10 Mobile Applications That Will Supercharge Your Small Business

You’ve probably already read one of these types of posts somewhere already. Most likely on an established website/blog, based in the US or the UK, where, let’s face it, things are vastly different. This is a perspective for those engaged in business on a small scale in Africa. Given the generally high costs of accessing the internet on a constant basis, and the fact that most business nowadays depends on these constant connections, I will have to reluctantly disregard the usual data-saving applications. Without rambling, here are 10 mobile applications that I (and my eventual small team of collaborators) use on an almost daily basis while in the nascent stages of establishing a small design business that aims to cater for clients both locally and globally.

10. PayPal (Or Any Other Online Payment Solutions)

This is probably obvious to most “webpreneurs”, but your e-payment solution of choice probably has a decent mobile application. For clients outside the Republic, I make use of PayPal. The Mobile app is simple enough on Android, and provides a welcome layer of security with biometric scanning for your digits to access the application’s dashboard. You’re generally able to do enough to transact with clients and suppliers via the app while you’re on the move, but limitations with PayPal arise when it comes to paying for international subscription services such as Apple Music. If your account isn’t linked with an American bank card, it can get tricky. In South Africa, you have to do quite a bit of shuffling to link your local bank account with your PayPal account (you need to do this to withdraw your funds), but once done, PayPal is probably the best and most trusted service for client payments out there. The mobile app is also sufficiently robust.

9. Google Analytics

Run a website? A blog perhaps? You’ll want to track your stats somehow, and there’s really no better way to do this than getting your head around signing up to Google Analytics’ insanely robust tracking. Once you’ve done the initial setup on your desktop, grab the mobile app for on-the-go site tracking stats. Even if you’re a simple influencer, the level of detail here will help you track the exact demographic that your blogging efforts attract, and you can begin to cater to them with targeted content.

8. Slack (Or Microsoft Teams, TBD)

You’ve probably heard about the workplace chat and project management tool, Slack, if you’re involved in any sort of media or technology work. If you haven’t well read on. Basically, this service has been lauded as an “e-mail killer”, and it’s already the proud service provider to huge corporations in media, such as Conde Nast. They must be doing something right. The premise is that communication between colleagues working on a project should be instantaneous and always-on. Things which even the great Inbox by Gmail cannot be. I’ve tried working on collaborative documents in both the small businesses I’m involved in, and because we don’t use Slack, it’s a nightmare. After implementing it in my own design work projects, I’ve noticed the complete dearth of annoying e-mails with subject lines like “is this the final document?” or “working on the final draft”. It’s so great. Everyone should use slack and put an end to those annoying workplace WhatsApp groups, where someone always thinks it’s a good idea to send a really annoying meme once every three hours.

7. Google Drive (and Docs)

Picture the scenario: you’re in Zambia on a work trip for your actual 9 – 5 job, but you need to keep a constant eye on your side-business. Your teammates have been left to their own devices, and one of your biggest potential clients have sent through a draft contract for you to amend and revert by day’s end. You happen to be the team’s legal expert, and they’re in panic mode. What to do? Well, let them know in the Slack (it’s a nu-verb, trust me), that you have it covered. Sneak out of the conference hall for a second or two, and use the mediocre WiFi to download the draft contract. Or not. Just throw it in your Google Drive, and use Google Docs to edit the egregious typos and the ridiculous terms in the final few clauses. Send it back for them to approve, and then digitally sign it using the app at number 6. Presto.

6. Adobe Acrobat Reader

Adobe has it rough in Africa. I am yet to meet anyone who can be bothered to pay for a lot of their cloud services, like Box (Below). I find this puzzling, because it’s a brilliant service that allows you to do so much both on your PC and on the fly, with cloud integration meaning you can look at all your small business documents while on the move at the press of a button. It also allows you to convert PDF documents to Word-friendly formats, if you need that sort of things, while also giving you options to sign documents (you can use your finger for most things, but styluses work best… RIP Galaxy Note 7), and fill in forms. No more having to call someone to get into your emails and print, fill, sign and scan things last-minute while you’re at that Wednesday prayer meeting!

5. Box (or any other good cloud storage service)

This one applies mostly to creative types. How many times have I heard about African musicians losing music to fried hard drives and dead laptops? Or master’s students sharing horror stories of losing flash sticks with the latest iterations of their precious theses? I generally feel very little sympathy for people like this. It’s 2016. If you still have to ponder on the usefulness and justifications for spending both data and subscription money on things like 50gb storage on Box, you probably deserve the wakeup call. Personally, Box has become almost indispensable for me on a daily basis. When I’m emailed images to work on, I simply tap on the share option, and click on my small business’ projects folder. A few short minutes later, I have the image I need safely nestled for work later on. No need to start opening anything up anywhere, and whether my laptop, phone or tablet decide today is the day they meet their maker or not, it’ll always be there waiting.

4. WordPress

Do you run a blog? Do you have a small website? Chances are you set it up using WordPress, because the service makes running a website without paying insane web hosting costs quite simple. What isn’t usually obvious to people, is that with something like fashion blogging (with a view to becoming an authority on the subject), you probably have to be more consistent than someone like myself. Design projects take time. Posting on your blog, not so much. The mobile WordPress app is robust enough to accommodate longer forms of text, image uploads, linking and all that other fun stuff. While it is slightly annoying to navigate around even on a larger device, such as an iPhone 7 Plus, it’s probably your best bet for on the fly blogging, simplified stats-checking and comment approval. But that’s yet another password to remember! Don’t worry. Number 3 has you covered.

3. LastPass

Password managers are probably the last thing you’re thinking of when you’re establishing your little business selling homemade trinkets, but if you use a blog to advertise them and have a team spread out worldwide that shares one email to store pictures on Google Photos, you may eventually run out of memory to remember all the passwords for the services you’re logged into at any one time. So what happens when you lose your phone? Or your computer crashes? While Google’s Chrome Browser is absolutely great at remembering some passwords, it’s blocked from doing this web-wide by some sites, such as banking sites. Also, it doesn’t work within apps all the time. Some apps, such as Pocket, will gladly log you back in once they realise your Gmail account is shared. LastPass is an app that gets rid of the need to pick and choose. It remembers every password and makes the process of switching phones much, much easier. You just have to remember one password, and now you can complicate them as much as you want. No more “P@SSw0RD” nonsense.

2. Parallel Space

This should be painfully obvious to those among you who have always wanted to have, say, two WhatsApp accounts running on a dual sim card device, or those who have both business and personal Snapchat accounts (this is a real thing). Parallel Space allows you to run “cloned” apps within its framework, which fools those apps’ into thinking they’re installed on an entirely different device. This lets you separate your 9 – 5 from your passion project easily, and gives a certain level of peace of mind that someone won’t glance at your device while walking past your cubicle and see an entirely different organisation’s Slack thread running during your plantation shift. Glorious isolation!

1. Google Keep/Evernote

Most phones provide some sort of built-in app that takes notes. iOS provides a largely useless Notes app which you have to actively check back into to remember what was written, and it just really doesn’t give you much help. Apps with more robust feature sets and design choices give your business so much needed organisation and prioritisation if, like me, you’re into a whole lot of things, or you just have a really short memory. You can make lists, set reminders triggered by both time and locations, share notes, capture your voice, capture rich links and more using Google Keep. It’s a nearly indispensable part of my daily work life. I probably wouldn’t me of much use to anyone without this app’s really useful labelling feature as well as its handy colour options. I’ve categorised my notes and reminders according to colour and label, so searching the app on the fly is a breeze. Sharing out notes is peachy, allowing you to take minutes of a meeting (Lord why?) using your phone (again, why?) and share them quickly and easily. Google Keep (and dare I say Evernote) are probably better apps on Android, given the really quick and easy glancing you can do with home screen widgets and quick notes options. Apple devices have recently stepped up native functionality, but you’ll need both iOS 10 and an iDevice with 3D Touch to dabble with real power-user features of both. Keep has the added benefit of being a Google app, so it ties in very nicely with Chrome, Google’s Assistant and your phone to really give you an always-on personal assistant.

Honourable Mention

I mentioned Inbox by Gmail above. It is the best email client available out there. There have been many decent e-mail clients for mobile, and while Outlook still runs the show for larger corporate, Inbox’s really smart categorisation, integration with other Google services (like your calendar), and downright prettiness and ease of use mean this is the nicest way to attempt, and fail to reach Inbox Zero.

By Bhekinkosi Ncube

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