Can mobile technology help you grow your business? It can, but how big a benefit you will see depends on how you think about mobile apps and how you use them.
The most obvious business benefit of mobile technology is that it allows you to keep your business going no matter where you are. As a freelancer or small business owner, if the nature of your work means you’re out of the office or on the road a lot, then mobile business apps can help you by saving you time.
A study by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council found that business owners estimate they save 291 hours of their own time each year using mobile technology. That’s an extra five or six hours a week that can be spent focusing on generating revenue rather than toiling on admin.
The ability to save time while out and about is constantly growing as new mobile apps are released every day. A timely example is FreshBook’s own recently released FreshBooks for Android—an app that saves you time by allowing you to create and send professional-looking invoices, capture expenses in seconds and track time all on the go.
But with tens of thousands of other mobile business apps available, the challenge for all of us is how do you choose the right ones to create the greatest positive impact on your business?
The org chart approach
The small business owners that I know who save the most time are the ones who make strategic decisions about which mobile apps to use. These entrepreneurs know that growth in their business comes from finding ways to focus on revenue-generating activities—like prospecting, making sales and servicing clients. So they seek ways to delegate time-consuming tasks like admin.
One small business owner I know says he saves hundreds of hours a year using mobile technology. He uses mobile so effectively that some people believe he has a team of people working for him, because it doesn’t seem possible that any one person could do as much as he does while out of the office, focusing on his key responsibilities.
How does he do it? He uses what he calls an ‘org chart approach.’ Essentially he has made the strategic decision to delegate much of his admin tasks to a bundle of apps. And the results are remarkable.
Here’s how his thinking goes.
The org chart—party of one
Every company has an organization chart that shows how the different functions in the business such as sales, marketing, and accounting relate to each other. Each function or role in the company is a box in the org chart and has an employee’s name attached to it.
Even if you are a freelance company of one you have an org chart. It’s just that your name is in most or all of the boxes. Which means that you’re likely suffering from bottlenecks. And just as likely suffering from the stress of trying to do everything yourself, especially when you’re stuck doing admin work.
Rather than taking an ad hoc approach to which mobile apps you use. You can increase the power of mobile by thinking strategically about which apps to use. Examine your org chart and identify the roles and the tasks performed in those roles that don’t contribute to revenue and take up most of your time. Those are the ones you want to delegate to your mobile apps.
Here are some examples of how mobile apps can help free up time in three key roles: administrative assistant, service rep and marketing coordinator.
A great admin assistant can be worth their weight in platinum. Many ‘companies-of-one’ wish they were able to hire an assistant to take a lot of time-intensive, non-core tasks off their plate. They’d love to have someone to book calls and meetings, manage their schedules and coordinate travel.
Now, with mobile apps like Doodle and TripIt much of that admin can be handled on your mobile device.
Doodle is an app that allows you to schedule calls and meetings with multiple people without the pain of endless email back-and-forths as you try and match schedules. If you’re with a client and you decide that you both need to meet with several other people next week, you can fire up Doodle on your phone, offer a few options for times when you are free, and watch as everyone else does the same. Presto—Doodle shows you at a glance when the best time for your meeting would be. Job done.
TripIt will organize your travel arrangements into a detailed itinerary that gets you where you need to go, on time, every time, with no fuss. Just upload your flight, hotel and car bookings and TripIt will generate an itinerary that connects all legs of your journey with times, directions and distances. So you’re all set for take-off. And because it’s a mobile app you can use TripIt while you’re on the road to create new itineraries as your plans change.
A few other great admin apps to consider include: Dropbox—bring all of the files you need with you anywhere you go. Project Schedule—take care of scheduling right on your mobile device and get notifications when activities are due.
Customer service rep
Staying in touch with your customers and keeping them happy is a high-value role. But sometimes the admin required to make sure you hear what customers are saying about you and resolve issues they may have can detract from your other efforts. FAQ is an email composer app that holds the answers to the questions your clients ask most often. It allows you to customize a variety of greetings and sign-offs and images and maps. Using FAQ you can easily respond to common questions within seconds even if those questions arrive while you’re waiting to meet a client for lunch.
Other great service apps include: Ideascale—creates a public forum where customers can talk about your business and gathers the most popular feedback for you. Gri.pe—turns service into marketing by posting cheers in social media when you resolve issues.
A good marketing coordinator will take much of the administrative burden of managing social media out of your hands. And like a good marketing coordinator there are some great apps that automate parts of your social media marketing so that you don’t have to spend time on them.
If This Then That (IFTTT) is an app that does exactly that. It contains hundreds of ‘recipes’ that allow you to connect different channels such as Facebook and Twitter and automatically have actions performed. For instance there are recipes like, every time my Facebook profile changes, update my Twitter profile to match. These recipes mean you just set and forget. Many of your social media hassles and time hacks will disappear through the beauty of digital automation. You can focus on creating great content to bring in new clients, and leave the social media admin to your phone. The next time you’re at a convention and someone you just met mentions a great article that you think your clients would be interested in, you can use IFTTT on the spot to send it out to whatever channels you choose.
Other great apps for helping you manage your social media include: HomeBase—your social media megaphone blasts content to all your social channels. Pocket—save articles, videos, images for you to view later.
The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council study found that 100% of freelancers and entrepreneurs who are companies-of-one felt that mobile technology saved them time and made them more productive. Mobile technology, it seems, has the greatest leverage in situations where you, the business owner, fill almost all the boxes in your org chart. So if you think strategically about which mobile apps would do you the greatest good by taking over the time-consuming, non-revenue generating tasks you currently have to perform, you will see the greatest impact on your ability to spend more time focused on business growth.
About the author: Andy Haynes is a writer for FreshBooks. He is the co-author of two best-selling business books, a successful entrepreneur and business consultant.