Just a couple of years ago, I advised small businesses that their future was mobile. Customers would reach them on mobile devices, and they’d run their companies on mobile devices too. Well, the future has arrived.
This week – Small Business Week – I’m helping you “Make this Your Year to Grow.” If you want to grow, you must embrace the mobile, cloud-based world. Even if you merely want to survive, you must be mobile – both to help customers find you and to run your business.
America’s already mobile. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, one-third go online primarily on a smartphone, and 10% use a smartphone as their only Internet gateway. There are more mobile devices on Earth than people! And here come wearable mobile devices to add to our mobile connectedness.
Today, you can run your business from anywhere, any time. Cloud-based business applications (hosted over the Internet rather than on-premise) not only free you from your desk, but they liberate you from onsite servers, disruptive upgrades, and operating system incompatibilities.
What do you need to adjust to this truly mobile world?
** Mobile-enabled website
You know a website is a must for your small business. Prospects and customers expect to find you online. But having a website is not enough – you need one that looks good and works great on mobile devices. More than a third of Americans access websites primarily or solely on a smartphone.
When designing your website, think “mobile first.” In April, Google released a new algorithm that boosts mobile-ready websites. In other words, websites not adapted for mobile appear lower in search results. Still have 1990s-era website? Customers will find it harder to find you. (Test whether Google considers your website “mobile-friendly” here – https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/)
A number of companies provide turnkey solutions for small business, mobile-ready websites. These make launching – or relaunching – your website relatively easy and inexpensive. Check out Weebly (www.weebly.com), Wix (www.wix.com) and WordPress.com (www.Wordpress.com).
** Get found
How long has it been since you used your smartphone to search for a business, get directions, make a restaurant reservation, even make a purchase? Probably not long. Many people are looking for businesses like yours right now on their mobile devices.
So make sure that when they search, they find you – whether on maps or search engines. Fortunately, that’s easy.
“Claim” your business for free on Google My Business (https://www.google.com/business/), Bing Places for Business (https://www.bingplaces.com/), Yahoo! Local (https://local.yahoo.com/), Yelp (http://www.yelp.com/), and Foursquare (https://foursquare.com/). When someone in your area looks for a business like yours on a mobile device, you’ll show up.
** Mobile payments
If you do work, or make sales, away from your main place of business, accept and process payments on the spot. It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to accept credit or debit cards if you’re a plumber working at someone’s home, selling goods at a crafts fair, or providing consulting services at a client’s office.
You’ve got a number of good options. The three leading mobile payment services are Square (www.squareup.com), Intuit GoPayment (gopayment. com), and PayPal Here (paypal.com).
If you’ve hesitated because you don’t want to spend the few percentage points it costs to process a credit card, reconsider. It costs a lot more to return to the office, send an invoice, wait 30 days, send out collection notices, and write off bad debts.
** Mobile operations
I declared 2012 the “Year of the Cloud” in my small business. I moved virtually all my company’s critical business functions to Internet-based applications: payroll, email, document storage, customer relation management, we even had our accounting system hosted remotely. We recently ditched our Small Business Server (sorry Microsoft).
If I launched my business today, I would choose only cloud-based applications from the get-go. Why? They generally save you time, money and, definitely, headaches. Cloud-based applications are easy to use, you pay for only what you need, and upgrades are up-to-date and seamless.
Some key cloud-based systems include Microsoft Office 365 (https://products.office.com/en-us/business/explore-office-365-for-business), Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/), Quickbooks Online (http://quickbooks.intuit.com/online/) and Quickbooks Payroll (formerly Intuit Online Payroll) (http://payroll.intuit.com/), Xero (https://www.xero.com/us/), Google Docs (https://www.google.com/docs/about/), Salesforce (http://www.salesforce.com/homepage/index-d.jsp?r=X&s_tnt=79022:1:0), MethodCRM (https://www.method.me/), and online shipping services from UPS (http://www.ups.com/content/us/en/bussol/browse/internet_shipping.html) or FedEx (http://www.fedex.com/us/ship/).
** Mobile communication
On the go, you need to do more than just make phone calls on your smartphone. You want to collaborate with your team, check and schedule social media posts, access important documents. And you want to move your marketing activities to the cloud, too, so you can send an email newsletter to customers announcing a sale right from your tablet.
There’s an abundance of mobile and cloud-based communication tools. The very first cloud-based application I fell in love with is our email newsletter company, Emma (www.myemma.com). But other very good ones include MailChimp (http://mailchimp.com/)—free for the smallest companies—and Vertical Response (http://www.verticalresponse.com/). For project management, we like Asana (https://asana.com/) and Basecamp (https://basecamp.com/). For managing social media on the go, we use Hootsuite, the Facebook Pages Manager app, and LinkedIn Mobile (https://www.linkedin.com/mobile).
Fortunately – or unfortunately – wherever you go, you can now take your business with you. It’s time to go mobile.
Small Business Week Do-It-Now Action Items:
- Evaluate your website for mobile readiness. Does it contain all necessary info? Download the free website checklist worksheet to evaluate yours. (www.planningshop.com/solution-center)
- “Claim” your business – free – on all search engines, especially Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
- If you do any business away from your office or store, get a mobile credit card reader.
- Identify which of your on-premise software needs an upgrade soon and search for a cloud-based alternative.
- Sign up for an email newsletter service if you don’t have one.
Statistics: These stats are all referring to Americans – not global – and come from Pew
- 90% own a cell phone
- 64% own a smart phone
- 42% own a tablet
- 63% use a phone to go online
- 34% go online MOSTLY on a mobile phone
Sources for stats above and in article:
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 8, 2015