Office ties don’t have to bind. An explosion of mobile apps and cloud services let you handle just about every business task from a mobile device. We list the essential apps for mobile entrepreneurs.
As a business owner, you likely spend more time away from your desk than at it—and just a few years ago that was a real hardship. Sure, you had your cell phone, but life on the go meant late nights spent doing all the tasks that required your computer and the software that lived on it.
Welcome to the "post-PC" era. Today's powerful smartphones and tablets have a universe of apps that let you get real work done on the go, and many of them interface with online cloud services that take handle much of the heavy lifting once performed only by desktop software.
So from accounting to word processing and a bunch of letters in between, we list our favorite business-oriented mobile apps and cloud services to help you keep your enterprise humming—when you can't be there to run it.
Essential Mobile Business Apps and Cloud Services
Granted, balancing the books is a tad more mission-critical than reaching the next level in Flow Free, so it's a task you don't want to relegate solely to your phone. But combine a mobile app with a secure online service, and you can set yourself free. That's the thinking behind one of our favorite cloud services and its associated apps.
Figure 1: FreshBooks puts the full power of this online accounting service in the palm of your hand.
FreshBooks is a simple-to-use online accounting service designed specifically for small businesses. It lets you create and send invoices, accept online payments, track expenses and receipts, track and bill for time spent on a given project, generate P&L reports and much more. The smartly designed mobile app, available for iOS and Android devices, lets you check on your business data and enter transactions from anywhere.
If you typically leave the heavy lifting to your accountant but still need to check on sales and expenses in a timely manner, then a bookkeeping app is the perfect solution. Outright.com (which is in the midst of morphing into a service called Online Bookkeeping under new owner, GoDaddy) lets you quickly and easily enter expenditures and revenue and categorize each. Come tax time, each transaction is flagged in an IRS-friendly way.
You can even have Outright watch your business bank account and import transactions automatically. The iOS mobile app lets you check on your financials when you're away from your PC by giving you an overview of you profit and loss picture, alerting you of new deposits, and letting you track your expenses.
Yes, your Android or iOS operating system already has a calendar tool, and both Google and Apple have done a pretty good job on those apps. But you can do better. For Android device owners, Business Calendar (by Appgenix Software) is a slick, graphical app that lets you set a multi-day view (from 1 to 14 days) that suits you, or set the view by month, day, agenda or event. You can set up recurring events and use drag-and-drop mode to move and copy events. You can enter events manually, of course, or have the app automatically sync with your Google calendars.
Figure 2: Cal is a beautifully designed calendar app for the iPhone that makes it easy to stay on top of appointments and tasks.
For iPhone and iPad fans, Cal (by Any.do) is perhaps the most elegantly designed of the umpteen calendar apps you'll find on the App Store. A swipe of your finger lets you scroll though the upcoming days. Land on one and you can see in words (and pictures, where appropriate) where you have to be and, when synced with Any.do's equally visual task list, what you have to do.
One problem with a mobile workforce is that, well, no one is ever at the same place at the same time. That's why many small business owners have discovered Campfire. A team-collaboration service featuring real-time chat, Campfire is like instant messaging for groups. You can share text files for others to see and annotate, and the transcripts of the chat are automatically saved so nobody has to madly jot notes as the meeting unfolds.
The iOS app for iPhone and iPad users features a streamlined user interface, in-line viewing of popular file formats (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), in-line YouTube viewing, access to all your Campfire rooms and more.
VIPorbit, an end-to-end contact management platform for Apple's Mac and iOS platforms, lets you manage contacts, calendars and communications in one place. The cloud service and associated mobile apps can manage contact details, including names, multiple addresses (physical and email) and social media accounts, plus 14 customizable fields to track whatever else you need.
It can import contacts from your device's address book, Google accounts, LinkedIn, Facebook and even Twitter. The built-in calendar displays day, week, month and list views, and works with Apple and Google calendars. You can then link related events and tasks to each contact, and store a chronological log of all completed and upcoming activities related to each contact.
More Essential Mobile Apps for Entrepreneurs
No one—not even you as the boss—likes doing expense reports. But they're a necessary evil to keep the books on the up-and-up and to reimburse employees. Expensify can help alleviate much of the pain. The online service lets you streamline the way you and your employees report expenses, the process by which expense reports are approved, and the way you export that information to your accounting package.
Figure 3: Flow’s Dashboard can show you when the status of a task is updated or when someone comments on a project.
We love the mobile app. Available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone devices, the app lets you snap pictures of receipts on the go, so you don't have to worry about losing them, plus you can create and submit expense reports from your phone whenever you have some downtime, instead of wasting precious office time.
BambooHR, a cloud-based HR software platform tailored to small and medium businesses, aims to take the mystery out of HR functions such as employee on-boarding and time-off management. The service includes a complete (and secure) employee database, salary and job histories, employee and manager self-service portals, benefits tracking and much more. The mobile app, supported on iOS and Android, lets you have your company directory accessible anywhere, and it also lets employees request time off (and for managers, to approve such requests) on the go.
One app you've likely come to rely on is your smartphone's notepad feature. However, those notes tend to live in a silo, with no connection to the wider world, and they languish until you actively look for them. The Intellinote virtual notepad replaces paper notes, memos and sending yourself emails. The mobile app lets you take notes, of course, but it also enables concise Twitter-like communication among you and your colleagues.
The associated online service's shared workspaces let you execute and collaborate on meetings, events, campaigns, purchases and so on. You can assign and track tasks, and the app's Knowledge Libraries let you capture ideas, lists, leads, documents, files, and more, so all team members can stay current with a given project.
Getting paid is crucial to any business, and the advent of mobile payment-acceptance systems has been a boon to small business owners. Flint lets you accept credit cards via your iPhone or iPad without the need for plug-in card readers (or any extra hardware), merchant-account hassles or upfront costs.
Simply enter the amount of the transaction, aim your device's camera at the credit card's account number and snap a photo, then enter the expiration date and CSV code. You can also enter the customer's email address to generate an automatic receipt. Transaction fees can be as low as 1.95 percent for debit cards and 2.95 percent for Visa and MasterCard payments.
If you've ever had the worry that projects were stalling or worse, spinning out of control in your absence, then the Flow project management app (from MetaLab) is for you. With Flow, you can see that projects get finished, hold discussions with all stakeholders, keep pertinent files in one place and be sure that ideas and other information get captured for all to see.
Flow can keep track of the tasks assigned to various project participants, and allow those employees to have ad-hoc group discussions, thus avoiding painful, endless email chains. All stakeholders can be notified when the status of a task changes, and you can even include temporary collaborators that only see what they're invited to access. The mobile app also delivers a handy Dashboard view so you can see what everyone is working on.
There's no shortage of video chat apps aimed at 'tweens and families, but finding one that's suitable for small business use is more of a challenge. That's where the old hands at GoToMeeting come in. This service's mobile app delivers most of the features of the Web-based service in a convenient on-the-go package for iOS and Android devices.
Figure 4: Kingsoft Office for Android lets you view, edit and create Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on your smartphone or tablet.
The interface shows all upcoming meetings and lets you join GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar sessions with a single tap. You can run the meeting yourself, hand off presentation control to another participant, and see what everyone else is seeing just as if you were at a PC.
Word processing and office apps
If you're writing the Great American Novel, then a PC (or maybe an old IBM Selectric) is a better choice than your smartphone. But for creating short documents and editing existing ones, a mobile app is just fine. One of the best is Kingsoft Office, from Kingsoft Software. This maker of desktop office suite software also offers free versions for Android and iOS devices.
The Android version lets you view, edit and create Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. You can then easily share them via email, or access files stored on popular cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox and Box.net. Kingsoft Office for iPhone and iPad is somewhat more limited, but it still lets you read and edit PowerPoint files, read PDF and Word docs, and share documents via the online storage services.
Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.
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