Many cloud computing applications have become so commonplace that you probably don’t even realize you’re using them. Internet-based email, document managers and anti-spam/virus programs that update and secure your desktop applications are just a few examples. Along with smartphones, tablets and other technologies, cloud computing is redefining how we work.

Cloud Computing and Small Business – A Perfect Match Made?

With applications available for various business functions and technical needs, it is not surprising that small and mid-size businesses are significant consumers of cloud-based solutions. In fact, a recent report from AMI Partners predicts a 25 percent increase on SaaS spending versus five percent growth for all other categories of on-premise software combined.

cloud computing benefits.pngThe two biggest benefits of cloud computing are convenience and cost. By releasing operations from data centers, file servers and packaged software, cloud computing offers small businesses a high level of flexibility and it allows business partners and employees to connect easily. Another added benefit is that cloud applications are scalable and can grow alongside your business. Applications get updated and improved regularly without the cost and effort of downloading and configuring upgrades. Moreover, the solutions are inexpensive. Generally billed in relatively low monthly installments (which could be adjusted according to the number of users, transactions, etc.), cloud computing tends to be substantially more affordable than the initial investment required for physical data infrastructure and software. Some prominent SaaS vendors include: Omniture, Taleo, SuccessFactors, NetSuite Microsoft, IBM, Google, etc.

Similar to any other type of technology product, you should consider security, uptime (essentially a hosted application’s performance record) and privacy concerns when evaluating whether cloud computing is a good fit for your business. Though SaaS applications may actually offer added protection against issues such as data loss, you should ask vendors for written documentation detailing their security measures and standards. When evaluating uptime, the performance record should be in the range of 98-99.9 percent, (accounting for maintenance or unexpected problems). You should also inquire how long it generally takes to resolve technical issues.

While cloud computing has many benefits, there is no “one-size-fits-all” recommendation. Determining whether cloud applications are right for your business –and to what degree– is a decision that will need to be based on your company needs. It may be worthwhile to kick the tires before committing. In fact, many cloud services will offer a trial prior to purchase.

If you choose to pursue a cloud computing solution, the following are some considerations you should keep in mind:

Ensure that the vendor offers good customer support and check to see if there is an added charge for support and maintenance.

Look for a flexible cloud computing vendor that will allow you to add and subtract users and scale other capabilities as your business needs change.

Determine whether your cloud computing solutions run on complementary interfaces. For example, it may be useful if accounting packages integrate with contact management applications.