Simplifying your business 5 ways with apps

 
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Smartphones are the fastest adopted technology in the world’s history and already billions of people around the world use them. This hasn’t just changed the life of teenagers, now it’s impacting businesses, opening up new opportunities. This article shows how you can make life easier in your electrical or heating business using an app.

Pretty much every commercial sector in the UK has become heavily computerised in the last thirty years. But the trade is an exception. I think that this is for two reasons.

The first is that tradespeople are mobile. If they are not doing a job they are driving to the next appointment or getting some materials. The second is that being good at installing and fixing things often means that people are less good (and infinitely less interested) in administration and paperwork. That means that they don’t even want to explore the options for computerisation. Yet across industry sectors, computers have done a fantastic job in reducing paperwork and administration.

Now that powerful and mobile smartphones with great connectivity have arrived, things are starting to change in the trade too. Smartphones are both mobile and much simpler to use than traditional computers. That’s why if you want to drive your business forward or even just have an easier life, you should take a look at what business apps are available.

The rest of the article looks at the benefits that you should get along with what you should think about in selecting an app.

Keep everything in one place

The first big benefit of an app is to keep everything in one place. As we all know, running your own business also comes with the pain of raising invoices and dealing with HMRC etc. As you grow, it gets worse with much more paperwork and administration. Over time it becomes a nightmare with bits of paper all over the place.

In contrast, if you have everything in a system – customers, notes, quotes, invoices, payments, expenses and appointments – then it’s easy to find things and they won’t go astray. That’s why it’s important to have an app that handles everything in one place. That beats separate diaries, invoicing apps, certificate apps etc.

Grab all the benefits

You need to make sure that whatever app you use, it really delivers the benefits. Here is a list of some of the benefits you should experience. Also, there are some notes on how your app can deliver them.

You should increase your sales. Here is how:

•Produce highly professional quotes without needing to be great at graphic design.

•Generate quotes really quickly. When they are simple, straight from the customer’s site. Waiting for quotes is a major irritation for the average homeowners. Quoting faster translates straight into additional sales.

•Send quotes both by email and text. That’s the quickest way and also the most likely to get your prospects’ attention.

•Know the status of your quotes at all times. You should know whether they have been delivered by email, whether they have been opened and your prospect should be able to accept or reject them from their phone. If your quote is ever rejected you can phone up and find out why, giving you another chance to turn things around.

You should save lots of time. This is how:

•You should never have to enter anything into your app that it could find out for itself. Examples are getting names, numbers and emails straight from your address book; looking up information from companies house; and looking up addresses using the postcode.

•Everything you put in like descriptions or prices should be saved. That way, the next time you start putting them in, the app can finish them off, just like Google does.

•When the invoice will mirror the quote, that should only take a single click to produce it.

•Every calculation should be done by the app, including VAT and discounts.

•Unpaid invoices should be automatically tracked.

It should help you run your team:

•A shared diary means everyone knows what everyone else is doing.

•You should be able to track all team members on a map.

•A company chat facility should mean that everyone stays in touch.

Insist your app works when there’s no signal

Obviously, installers are always moving around. Unfortunately, from time to time there’s no signal available for your mobile. This is when it’s vital to have an app that works even when the signal isn’t there.

The reason is that any business app is designed to save time. If the app is unavailable you have to have a paper based fall-back method. Then after you get back to base you have to input stuff from paper. It’s easy to forget, not get round to it etc. This undermines the whole point. It’s critical because many apps that claim to “work on mobile” don’t when you are out of range.

Use your Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad or Android

Smartphones are great, but sometimes their limited screen size can make things hard. Apple devices are also great, but expensive. If you have a team, many of them probably use Android phones. A PC or Mac needs to be used if you have a fiddly and complicated quote to do or need to send information to your accountant.

That’s why whatever app you choose, it needs to work across whatever PC, Mac, smartphone and tablet that you and your team use. All the information should be available on every device with no “backing up”, “uploading” or “saving”. Everything should be automatic. This is 2018.

Don’t go with free apps

This might seem self-serving but please bear with me. There’s a saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch. That applies to business related apps but the explanation takes a bit of thinking about.

We’ve all got used to free services on the Internet in recent years, particularly from Facebook and Google. Both of these are consumer services and serve billions of users. These guys make their money from advertising. In contrast, business apps can’t do that for several reasons:

•They only have hundreds or maybe thousands of users and making a fraction of a penny for each ad displayed doesn’t raise anything like enough cash

•People conducting business on an app aren’t as open to ads anyway – they are working!

•Business users need support from real people which costs a lot more than just providing a technology service. In fact, it far exceeds what you can make from advertising

This is why you don’t see many if any real business apps which use advertising as their revenue source. Instead, there are two categories of people supplying free business apps on the web:

•One-person developers that are doing it as a hobby. Because of limited resources, these apps are nearly always sub-standard. And in time, the developer gets a serious job, moves on, gets married (i.e. gets a life) etc. In other words, eventually you end up with an orphaned app which will stop working at some point. That’s not good for a business.

•Those using the “freemium” business model. The free app is the hook, then after a while they will work as hard as they can to get you using the paid version. Without people using the paid version in large numbers they will go bust. So, over time the pressure to start paying will keep on increasing.

That’s why you should always be prepared to pay for business apps. It’s better to know where you stand from day one. That way you know that what you are using is going to be maintained and there are people around to support you when things go wrong. It’s your livelihood, which is something you shouldn’t gamble with.

The final word

In the last few decades computers have invaded one industry after another. Part of what they have done is got rid of paperwork. Since paperwork is the bane of many installer’s lives, it’s time to take the plunge if you haven’t already made it.

Does it take time, effort and money? Yes, but that will pay off big time. We have thousands of users of our app and we have loads of testimonials of people whose business lives have been hugely improved as a result. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Emma Dyer