|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.
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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.