Run a Small Business From Your Smartphone
You know that running a business can be tough. Luckily, you have technology on your side.
Thanks to smartphones, you no longer need to stay tied to a desk. Plenty of apps out there--organizational apps, videoconferencing programs, point-of-sale tools, PowerPoint assistants, and various productivity apps--can help you keep your business running smoothly.
So go ahead and book that one-way trip to the Caribbean: Here are ten business tasks that you can do straight from your smartphone, while basking in the sun poolside.
Organization is next to godliness--or something like that. Running a business means being a least a little bit organized, so we've collected some apps to get you started.
iOS | $5
FileMaker's Bento is a multitasking app--that is, it multitasks so you don't have to. Although Bento is billed as a "personal database," its variety of templates let you manage and track a lot of business-related items, such as inventory, invoices, items sold, and expenses. Bento also syncs with FileMaker's desktop app, Bento 4 for Mac (sold separately for $30).
Android | Free
GTasks is a no-cost to-do app that syncs with your Gmail Tasks and Google Calendar. GTasks offers subtask features, reminders, and color-coding options.
Another "personal database," Evernote lets you organize your life and your business. You can enter information into the Evernote database any which way--by snapping a photo, taking a screenshot, or inputting text. Evernote will then process and index the information, and make it searchable. Evernote also automatically syncs its mobile, desktop, and Web apps.
Sarah's Pick: I like all three of these apps, for different reasons. Bento is the most expensive--especially if you want to sync it with its desktop counterpart--but it has a beautifully clean interface. Evernote is free and lets you sync your database across multiple platforms. GTasks is my least favorite of the group (probably because I'm not a big fan of Google's Tasks/Calendar apps), but it's nice if you regularly use the Google desktop apps.
Sell Your Stuff
Selling products is crucial to many small businesses--but that doesn't mean you have to set up an elaborate e-commerce website or go out and buy a new cash register. Instead, let your smartphone do the heavy lifting.
A simple, multiplatform point-of-sale app, Square lets you accept credit card payments straight from your phone. All you have to do is plug Square's credit card reader into your phone's audio jack, and you can start accepting cards right away. Square deposits your earnings directly into your bank account. Both the app and the credit card reader are completely free, but Square does take 2.75 percent of every sale you make.
Build Some Spreadsheets
Looking to make a few solid, old-fashioned spreadsheets without any fancy "personal database" templates getting in the way? Your phone can do that, too.
Byte Squared's multiplatform spreadsheet offering is a full-featured app that's compatible with both Excel and Numbers. Spreadsheet lets you create and edit spreadsheets, and it features a zoomable/scrollable unlimited cell grid. Spreadsheet also lets you add formulas, functions, text wrapping, cell formatting, and cell types to your sheets.
Sarah's Pick: I personally prefer the iOS Spreadsheet app, though the two versions are practically the same. Creating spreadsheets on a small screen is a less-than-ideal practice to begin with, but this app makes the best out of a bad situation with its zoom/scroll features.
Track Your Time in Traffic
Keeping on top of your business mileage for tax-reporting purposes can be a drag. Luckily, several mobile apps can help.
Trip Cubby Free
iOS | Free
Trip Cubby Free is a slick little app for monitoring your mileage. Just enter your trip information (with the assistance of predictive input and auto entry), and Trip Cubby Free automatically calculates your mileage. It then spits out Excel-compatible email reports and various charts for use when tax season rolls around. Trip Cubby Free is the ad-supported version of the $5 Trip Cubby.
Android | Free
MilesTrac is a simple, free app that calculates miles automatically once you enter your travel information. The only catch is that it exports your miles to an Excel-compatible file at the end of every month, not every year.
Android | $2
A more full-featured mileage tracker, with support for multiple clients, multiple vehicles, and multiple accounts, Mileage Tracker also supports assorted currencies and gives you daily/weekly/monthly/yearly reports.
Sarah's Pick: TripCubby is great if you're looking for an in-depth mileage tracker that will help you deduct mileage come tax time. It's a bit complicated if you're just looking for a quick estimate, though.
PowerPoint presentations no longer need tons of hardware to work. Here are two practical tools.
In MightyMeeting you can save your PowerPoint presentations to the cloud and then access them from anywhere, using your smartphone (or laptop). You can store and play presentations and videos, and even connect your phone to a bigger screen for a better presentation. The MightyMeeting basic app is free, but the Pro version--which affords you more cloud space (5GB instead of 100MB) and longer presentations (120 slides instead of 60 slides)--starts at $5 a month.
iOS | $3
If all you want is a PowerPoint remote control, mbPointer is the app for you. Instead of purchasing extra hardware, just turn your iPhone into a PowerPoint remote with this $3 app. You can not only flip through slides with ease, but also move the cursor or pen on the screen by tilting your iPhone. It's basically a wireless air-mouse for your PC.
Sarah's Pick: MightyMeeting is a must-have tool if you regularly give PowerPoint presentations and you don't feel like carting your laptop around with you all the time. The drawback is that you'll need Internet access--but how often are you going to give a presentation in an area without Internet access?
Punch In, Punch Out
Keeping track of how much time you spend on a project is important, especially if you're juggling multiple projects.
iOS | Free
With this virtual punch card, you can "punch in" when you start working on a project and "punch out" when you're finished. ClockIn tracks your time for multiple projects and multiple clients, and generates Excel-compatible reports that you can email to clients or to yourself.
My Work Clock
Android | Free
My Work Clock is a widget for your Android phone. You can punch in and out directly from the widget, and it supports multiple jobs and overtime. The widget produces daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly reports that you can email as Excel-compatible files.
Sarah's Pick: ClockIn's interface is a bit more user-friendly than My Work Clock's, but the apps effectively do the same thing.
Next page: Mobile meeting tools, document editors, cloud storage, and financial assistants
Hold Mobile Meetings
You know what they say: The more successful you are, the more time you spend in meetings. Well, thanks to mobile meeting technology, you no longer have to worry about being physically present. Just use one of these apps.
Microsoft's new acquisition, Skype lets you make video calls on select handsets to anyone else on the Skype network. That means you can videoconference with other iOS or Android users, no matter which platform you're on. You can also videoconference with Skype users on PCs and TVs. To videoconference using the Skype mobile app, your phone will need a front-facing camera. (Voice and video chat work over 3G/4G connections as well as Wi-Fi.)
Tango is another cross-platform mobile video-chat app. Tango lets users videoconference over 3G and 4G networks--unlike Apple's FaceTime, which requires a Wi-Fi connection.
Sarah's Pick: I like Tango better than Skype, because it uses my mobile phone number as a username and syncs with my phone-book contacts. Skype is better as a desktop application, in my opinion.
Write, Edit, Share
No matter what you're doing for your business, you'll probably need to write or edit the occasional document--and while it might be a pain, you can do that from your phone, too.
iOS | Free
Dragon Dictation is an excellent voice-recognition app powered by Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Not only can you use Dragon Dictation to dictate texts, email messages, and status updates, but you can also use it to write notes and, hey, maybe even articles or essays.
iOS | $5
If you're more of the old-fashioned type, you might want to do your text editing with your fingers. Quickoffice lets you do that, allowing you to create and edit Microsoft Office files, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint items.
Android | Free
In the Android-app version of regular old Google Docs, you can create, edit, and share your documents directly from your phone.
Sarah's Pick: Dragon Dictation is a lifesaver when you need to, um, write an article or shoot out an email without taking your eyes off the road. This is definitely a plus when it comes to productivity--just be careful.
Put It in the Cloud
These days cloud storage is popular. That doesn't mean you should toss your hard drive out the window--but being able to access select files from your mobile phone is certainly useful.
This excellent cloud storage service first downloads a special file onto your desktop. Then, any file you drag into that folder automatically syncs with the Dropbox cloud server. All you have to do is download the Dropbox app on your smartphone and log in to your Dropbox account, and you'll be able to access any of your Dropbox files from wherever you are. Dropbox gives you 2GB for free, but offers 50GB and 100GB plans for $10 a month and $20 a month, respectively.
Another easy-to-use cloud-storage app, SugarSync gives you 5GB of space for free; any more, and you'll need a subscription. Plans start at $5 per month for 30GB and go up to $25 per month for 240GB.
Sarah's Pick: I've been using Dropbox for years now, and I love the ability to sync files across multiple platforms. Still, SugarSync gives you similar functionality and an extra 3GB of free space.
Track Your Cash
Keep your business in the black by downloading one of these convenient apps.
Mint.com is personal finance software, but it's still a good app for a small business or a one-person operation. Mint.com's apps let you keep track of your bank account balances and spending patterns, and they even have spending tips and useful charts.
Expensify is an expense-tracking app that lets you log expenses, capture receipts (snap a photo of a receipt with your phone's camera, and Expensify will scan it and create expense items from the info), and track mileage. In the iPhone version of the app, you can also create on-the-go expense reports and submit them straight from your phone. Expensify is available on Palm/WebOS and BlackBerry, as well.
Sarah's Pick: Mint.com is a must for any small-business owner, but Expensify will actually let you log expenses for tax purposes (Mint just keeps track of your general spending).
The tools decribed above are merely a sampling of the many mobile apps that will help you run your business with ease. For more business apps, check out our slideshows of the Top 10 Must-Have iPhone Business Apps and the Top 10 Essential Android Apps for Business.