Useful Apps for Small Businesses
You can run a good chunk of your business right from your phone. Here's how.
Apps for managing invoices, payroll, accounts receivable and much more can help free small business owners from hours of drudgery.
But of the more than 200,000 apps that perform business functions, which ones should busy business owners consider? Our list features those that small business owners download most frequently and rave about most in online customer reviews.
When it comes to taking meeting notes and generating to-do lists that sync up with your calendar and address book, Beesy, from BeesApps, is a popular choice. It costs $5.99 and is available on the iPad.
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Michelle LaPointe, president and creative director of C3 Advertising in Simi Valley, Calif., says that Beesy is particularly helpful for businesses with many outside collaborators. "It makes you so much more tightly integrated," she says. "I get off the phone with a client and I don't have to write a bunch of e-mails or memos to members of my team. I can send those meeting notes right that instant and we can have a conference call."
Make invoicing easier with Zoho Invoice from Zoho.com, which is available on both Android and Apple phone platforms. Depending on the complexity of your invoicing and the number of employees and customers involved, you can choose between a free version and $15-a-month or $30-a-month versions.
"Zoho Invoice is intuitive to use and streamlines our invoice process; it's very time efficient," says Jason Dailey, president of Brandography, a Web marketing company based in Minneapolis, Minn.
Another popular invoicing app is MobileBiz Pro by SunnySide. Available on Android, it charges a onetime fee of $22 for features similar to those on Zoho Invoice. Free trials are available at MobileBiz Trial.
Appointment Keeper, developed by zone117x and available on Android, makes it easy to e-mail or text customers automatically, reminding them of their appointments 48 hours, 24 hours or one hour ahead of the scheduled time. There's a free version and a $1.50 version, though there are few differences between the two. On tap: a revamped version with more features that will also work with Apple phones.
Edna Little, owner of Pink 'n' White Nail and Hair Salon in Nampa, Idaho, says using the app has led to "an incredible improvement in client no-shows."
JustRemindIt, from developers Aditya Kothadiya and Anuja Ranjane, is available for Apple phones. It automatically calls and texts clients. There is a free version that provides five free reminders, but small businesses can also choose among the firm's small business plans: $9.99 per month for 65 reminders, $19.99 for 150 reminders or $39.99 for 350 reminders. The business plan versions let users create custom greeting messages, show their companies' phone numbers on caller ID and send repeat reminders to the same clients.
Processing Credit Cards
For mobile card transactions, Kristi Whitfield, co-owner of Washington, D.C.-based Curbside Cupcakes, says it's hard to beat Square's card reader. "We've tried more traditional methods like global credit card processors -- Square beats them hands down," she says. Square's app and credit card reader are free and are available on both Apple and Android products. The company charges 2.75% for each swipe transaction and 3.5% plus 15¢ for each manually keyed transaction.
Also available on Apple and Android: GoPayment from Intuit, a good alternative for merchants with larger transactions. It costs 2.75% per swipe and 3.75% per keyed transaction. For $12.95 a month, your rates drop to 1.75% per swipe and 2.75% per manual transaction. Consider PayPal Here from PayPal, too. It charges 2.7% per swipe and 3.5% plus 15¢ for manual transactions. It lets you take a picture of a check and transfer it into your PayPal account free.
Fernando Chen, an optometrist in Merced, Calif., no longer has to be in his office to run payroll. These days he uses the free Mobile Payroll app from SurePayroll, available on both Android and Apple. "I don't have to do anything differently than basically just input the hours my employees worked and submit the payroll," he says, noting that the app also calculates payroll taxes.
Another popular app is the free Snap Payroll from Intuit, as of this writing available on Apple products in 18 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming. Other states will be added soon.
Signing and Sharing Documents
Glykka's SignEasy, available on Apple and Android platforms, makes it a breeze to electronically produce contracts and have them signed electronically and returned in seconds, says Trevor Doerksen, CEO and founder of Mobovivo, a software company that markets and distributes video content.
Business owners can try the app to sign three contracts free, pay $1.99 for every five document transactions or pay $19.99 for a year of unlimited use.
Dropbox, from the company of the same name, makes it easy to share documents. Once you put an item in the app, it's automatically available on your desktop, phone, tablet and even on Dropbox's website. The app, on Android and Apple, is free for 2 to 18 gigabytes. For access to more storage and users, the cost is $9.99 a month and up.
Another document sharing app is Quickoffice Pro from Quickoffice, also available on Android and Apple products. Quickoffice Pro lets you create and edit documents for a onetime charge of $14.99 for phones or $19.99 for tablets.
The Concur app by Concur Technologies, available free on both Apple and Android products, lets you "build an expense report, take pictures of receipts, book travel and approve expense reports from anywhere our smart phone takes us," says Erin Tasker, senior accounting specialist at Acumed, an orthopedic and medical solutions firm. "With expenses captured in a timely matter, managers can see if [road warriors] are staying within their travel and expense budgets."
A similar app is Nuventure Technology Solutions' Expense Tracker, available free on Android platforms. Expense Tracker also allows users to track and analyze their spending with customizable reports, including graphs, all of which can be sent via e-mail.
The 3D Charts Mobile app, from Advance-Media, comes in both a free and a $1.99 version and can create 3D graphs and charts, though only on Android products.
If you need to make more elaborate presentations, consider the Roambi Analytics visualizer from MeLLmo Inc. It's a big hit among business users who have to create interactive trend and sales performance charts that illustrate metrics and their relationships. There are two options with the Apple-only app: the free Roambi Lite, which works with Microsoft Excel CSV and HTML, and Roambi Pro, which can also be used with Google Docs and Salesforce CRM and costs $99.99 per user per year.
PocketCloud Remote Desktop, from Wyse Technology, lets Michael Noc, a certified financial planner at MTM Wealth Planning in Port Moody, British Columbia, quickly access his financial planning programs and client files as well as process transactions quickly. "Because I'm on the road, I very much rely on having access to my office [from] anywhere," says Noc. "Now I can give advice when I'm in Europe. [PocketCloud] lets me be able to do what I do no matter where I am in the world."
PocketCloud provides access to Windows and Mac desktops for Android and Apple users. The free version works for only one desktop computer, although you can regularly change the connection to a different computer. The Pro version, available for a onetime charge of $14.99, works on multiple computers. Noc says the setup with his Gmail account was easy.
OmniDesk, from Mazze Corps, provides remote access to Windows PCs for a onetime charge of $13.49, Android users only. It also has a free demo version, OmniDesk-Lite, which is similar but times out after two minutes.
Tapping Small Business Administration Resources
The free SBA Gems by Mobispectra Technologies LLC, available on Android platforms, helps users search for loans, grants and other government resources.
The SBA Loan/Grant App, also Android compatible, by developer Richard Daniel Murphy, searches for loans, grants, tax incentives and capital ventures. And the Small Business Toolbox, free via Android, helps find the closest SBA district office, locate licensing and permitting Web links and provides information on grants, awards, solicitations and small business programs.