The proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and cloud-enabled apps has played a critical role in leveling the playing field for small business. Business applications that previously required teams of IT specialists to develop and were affordable only by larger businesses are now an app download away.
While enterprises are still learning to adapt to the mobile revolution, small businesses have embraced mobility to transform their business, regardless of industry. For many small businesses, mobility has been a disruptive force, creating new business models, driving customer and staff engagement, improving internal collaboration, and empowering employees to work on the go.
But how exactly are Australian small to medium size businesses (SMBs) using apps to drive their business? Business technology publication, ZDNet spoke with some SMBs, and they shared their app experiences, which can be read below.
A small coffee shop in Brisbane, ₁Orea Cafe, doubled its sales by allowing customers on the move to Tweet, Facebook, or text message orders in advance to their app-driven point-of-sale (POS) system. As a result of their mobile-driven register, the cafe was even able to accept Bitcoin payments.
Fiedler Brothers Plumbing was losing eight hours a day on paperwork, but through the use of mobile devices and apps, the business was able to transform itself into a paperless office resulting in less admin and more billable hours from staff, reduction in invoice turnaround times, and improved financial performance.
₂AustraliaWOW! was able to move away from the expensive overhead of running a physical office to a completely virtual, mobile-powered operation that delivers software and services to around 30,000 fitness instructors worldwide.
Perth-based IMARI Consulting was able to fill a local skills gap by tapping into a global talent pool and now has 10 staff members, most of which are based in the United States. Mobile apps drive all aspects of the business, from day-to-day staff collaboration, communication, project tracking, administration, and other operations.
Melbourne based shirt-maker ₃Saibu no Akuma was like many small businesses that couldn't afford to install an EFTPOS terminal, but the business addressed the issue by using an app and a$199 Bluetooth card reader paired to a smartphone to securely process credit card payments.
₄Research by financial software supplier MYOB shows that two-thirds of SMBs do not offer credit card as a payment option and, results in one in 10 lost customers. The ability to process credit card payments on the go brought about increased cash flow for Saibu no Akuma while also enabling staff to engage with customers outside of the office.
"Being able to meet our clients at their office, home, cafe, and still be able to take payment on the spot meant less work for us and an overall more positive experience for our clients. We also do pop up events in offices [and] bars so having the ability to be completely mobile and paperless aligns to our brand and, of course, reduces time and costs," saidTony Wu, co-founder of Saibu no Akuma.
Small businesses are also using technology to effectively manage multi-site offices located in Australia and overseas.
Online travel company TripADeal maintains a completely mobile workforce of over 10 staff in Byron Bay and satellite teams in destinations such as Bali. Having a mobility centric workforce enables the business to escape the financial risk of maintaining a city office. By empowering staff with mobile phones, iPads, and the company's CRM app, it enables the company to run a 24/7 virtual support and sales centre. Staff can answer enquiries after hours, on the go, assisting in a dramatic sales increase.
"We can offer staff an amazing work/life balance so they can enjoy all the benefits of living in beautiful Byron Bay," said TripADeal founder, Norm Black.
Australian small businesses are already looking at ways to leverage new types of app experiences around virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as well. According to technology futurist, Dr. Jeffrey Cole, technology is filling in all the moments of our lives -- which is "something we haven't seen before".
"We're seeing industries that disrupted established industries 10, 15 years ago now being disrupted themselves," Cole said."Digital photography totally disrupted film, and now digital cameras are dying. We really are seeing an extraordinary pace of change. What I say to big businesses and small businesses is you have to accept that."
Cole said companies need to be open to trying different things. For example, pay attention to technologies like virtual reality (VR).
"I happen to think virtual reality is going to be very important to supermarkets, retailers and travel companies," he said. "I don't think companies have to go out and spend millions of dollars on virtual reality glasses. Go out and spend $100 and start playing with it."
Some potential applications include real estate agents running open homes in VR, allowing buyers to do a walkthrough without having to travel to the location in person, and store owners attracting new customers by recreating their in-store experience in VR.
These are just some examples of how small businesses are using apps to punch above their weight and provide a better experience for their customers and employees. There are apps out there that can be used for almost any aspect of your business, no matter how complex.
The problem is that finding the right app can often feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Running into complex apps pitched at bigger businesses or smaller-scale apps with limited scalability are the common pitfalls a small business can encounter during the search process.
Small businesses lack the resources and investment dollars to customise applications, so selecting the right "off the shelf" app and services that work well together is all the more important. Be prepared to invest the time into trying different apps until you land on one that works best for your business, and always remember that apps exist to serve the business -- not the other way around.
Before diving into the App Store, you should develop business requirements or outline the business problem you are trying to solve, and devise usage scenarios that will address these problems. If you are looking to move components of your business, such as accounting or POS, to mobile apps, then document all the business functions and processes you need covered.
Remember, transitioning business operations to apps doesn't cost much in dollar terms, but it demands time from small business leaders initially. Mobile apps can often act as a catalyst to improve processes and productivity, so be open to it.