Create a Ulster ROI Business Hub account to subscribe to your favourite topics and to hear about our business events.
Could an app help with the running of your business? We take a look at some popular options for SME owners.
Last updated: 27 Jan 2021 6 min read
For anything from generating invoices to creating company logos, apps can save your business time and money – and allow you to work in clever ways you didn’t realise were possible. SME owners explain which apps they use to help with different aspects of the business.
One of the best uses of apps is to organise your workforce’s tasks and deadlines, to ensure they’re all pulling in the same direction.
James Gale, app expert and CEO of Swiftfox Apps in Kinsale, recommends Asana. “When we’re developing a product, we put [virtual] cards detailing individual tasks on a project board on the app,” he says. “As staff work on the task, they move the cards to and from sections, such as ‘in progress’ to ‘ready to test’. I can instantly see how a project is going without having to ask lots of people all the time.”
You can also attach files to cards and notes so staff are aware of any concerns that may be relevant to the next stage of the project. Similar products include Trello – and Teamwork Projects, which was developed in Cork.
There’s nothing wrong with the odd email and talking to each other face to face, but apps can provide a neat alternative.
Staff at Dublin-based app firm Tapadoo, including remote workers, use Slack to send instant work messages to each other. “It’s like WhatsApp, but for business teams,” says Dermot Daly, CEO and company founder. Groups focusing on specific projects can have their own channels that only they communicate through. “That cuts down distractions. If you walk into our office, you’ll find it surprisingly quiet,” adds Daly.
Evernote, meanwhile, is like a virtual communal notepad where you can capture anything from sketched ideas to articles you’ve read, photos of billboards or minutes from meetings. You can share them with staff, perhaps providing inspiration for a marketing slogan or solving a tricky problem.
If you’re a growing SME with dozens of new and potential clients, it can be very hard keeping track of them all via notebooks or ordinary spreadsheets.
But there are apps, such as Capsule, Salesforce and HubSpot, that allow you to keep searchable contact details in one place with related product orders, joint project and other information.
Diarmuid Crowley, founder of Limerick drinks manufacturer Wild Orchard, uses OnePageCRM. “You can easily call up things such as purchase histories, and when you meet a customer on the road, you can record notes, such as ‘Mary ordered five cases’, next to their details.”
“In the past, when I wanted to know if a regular client owed me money, I’d have to spend time going through bank statements and various invoices,” recalls Denis Finnegan, owner of digital marketing firm Finn Media in Cork. “But with the Xero accounting app, I can call up their full payment history in seconds.”
“I can instantly see how a project is going without having to ask people all the time” James Gale, CEO, Swiftfox Apps
It is one of several popular accountancy and sales products, such as QuickBooks, FreeAgent, Receipt Bank and Salesforce. Other accounting app features vary from automatically generating regular invoices to the ability to photograph and upload expenses receipts directly into your financial records. Several apps allow you to see your profit and loss statement and cash flow in real time, so you can take instant action if needed.
Online traffic analysis is vital for anyone selling or offering services via the web. Though app options here are limited, Google Analytics is excellent – and free for websites with under 10m hits a month.
“We use it to see if a campaign has brought more visitors to a site and how many are buying something,” says Finnegan, also co-founder of digital marketing agency Grofuse, based in Derry. “One firm was getting good traffic but sales were dropping. We realised it was because a lot of visitors were coming via a horrendous mobile site. We improved it and the company tripled its conversion rate.”
Several apps, such as Brightpearl, can help you ensure you have enough products to meet demand. Features can include item-shortage alerts and monitoring trends to see which products are likely to be in high demand. The apps may also integrate with other sales and fulfilment software.
Many firms use the likes of Google Docs and Google Sheets so staff can access, edit and store company documents, for example trading reports or marketing copy, via their mobile phones. They’re inexpensive and reliable.
But a good alternative includes Dropbox. “We have a Dropbox shared folder,” says Crowley. “It means I can show documents such as product lists to clients when I’m meeting them in a cafe, for example.”
For video conferencing, Finnegan recommends Appear. Products such as Citrix, meanwhile, allow you to access your workplace desktop through your phone.
Apps such as CascadeGo receive and record requests for leave and share important documents with staff.
The Workable recruitment app, meanwhile, allows you to search for possible candidates, order them into funnels, such as those you are inviting for an interview, and automatically generates rejection emails.
Looking at apps such as Instagram can be a great way of generating ideas for everything from branding logos to new office furniture.
Researching geometric shapes on Pinterest inspired Una Healey, creative director of Una Healey Design studio, Dublin, with concepts for new drinks packaging recently. “There’s so much online to spark something,” says Healey.
User-friendly design apps such as Canva have templates to help you create quality leaflets, presentations and social media posts.
It’s almost unheard of for SMEs to not use Facebook and Twitter apps to promote offers or company successes these days.
For a business audience, it is also important to consider LinkedIn. “I’ll post about a successful campaign knowing it’ll reach a business-focused audience and potential new leads,” says Neans McSweeney, owner and director of Kilkenny PR firm McSweeney Media.
Hootsuite and Buffer allow you to schedule and publish social media posts across different platforms, so you don’t have to do them manually – useful if you have customers in other time zones.
Mailchimp allows you to create and monitor the effectiveness of email newsletters.
Tech and Innovation