Does My Business Need an App: 3 Things to Think About

“There’s an app for that!”

Believe it or now, there is almost an app for everything nowadays.  Do you need a cure for your hiccup?  Well, there’s an app for that… well, the app won’t cure your hiccup but it’ll recommend things that you can do to cure your hiccup.  For small businesses though, whether you should have your own app can be a tough question because not only that it’ll cost some money to get the app developed, but can the app can actually boost your business?  Here are a three things to think about when considering whether you should have an app for you business.

1) Customer Interaction

How often do you need to interact with your customers and what is the interaction like?  Do you from time to time send out important information to your customers like deals, product information, and other messages?  How are you allowing your customers to provide feedback?  These questions are important to ask because apps for small businesses should be about communication and building your community.  Your app’s purpose should be to allow you to directly communicate with your customer base and to allow them to provide you with important feedback that you’ll use to improve your business.

2) Will the app make your customer’s life a little easier?

The app’s purpose is to take any existing process and make them better and not to merely duplicate them.  For instane, can I receive coupons through the app so I don’t have to go to your website to find and print them out, or look for the coupons in my junk mail, cut ’em out, and only forget to bring them?  Or can I order something from the app and pick it up in 15 minutes?

3) Will the app provide analytics?

The app should be an additional channel by which you reach your customers.  It shouldn’t become so burdensome that it becomes a major part of your daily process.  Just like how it makes your customers life a little easier, it should definitely make your life, as the business owner, easier as well.  The app should takeaway manual and perhaps costly processes and it should simplify some of the things that you do, such as sending messages to your customers.  More importantly though, the app should be able to provide you insight about your customer base which you then take and design your business or parts of your business around on.

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iPad For Your Small Business: Potential Use Case

It’s been about two weeks now since the iPad2 released and people are still lining up to get one.  For personal use, it’s pretty obvious how one might use the iPad (and that’s just about in anyway: music, reading, movies, games, etc.) but for small business, the iPad can be a great tool that’ll allow just about anybody to conduct their business, not only efficiently and effectively, but also with style.

Here is one use-case where the iPad can be useful in a small business.  You should be able to “expand” this example and see how the iPad can be used in similar businesses.

The Vet

We own an awesome chocolate labrador retriever and once a year we take her to her vet for physical check-up.  Her vet, for the past few years, has been carrying a tablet/laptop (the older and heavier laptop/tablet hybrids), when he comes to see our lab.  He uses a basic spreadsheet to keep track of lab’s medical record.  Dont’ get me wrong, I deal with other medical professionals that still uses paper forms to keep track of my medical records, so needless to say, our vet, is pretty hi-tech by comparison.

Since the vet is already a tech user and more specifically, uses a “mobile” (the 8 pound lap top) device to access/modify/add patient records, it’s not hard to see how he might be able to transition to a ligher and probably ten times better (faster cpu, more ram, etc.) device, which the iPad is.

Now for how the vet might keep track of patients using the iPad (in terms of software), he has several options such as a custom app, a web-based solution, and or using data-base programs already available for the iPad.

Code Hosting For Your Small Business

This blog post is for small businesses who write code as part of or is the main part of their business.  If you are one of these types of companies, you very well know that the code you write is key to the success of your business and there’s no way that you’ll be taking any risk with your code by not storing it in some sort of a revision control system.  Revision control systems are used for at least three main reasons: backup, revision control, and collaboration.  However, for many small businesses, the setup and maintenance of a revision control system is, perhaps, not the main priority and both task can be daunting for some.  Luckily, there are many web-based code hosting solutions that are available nowadays.  These solutions do takeaway the hassle and headache of setup and maintenance of revision control systems and provide other resources that can help your team keep track of bugs, collaborate, and document your code.  The cost for most of these solutions start below 10 dollars per month to several hundred, depending on the size of your company (number of users).  Most of these services provide free accounts, but mostly for open source projects.  So that’s something that you have to watch out for.  Make sure that the projects you create or the account you sign up for aren’t meant for open source projects.  Otherwise, your projects will be open to the public.

One I’m currently using for my personal projects is BitBucket (recently acquired by Atlassian).  It uses Mercurial distributed version control system (DVCS).  BitBucket’s pricing structure is available at the following link.  Price starts at 0 to 80 dollars per month.  Check it out!

Backup Strategy For Small Businesses

For small businesses, protecting data is very important as and yet many fail to do so.  Over the years, the cost of memory has gone down significantly, making it easy for everybody to have terabytes after terabytes of data storage. Many solutions have become available for small businesses (and everybody else really) that allows them to backup their data easily and seamlessly without the hassle and cost of dealing with IT consultants.

However, it is often not good enough to just have one backup solution for your data.  Most people uses either mirrored raid harddrives or sometime backup to a harddrive partition, but this is often not enough simply because of hardware failure.  Here are three backup solutions that go hand-in-hand and for the most part, come any disaster, should allow you to restore your data and to continue running your business.

1) Use mirrored drives.  Yes, I did say that this is not enough but it is the first step (out of three) in backing up your data.  Simply put, in this scenario, you’ll have two harddrives that contain exactly the same data in case one harddrive fails.

2) Also backup to an external harddrive.  There are many ways that this can be done.  One can use USB external harddrives or Networked Attached Storage (NAS) to backup their data to.  This step is plan B incase step 1 fails, but this step also allows you to easily retrieve your data from any computer as you can move external harddrives from one computer to another easily.  With NAS, it’s even better, you don’t have to unplug anything (more on this later).

3) Also backup to the cloud.  There are many services out there that offer backing up to the cloud for a small amount of fee.  This step, should allow you to retrieve back you data in case of disasters such as fire or if ever your hardware gets stolen.

That’s it.  Implementing all three should guarantee that your data is always backed-up.

Square From SquareUp.com

Square is, in my book, a revolutionary way to accept credit card payments.  Let’s face it, paying with cold hard cash is a thing of the past and if you’re one of those people who got held up at a line at some grocery store because someone is still paying using a check, you know how much more convenient it is to use “plastic” both for people and businesses alike.  The trouble with credit cards though is the complicated tiered system that banks setup for transaction fees and how cumbersome this is to keep track off, especially if you’re a small business whose main focus, is well, to do your business in best and most efficient way.

What if you’re a small business and you don’t have a store front?  Until square, there wasn’t a really a good way to accept credit card payments without having to go through the hassle of sending your clients paper bill, waiting for them to return the bill with their payment (hopefully), and processing that bill.  Now with square, all you need is your smart phone (iOS and Android devices), the square app, and the little square credit card reader (will work without it, but cost more per transaction), and of course an account with square (for you bank info, etc.) to accept credit card payments.  Here’s a video from squareup.com explaining fully what square is and how it can help your small business.

So what does square do for you?

1) Allows your business to take credit card payments anywhere and anytime.
2) Removes the complexity of credit card transaction tiered fees for your small business.
3) Billing becomes a thing of the past.

 

 

 

Is Groupon Right For Your Small Business?

Groupon is perhaps best understood from the perspective of the consumer as you will see, it’s very easy to use and it provides a great way for people to discover new things to do, see, eat, and buy in their city.  As a consumer, there’s really only one thing that you need to do to to start using Groupon and that is go to Groupon.com and sign up! After signing up, you will get e-mails everyday about the featured deal in your city. Groupon also uses several channels like Facebook (via its Groupon app) and mobile phones (iOS, BlackBerry and Android devices) to reach customers.  According to Groupon, their average user is a web savvy, young, and social individual who is often looking to get out to find new things to do in his/her city.

How Does Groupon Work?

Groupon features one and only one coupon in your city per day which is e-mailed to thousands of Groupon users.  Groupon has a group of marketers that create a write-up for your deal and uses all their channels along with other social media networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to advertise your deal.  Groupon requires that a number of customers buy your deal or the deal is off and Groupon only makes money (by taking a certain portion of your sales) if your deal is “tipped” or activated because it met the minimum number of sales. Comparing Groupon to your typical advertising medium (newspaper, radio, tv), Groupon customers are guaranteed because for one, they already bought your coupon, and secondly a minimum number of people did so.

Check out this video from Groupon to further learn how it works and how it can help your small business.

5 Easy To Use Cloud Storage Solutions

From my previous blog, I talked about 3 big reasons as to why small businesses should consider using cloud solutions to store their data.  Here are five popular and really good cloud storage/file management solutions.

1) Box

Box is one of my favorite cloud content storage and management solution.  With their service you can easily store your files on-line, share and collaborate your files with others, and keep the different revisions of your files.

Check out the video they made about their product.

Box has three main services: Personal, Business, and Enterprise.  The Personal account is free.

2) Dropbox

Dropbox is another good service for cloud storage and file management.  It’s services are similar to Box’s but the pricing is somewhat different.  Dropbox’s pricing is based on the number of users, instead on the type of user.  Dropbox also has a video on their main page.  Check it out and find out about more their services.

3) MobileMe

MobileMe is Apple’s cloud storage solution.  MobileMe, is more for personal use rather than group collaboration and does not provide a revisioning system for your files.  MobileMe does however have a few pluses, especially if you use Apple products in your small business.  With this service, your files, calendar, and contacts are automatically synced between your computer, mobile devices, and the MobileMe web app.  It allows allows for your files to be easily shared. The cost is $99 per year.

4) Carbonite

Carbonite is technically an on-line back-up solution.  What it does is that it sits quietly in your computer and backs-up your files to the cloud by sending encrypted copies of your files to Carbonite’s data centers.  With Carbonite, you can easily restore files back to your computer using their software.  To me, what makes Carbonite interesting is that when you’re not at your computer, you can easily access your files from any computer and from your smart phone (iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry phones).

Carbonite is a paid for service and only provides a 15-day free trial.  Visit their website at http://www.carbonite.com for pricing.

5) Live Mesh

I really only had four cloud storage solutions to talk about but five is a better number and so I’m adding Microsoft’s Live Mesh.  Microsoft is currently experimenting with a lot of cloud solutions and Live Mesh is one of them.  If you would like to find out more about Live Mesh, follow this link.