'Appy times ahead for small businesses

To stay competitive, small businesses must use tools that allow for more efficiency, whether it's for getting contracts signed, tracking shipments, running payroll, or managing customers, explains Michael Alter of inc.com. Advances in technology mean that there is a huge range of apps and cloud-based services that can help small businesses run more smoothly. Here are our app picks to organise your business and boost efficiency.

Apps to organise

Evernote makes portable organisation easy, allowing you to organise and store information that you may need at a later date. Within the app you can record images, audio and documents, then tag them and sort into folders in the cloud. Next time you are handed a business card or post-it note, you don't need to worry about losing little pieces of paper. Just take a photo in Evernote and it is there when you need it. This app can bring an end to unnecessary filing and boxes of receipts.

NetSpot (for Mac) is recommended by PCmag.com as an excellent free Mac utility that lets you scan your area for Wi-Fi signals, and create floor plans best suited for delivering strong wireless connections to your gear. NetSpot allows users to arrange their router and electronics in such as fashion that they'll receive the strongest signal possible with the allowed hardware. This is particularly important for those that run small businesses out of home.

Bento 4.1 (for Mac) is an excellent, flexible organizational app that can get your small business in order. Bento organizes information in a hierarchy and creates a database that contains libraries that are collections of records. Libraries can also be subdivided into smart collections (groups of records based on criteria you specify), and folders to group related libraries. So all information you hold on companies can be organised and filed under the one banner. 

Apps to focus

Self Control can be used to block a list of websites. Adding all of the common social web distractions to the list before you set the timer to at least one hour in the morning is a great way to start the day the right way. This way, no matter what you do, you have to focus on work and not on your friends.

Way of Life uses a colour-coding system for tracking multiple goals on a daily basis. Green means you have achieved it, red means you didn't, and the blue 'skip' option is there to accommodate tasks you don't need to perform every day. The beauty of this app is how easy it is to keep track of everything and check your progress at a glance. Being made accountable is likely to add to the expectations you put on yourself and give you more of a chance to achieve what you set out to do each day.

Nozbe is a task-management system that provides a simple user interface and is extremely intuitive. Melinda Emerson of succedasyouronwboss.com explains that Nozbe lets small-business owners keep track of what they've delegated and what they've assigned to themselves. The app also integrates with Evernote and Dropbox. It is important to have goals and objectives that need to be achieved, however if there is confusion as to who is doing what these goals will likely be left behind and forgotten.

Apps to connect

TeamViewer connects to any PC or server around the world in seconds. It allows you to remote control another person's PC as if you were sitting right in front of it! There are a number of uses for this, including to monitor a big team, share documents, or even to demonstrate things for clients and suppliers that you cannot meet in person. For example, it can be used to show clients how to use new technology that will help their business and also to walk them through large documents where it is possible to highlight things in real time despite being in another state.

Dropbox is a web-based file hosting service, or in simple terms - a virtual folder, that allows you to back-up, share and collaborate files from anywhere. Dropbox makes it possible to share folders with clients and suppliers, and updates are sychronised automatically for all who share the same folder and files. It is also useful for remote working. A team of employees can 'drag and drop' files of any type into a Dropbox folder and access it anywhere online.

SignEasy makes it possible to sign PDFs and other documents using your finger on an iOS device touch screen. James Martin of smallbusinesscomputing.com recalls every time he is on a business trip someone will need his signature on a document -- immediately. For these purposes, it is possible to keep a scanned image of your signature on your laptop. But since iPads have become so easy to travel with laptops are often left behind. SignEasy, is a free iPhone and iPad app that makes it simple to open documents from email or other sources, draw a signature, add a signing date, and then save the signed document.

The bottom line�

Apps and cloud based services represent a wide variety of software and functions made available to small business; however what they all have in common are ways to enhance your business and your businesses success. These apps and services allow small business owners to better organise their business, to focus on the important objectives and to remain productive no matter where in the world they are based.

So when it comes to small business in the 21st century, as the advertisements say ,'there's an app for that'.

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