The market for business apps has largely been driven by entrepreneurs looking for new ways to work faster, smarter, and from anywhere.
Many of the most popular apps enable you to mobilise desk-based operations, such as accounts and customer relationship management, allowing you to service your customers and win prospective business regardless of whether you're in the office or not.
From tracking leads and running operations to time management and email marketing, mobile apps can empower you to keep a watch on business critical information, without spending huge sums on expensive enterprise software.
So here are my top 10 mobile apps for small businesses. Most of these apps are free to download (unless indicated), while many of the supporting services operate on a ‘freemium’ model (where a basic service is offered for free, but you can pay for premium features). All are available on the iPhone and Android devices:
Mozy is an online back-up service that continuously backs up the files on your computer or server. It gives small businesses the space to back up their entire computer and server files for a reasonable price; so you know your files are retrievable, even during a data loss crisis. The app enables you to access your backed up files from anywhere.
2. Skype, Viber, Fring
Skype and Viber provide voice over IP (VoIP) audio and video calls using 3G/WiFi connections. Viber allows you to make free calls and send text messages to anyone else who has the app installed on their mobile device. Fring is widely used to make group video calls using VoIP.
You can use these apps to keep in touch with everyone you work with and for. Colleagues and clients can meet without leaving their respective cities, saving your business precious time and money.
Box.net is like a file folder that all your gadgets and devices can access. You simply drag a file into Box, and you can instantly access it from anywhere. If you’ve ever cursed yourself for leaving that important file on your office computer, or needed to send a file to a client immediately, Box is the app for you. (You should also check out Box competitor, Dropbox.)
4. Bento (£2.99)
Bento is an excellent database app for small business owners; it can help you organise contacts and clients, track products and projects, manage orders and inventory, print QR code labels and more.
Toggl is a time-tracking app. It allows you to create tasks and projects and assign a certain amount of time to each project. It also logs how long tasks take to complete and how much time you have left to spend on a project, making billing incredibly easy and accurate.
MailChimp is an email-publishing platform that allows businesses of all sizes to design and send e-newsletters and email marketing campaigns. Measuring the success of your email campaigns is really easy as the software integrates with Google Analytics for tracking purposes.
Quickbooks is an online accounting service. It can help with all your accounting needs, including monitoring cash flow, creating VAT returns, setting budgets and creating business reports. It is as useful to small businesses as the desktop program that came first, but it is accessible from anywhere in the world.
Evernote makes organising notes simple. You can use your mobile device to make notes, take pictures and create audio notes. It can even recognise writing in images, so if you take a picture of a white board full of notes, you can find that image by searching for one of the phrases in it.
9. Google Apps
Google Apps pretty much eliminates the need for many computer programs. You can create and save text documents, spreadsheets, slide shows and more on Google Docs, and several people can work on one file simultaneously. Google Calendar makes creating and sharing calendars easy, and event reminders can be emailed to invitees. Gmail for Business gives companies personalised email accounts that are easy to set up and amend and that have the flexibility and storage space of Gmail.
If you really want to be engaged with your online community while on the move, this is the app for you. The web version is great, however when you're not in the office and you need to access all your social networks, the Hootsuite app makes this possible.
There are many more mobile applications for business users available on platforms such as iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. By recognising which apps can help you deliver a competitive advantage, mobile technology can transform the way your company does business.
Russell Berry is a director at mobile app developer AppCreatives, which designs and builds innovative apps for iPhone and Android devices