There's an app for that
Taking your office with you
By Heather Lockwood
You hear it on the radio and TV, from your friends, and from local schools and businesses, but what is all the hoopla about apps and what can they really do to help you and your business? There are more than 400,000 apps for the iPhone and another 300,000 Android apps that do everything from slicing fruit, to telling you the weather anywhere in the world, to instantly updating you regarding your favorite sports scores. If there's something you used to go to your desktop or laptop to find, there's probably an app that will help you get there more quickly and, in many cases, take you to a mobile environment that you can easily navigate from your mobile device.
Some apps are fun. Some help you acquire more stuff you'll probably never use. Some provide a service. And they are all at your fingertips wherever you are. To make the deal even sweeter, there are a lot of free apps. Even the ones you have to pay for are certainly not going to break the bank. Apps can range from no cost at all to $24.99 or higher, but most of them are easily accessible at between 99 cents and $2.99.
Apps can do just about anything, including read QR codes to take you to an interactive experience, scan barcodes so you can use your phone as a boarding pass, take credit card payments, and allow you to keep track of your schedule and staff. The list of available apps just keeps on growing. So, as a business person or business owner, what does that mean to you?
With the right applications on your smartphone or other mobile device, you have the ability to access and manage your business from anywhere, making it that much easier to connect with customers and potential customers. You should start by doing a general assessment of what you currently use your office or computer for today. Do you primarily use your computer to manage your files, calendar or financial data? Do you use e-mail to send files or receive inquiries or information? Do you have to print materials from different locations? Do you use multiple programs and services to manage and service your customers? Do you store paper files in your office in filing cabinets?
You may need to be able to do all of these things to successfully run your business from a virtual office, but it pays to prioritize and look first into those apps that accomplish what you need most. There are many options, and with the right combination you can customize your phone or tablet to be your office on the go.
To start out, you should go to the app store on your phone (your carrier should be able to tell you where to get the app for that) and select "business" applications specifically. Here are some types of apps that might help you manage your business remotely:
Manage your day—Personal calendar applications can do everything from managing your daily tasks to providing alarms and alerts to let you know of upcoming appointments. Apps that manage your day can be helpful in keeping you on track and making sure you have all of your important appointments accounted for. You can also keep notes right on your phone that pertain to certain meetings or appointments, so all of that important information is easily accessible from one location.
Manage employees—There are several apps that provide time-card and time-keeping services. Employees can log their time in, time out, even track projects or tasks in time increments and then e-mail the completed report.
Manage vendors—Invoicing apps are readily available to create, send and save right from your phone. There are also apps that create receipts that can be saved and e-mailed.
Manage customers—Access your e-mail files, create customer databases, develop a call log, create follow-up calendars, and create prospect or referral lists that can easily be accessed wherever you are.
All of these apps are great in making sure the business itself is running as it should, but there are some other ways to maximize the use of your phone to help you reach out to existing and potential customers, network with others in the industry and provide timely data and information to help you make the sale.
• Business cards—Have you ever been on a business trip or at a meeting with a customer only to discover that you forgot to restock your business cards? There are apps that can help you create and send an electronic business card no matter where you are. Other apps allow you to take a picture of your business card or the cards of other people and store and send them from your phone.
• Cloud—Saving and sending data and files through cloud technology means that you can always get to your files rather than having them stuck on a hard drive or on-site server. With a cloud app, you can access any files you might need from just about anywhere.
• Presentation viewers—With an app specially designed to show presentations right from your phone or tablet, there's no reason to lug around a laptop or projector.
• Print—Certain apps allow you to print from other apps, print photos, files, e-mails, and Web pages to any printer.
You can also have an app created specifically for your business to help customers find you. There are free sites that help you create your own app and submit it to the app store. Once you have an app created, you can make it available for download from your Web site. The app can link to your site and, better yet, link to a mobile-enabled version of your site where customers and potential customers can easily find your contact information, details about your business and any other important information to connect to you right from their phones. From the app store, people can find your app through searches; therefore, make sure you utilize key words so that your app pops up if they search for insurance, auto insurance, insurance agent . . . whatever applies.
The world is moving faster than ever and it's important that you are able to manage your business and continue to sell even if you aren't in the office. It may take a bit of time to find the apps that work best for you and work together to help you keep everything in motion, but it is completely worth it when you can respond immediately to an inquiry and provide files right on the spot and can e-mail, scan and send important information in real time rather than having to wait until you are logged on to a hard drive or server back in the office.
Focus on your key activities first and try out new apps as you get them to make sure they do what you expect. With a little bit of research and planning, you can be connected from wherever you are without ever having to actually be at your desk in your office.
Heather Lockwood is advertising manager for Foremost Insurance Group. For more information, visit ForemostAgent.com.