Originally posted on Cox Blue by Laura Hall

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If you’ve been managing your small business for more than a few years, you may remember the old days before the Internet was ubiquitous and people had a half-dozen different gadgets for completing every daily task. It was a simpler time. People saved files locally on their own personal computers, they conducted business over landline phones, and they even got things done using – gasp! – pen and paper.

It’s not the same anymore.

Managing your business these days requires adapting to the changing technology landscape. If you’re willing to embrace the latest trends, you’ll find new levels of speed and productivity that allow you to accomplish more each day. And guess what? Technology is actually making things simpler.

These days, embracing technology means using more mobile apps. Simply managing data on desktop and laptop computers isn’t enough anymore – you also need to have tablets and smartphones in the mix, giving added agility to everything you do. Once you’ve acquired these devices and learned to master them, the next step is downloading apps. Lots of them.

According to Forbes, apps are a key piece of the puzzle as you seek to gain a competitive advantage with your business. Amit Chowdhry, co-founder and prolific author for the popular news blog Pulse2, believes that if you deploy the right apps as part of your work routine, you can get things done faster and stay ahead of the game.

“Almost anyone that has a smartphone or tablet is continuously looking for ways to improve their professional life through apps,” Chowdhry explained. “To get things done efficiently every day, you should be equipped with the right digital tools. Apps that show you a financial dashboard or that can pull up your travel itinerary right away can prevent you from having to scramble for data from thousands of e-mail attachments in your inbox.”

What are the most important apps for managing your small business? There are plenty of options out there, to be sure. Here’s a rundown of the tools that will help you the most.

Microsoft Office and the like
When you get a new PC or a laptop, one of the first things you do is download Microsoft Office or a similar software suite, right? You need to have Word for all your word processing needs, Excel for managing data in spreadsheets, Outlook for emails, and so on and so forth.

Well, don’t you have the same needs for your tablet? By getting office software for your handheld device, you ensure that you’ll always be able to stay productive, whether you’re at work or on the road.

mobile paymentMobile payment apps
Mobile payments are everywhere these days. If you run any kind of establishment that collects money from customers in person – a store, an eatery, you name it – its way easier to take payments from people’s smartphones than by using cash or credit cards. All you need is a tool, such as PayLeap, and you’re off and running.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, payment companies have spent the last decade trying to figure out how best to take advantage of mobile devices for easy, secure payments. The news source reported that there may have been some false starts initially, but business is now booming. Worldwide mobile payment transactions were estimated at a total of $235.4 billion for 2013, according to Gartner, and a 38 percent jump to $325 billion is projected for the upcoming year.

Cloud storage apps
There’s no bigger buzzword in business today than “the cloud.” In short, it means that instead of saving files locally on your computer, you can put them online so they’re easier to access and share later. With a tool like Hightail, you can log in from anywhere – even the comfort of your own bed – and remain productive.

Cloud storage can help any business, according to TechRadar. Rob Custons, marketing manager at a cloud storage firm, told the news source that the only reason there’s any skepticism about the cloud is that some people don’t understand it. Knowledge is key.

“Most businesses hold a lot of important data which is key for their business to run properly,” Custons said. “Some online studies suggest that businesses without a well-structured recovery plan are forced to shut within 12 months following a flood or fire. We certainly believe data is very important for businesses, and having an off-site backup of your important files makes sense.”

If you’re using mobile devices for your business, having cloud apps is a must. You can use them to log in and access your work data from any location.

video_conferenceVideo conferencing apps
Want to hold a meeting with someone remote, but you don’t want to shell out the cash for travel? Video conferencing is a great way to do so. Video chat apps are much more personal, up-close way of interacting with someone than calling them on the phone. Conversations go a lot smoother when you can talk to people face to face and see their reactions.

Personal finance apps
Managing your money is always difficult. The last thing you want to do is be overly reliant on old-school methods like balancing your checkbook by hand. Mobile personal finance apps are perfect, as they give you a flexible way of keeping track of all your financial transactions that’s easily adaptable to any business setting.

 

Appointment booking apps
If you have any number of client or employees you need to manage, it can be easy to get confused about all the logistics. You’ve got to keep track of customers’ appointments, cancellations, employee hours, and not to mention find the time to answer the phone to take more appointments! This is another situation where doing everything by hand might get you lost, so it’s great to have a app to help you figure stay organized. An app like BookFreshallows you to manage schedules, accept appointments online, and automatically send reminders so you reduce no-shows.

Mobile apps represent a chance for you to make every day at your job more productive. What apps are most important to you?