Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. You have to wear many hats –CEO, finance, marketing, sales, admin, IT– and multitask your way through the different roles, all the while trying to grow and expand your young business.
Thankfully the advent of business applications is bringing systems and solutions that were once the preserve of large organizations right into the palm of your hand.
Need to plan your week, schedule work for your teams, map out your cash flow? There’s an app for that. In fact, as we approach a decade since the launch of Apple’s App Store –followed a few years later by the Android/Google equivalent– it’s fair to say that there’s an app for everything.
The enterprise app market was estimated to be worth around $150 billion in 2015, but is forecast to almost double in size, to around $290 billion, by 2024. And increasingly entrepreneurs are taking to business apps to keep their companies running smoothly. A 2015 survey found that one-third of small and medium businesses had used more than five apps in the previous year for everything from documentation and workflow through to electronic signature of contracts and work orders.
Let’s look at seven standout apps that will help you maintain and develop your business– no matter which hat you’re wearing.
1. The best business app for… better communication As an entrepreneur, staying connected with other members of your team is as vital as it’s difficult. Especially in the modern business world where many startups –and larger businesses– operate remotely, using staff and freelancers who might be based anywhere in the world. What’s more, as entrepreneurs are often on the go rather than chained to the desk, you need a line of communication with colleagues that’s all-inclusive and easy to understand.
Fortunately, such a platform exists– and it’s called Slack. Slack allows for organised and searchable channels of communication sorted by type –projects, pitches, finance, HR– so everyone who needs information on a particular business function can access it quickly and easily. Communication can take place via instant or private message, and links and attachments are easily shared via a drag-and-drop system.
Slack has won high praise in the industry, with some experts even claiming the platform could spell the end of email altogether. Awards such as Best Startup of the Year at this year’s TechCrunch “Crunchies” Awards go some way to backing up such claims.
2. The best business app for… increasing sales Organization is important at every level of your business, but when it comes to sales it can mean the difference between sealing the deal and watching it sail on by.
As any salesperson will know, few businesses are ready to buy at the first point of contact. In fact, according to a Marketing Donut survey last year, nearly two-thirds of leads won’t be ready to confirm a purchase for at least three months, with 20% needing over a year. Couple this with research from Inside Sales which found that, when businesses are ready to buy, up to half go with the vendor they first spoke to and it’s clear you need to keep on top of your sales pipeline at all times.
Nowadays there are several great Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to help you. One that’s continuing to improve with each iteration is Zoho CRM. Zoho gives you all the information you could possibly need on your customers and prospects –contact information, sales notes, last contact, next contact and so on– from wherever you are, on any device. And of course it integrates really well with other Zoho apps such as SalesIQ, offering website tracking software and analytics in an easy-to-use platform.
3. The best business app for… effective marketing Staying on top of your sales pipeline is important, but if you don’t communicate your message to your audience effectively then you’ll have nothing in the pipeline in the first place. That’s where marketing comes in.
Marketing is a function that often gets overlooked by entrepreneurs. Partly because they are focusing their efforts on looking after the customers they already have. Plus it can be time-consuming and difficult. This was evidenced by a 2016 survey that found that almost half of small business owners are unsure whether they are marketing effectively– with 14% admitting that they aren’t doing enough.
But now it’s much easier thanks to innovative applications such as Buffer– which lets you push marketing content across a range of platforms in minutes. Buffer brings together all of your social accounts –Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and more– and allows for easy scheduling of posts across all channels, whether you’re in the office or on the move. The app’s Pablo feature also allows for creation of original marketing content in just a few clicks. Engagement can then be analyzed and monitored from an online dashboard or mobile app.
4. The best business app for… improved HR function Managing the HR function in a small and growing business is notoriously hard: both finding the right hires –which 36% of SMEs admitted to finding difficult in a recent Conference Genie survey– and managing existing personnel alongside the new starters.
Once again, there’s an app. Step forward BambooHR– an award-winning HR platform that’s making life easier for businesses of all sizes. Available via an online portal and mobile app, BambooHR helps companies find high-caliber candidates and track, evaluate and share applicant information easily throughout the business.
As for managing current personnel, both managers and individual employees can access a customizable and automated online portal where they can track time off, training, benefits and payroll– and manage their employee information. The app’s potential to save entrepreneurs both time and money is huge, and all from your mobile device if you so choose.
5. The best business app for… managing your time As an entrepreneur, time is your most valuable resource. When you’re being pulled in so many directions through the working day –not to mention trying to fit in a family or social life– it feels as if there just aren’t enough hours in it. Technology can help here too.
There isn’t an app to actually make the day longer, but there are plenty that can help you better manage the time you’ve got.
One of these is Cal, from the multi-award winning productivity apps company Any.do. Cal lets you view and manage your to-do list and calendar from one handy app –giving you a view of every task that’s ahead of you that day. From there you can create new events and invite contacts to meetings and appointments– sharing time, date and location details in just a few taps.
6. The best business app for… taking control of your projects With the entrepreneur’s many proverbial hats come a wide range of different projects that need active management and control. For example a pitch project might involve liaising with a designer, a supplier and a prospect. While a client campaign might require organizing a wide range of in-house colleagues, clients and external support staff. Managing a variety of project tasks across many different stakeholders with different needs and deadlines is not easy– and certainly not a job for email. A robust project management solution is required.
One of the best out there is Basecamp. Essentially, Basecamp acts as a single port of call for every task your business undertakes. Rather than having work strewn across separate workflows and hidden in inboxes and notepads, Basecamp brings everything –to-do lists, purchase orders, invoices, quotes, chat logs and more– under one roof. Using a centralized portal allows everyone in your business and beyond to know where things stand– what’s been done and what needs doing.
Such is Basecamp’s ability to get businesses working more productively that, in a recent survey of its customers, nearly 90% of respondents said they had a better handle on their business since using the app.
7. The best business app for… staying on top of finances We end with an app to help entrepreneurs keep tabs on the lifeblood of their business– cash. Quite simply poor cash flow –running out of money– is the main reason why startups fail. You need a way of knowing exactly what funds are coming in to your business and what’s going out– both today and in the future.
When it comes to managing your business finances, QuickBooks does the lot: quotes, invoices, payroll, expenses, taxes, anything that falls under the umbrella of finance. You can even link it directly to your bank account to make the process fully automated. Plus the QuickBooks mobile app gives you a picture of your business’ cash flow at the touch of a button. With so many great features there’s a reason why QuickBooks is the world’s number one online accountancy software– it makes staying on top of your finances super easy.
None of these apps provide a magic solution. To make it as an entrepreneur you still need a great idea, a great team, bags of hard work and luck. But the margin between success and failure is sometimes fine, so you need all the help you can get to manage your business smoothly and keep things under control. Business apps like the ones featured in this article can make the difference.