October 20, 2014

10 Ways to Use Mobile Devices to Run Your Business

This series is commissioned by UPS.

Mobile devices –- from the straightforward mobile phone with a camera… to iPhones stuffed with apps — have given smaller businesses the ability to operate nimbly and cost effectively.

Are you using handheld mobile devices to run your business? Now I’m not talking simply about using a smartphone to retrieve and answer short emails, or take voice calls while out of the office. Today those kinds of activities are a given and I will assume you already use mobile phones in that way.

Rather, what I am referring to here are innovative uses of mobile devices to operate your business — to close sales; to source the right repair parts and get them into the hands of your repair staff; to deliver goods and services to customers; to manage inventory and supply levels; take payments outside the office; and much more. If your staff is currently using mobile devices to such ends, give yourself a star. But if not, here are 10 ideas for integrating mobile devices into your internal operations to generate more revenue, improve your bottom line, or deliver better customer service:

(1) Equip field customer support and repairmen with phones having good-resolution cameras — When repair personnel are on site at a customer, they snap a close-up photo of a broken part and immediately send it back to the home office to verify the correct part number, and check to see if it’s stock or available locally. This is a technique I learned from my HVAC repair company, which does this to avoid delays in ordering parts, and unnecessary running around to source and install parts.

(2) Have before and after photos, or photos detailing unusual services on your phone – This is a technique I learned from Davey Tree Expert Company. When the Davey arborist recommended a drastic root pruning technique for an ailing tree we own, he was able to show photos of this procedure on his iPhone.  It was an unusual procedure that was hard to grasp without seeing it.  The photos convinced us — immediately, on the spot.

(3) Track packages – A variety of apps now make it possible to conveniently track packages being delivered.  So if your customer wants to know where that shipment is and you’re out of the office, it is now an easy matter to check on it from your phone.

(4) Create, view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on handheld devices – Apps such as Docs to Go and Zoho Mobile make this possible.  This way, your field people can deliver or change documents (such as proposals and contracts) or the fly.  Or they can check stock lists or other data maintained in spreadsheets.  More about document apps here.

(5) Fill in forms, sign and return documents from your mobile device – No more printing and faxing documents! Use a convenient iPhone app to fill in forms, add a digital signature and send them to the other party, without needing to print them out and fax them back.  Zosh is one; RightSignature is another variation.

(6) Put QR Codes on items to give your customers more information — QR codes are 2-dimensional codes that you can create and print on documents such as marketing materials and even business cards.  Then using a QR scanner app on a handheld phone, the customer can get more information directly on their handheld device (perhaps taking them directly to a Web page).  You might use QR codes to provide more product details or even coupons and discounts. More information on using QR codes.

(7) Load catalogs or images of  product models on your smart phone – Why carry catalogs if good resolution images and other information can be available on your smart phone instead?  You can even email selected information to the customer to print out locally on their printer, on the spot.

(8) Track inventory with Blackberry or other smart phone devices — Using a combination of an inventory software application, and a barcode scanner app or add-on for your mobile device, you can scan and/or check inventory on site or while mobile.  NEOReader is a universal scanner app which claims to be able to scan and read all kinds of barcodes.  There’s also a barcode scanner for Android by XZing.

(9) Deliver sales brochures and customer information – Email marketing materials to print off right at  customer’s place of business or home

(10) Give presentations on an iPad - If you have a sales presentation and you’re with one or two people, there’s no need to lug around a laptop and projector.  Just get a stand for your iPad and present your materials off of that.  For larger audiences you may need that projector, but the iPad is quite nice for small groups and lends an informal intimacy that aids the sales process.

* * * * *

Less than a decade ago — in some cases less than 5 years ago — these activities would have been a pipe dream for small companies.  They would have been too costly or too technologically complex, if even possible. But today, these and many more activities are within reach at reasonable cost to even the smallest businesses.

How are you using mobile devices in your business? If you have other uses, please share them in a comment below.

16 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

16 Reactions

  1. It’s amazing how crucial my iphone has become to running my business. As an independent professional , it is imperative for me to accurately document the time spent with clients. Having a time tracking app (and a plethora to choose from) has facilitated this greatly…

  2. Anita,

    Do you have a case study on how USP has used mobile devices throughout the organization?

  3. One of the hottest new trends is having a mobile Web sites. These sites are designed to work optimally with mobile phones – that means larger buttons, larger text, and narrow pages.

    It’s a mobile versions of a larger site that’s optimized for mobile use with only the most important functions that users are likely to need while they

  4. The iPad with 3G can be handy if you’re trying to show a website for a presentation and can’t access the wifi with your laptop. Have the iPad in your bag as a backup, and you can access the web and still show what you’re talking about.

    We have a mileage-tracking app for our iPhones, and find it easy to track business mileage on our personal vehicles that way — you can email yourself a CSV export and have it handy at tax time. We also have an expense app, and can take a photo of a receipt and categorize the expense at the time of purchase.

  5. There’s a company called Square which allows you to swipe credit cards using an attachment for your smartphone. It’s another unique way to use a mobile device.

  6. Here are some user-curated lists of business apps for iPhone and iPad that show the range of apps used by businesses:

    http://www.appolicious.com/curated-apps?curated_term=business

    Best,
    Shara

  7. You touched a bit on customer service in your post. But you can even take it a step further and actually staff customer service on-the-go. For small businesses, such flexibility is key to gaining a competitive edge, especially when competing with larger businesses. I feel strongly about the importance of this as my small business offers such a capability for customer service.

  8. Anita
    I can’t believe I missed this post!! Glad I read it today. The tip about having before / after pictures is huge. I could do that now showing a standard website versus a mobile one. Wow, great idea. Plus the others are good too.

  9. Also, if you are a retail sales person, you can get a customer’s information (name/email) right on your phone. Once you’ve walked around and looked at a few products or items on your showroom, just really quickly send them an email of the products they looked at.

    Then the customer has a record of their visit and the products they looked at right in their inbox.

  10. For anyone interested in learning more about why mobile is so important for most businesses and where your resources should be focused in the mobile arena, you might check out this article here…http://qfuse.com/blog/consumers-are-on-mobile-and-so-should-you/

  11. Good Ways to Use Mobile Devices to Run Your Business. i would like to recommend mobile PPC to get the very specific user for your product who is interested in your product and there will lot of chances to convert them as a customer

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