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Smartphone technology gives owners new ways to manage business, interact with customers

Monday, April 16, 2012

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Smartphones are steadily becoming commonplace devices for everyone from professionals to busy moms. Users of these devices now instinctively turn to their phones for tasks that previously they would only have accomplished on a computer, over the phone or in person.

"I use it as a phone, for email, text messaging, a calendar," Jennifer Hendrickson of Hendrickson Business Advisors says of her smartphone. "I use it to post and keep up with social media, I use Google analytics to track web traffic. ... (I) use the Square app to accept credit card payments. And I record voice memos to myself in the car."

Her list goes on -- and that's only talking about how she uses her smartphone for business.

"(My smartphone) has really helped me when I'm out with a client or out of town, to stay connected with business and be responsive to clients," Hendrickson says. "I think our clients can use smartphones in much the same way, to stay connected to customers and vendors and manage their businesses remotely."

In the United States, 87.4 million people own smartphones. As smartphones allow people to connect with businesses in new ways, businesses in turn need to learn to capitalize on the opportunities smartphones offer.

"I think just the introduction (of smartphones) in the last couple years has been targeted more toward marketing," says Erica Wheeler, director of brand strategy with Bold Marketing. "It lets you get your message out. It's a cost-effective advertising tool if used correctly."

One of the benefits that comes with the smartphone is the immediate connection to customers. Photos taken with the phone can be posted directly to social media sites, and videos can go up on YouTube.

"It's easier to share where you are and products you have instantly," Wheeler says. "With Twitter you can use hashtags and join in on a conversation, so you reach an audience that is already interested."

With the prevalence of social media -- Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, etc. -- and apps, businesses have a variety of ways to connect with customers on the go. The key is to not overwhelm clients.

"You shouldn't overuse it," says Dana Hukel, president and owner of Bold Marketing. "There's sometimes with social media there's such easy access, you can overuse it with too many messages. It's best to limit the number of contacts."

Hukel sees mobile marketing becoming a standard part of marketing plans as businesses continue to connect to customers through apps and social networking.

"My advice would be that businesses -- whether not-for-profits, large corporations or small businesses -- need to look at how to incorporate (mobile marketing) into the plan," she says. "There are thousands of apps and ways to use technology, but you have to pick the ones best for the business. If you can't maintain them and keep it up to date, then limit what you use."

Aside from connecting with customers, smartphones can make running a business easier.

"I would encourage people to look at Square (squareup.com) to accept credit card payments," Hendrickson says. "That's a fabulous app that really reduces the cost of accepting credit cards. The banking apps are a great way to keep track of balances and checks that have cleared."

ARA Content contributed to this report.

Smartphone savvy

For small businesses, embracing the smartphone age is becoming crucial for success. Here are some easy ways small businesses can go mobile in 2012:

Invest in smartphones: Transitioning from a flip phone to a smartphone makes it much easier to run a business on the go. Providing easy access to email, calendar information and the Internet, smartphones increase productivity and can provide peace of mind while out of the office. Today, smartphones are more affordable than in the past, so now is a perfect time to take advantage of their capabilities.

Make websites mobile-compatible: In an era in which most consumers first go to the Internet to find local service providers, it's crucial that small businesses have a polished and informative online presence that's friendly for mobile consumption. Even for business owners who aren't tech-savvy, starting a website is feasible. A quick Internet search will reveal numerous free or low-cost website templates. You might also choose to work with a Web developer to ensure your business's website is smartphone-friendly.

Get social: Popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it simple to connect with customers in a casual, but also personal, manner and also embrace the mobile population that frequents these sites on smartphones. Consider leveraging one or more of these platforms to further establish your business's online presence and create positive buzz around new offerings and special deals and promotions.

Source: ARA Content


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