New applications can keep you connected


April 24, 2009 / Updated: April 24, 2009 / Lena Shore
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I got quoted in an article put out in an April issue of the “Jacksonville Business Journal” along with some of my peers in town. Coolness. Behold my 15 minutes of fame. Or maybe it’s more like two minutes.

written by Mark Szakonyi Staff Writer, Jacksonville Business Journal

iphoneA tough business environment can spur many small-business owners to hunker down behind the counter or the computer screen.

But now more than ever small-business owners need to get outside to look for new customers and business connections, said Kevin Monahan, an analyst at the University of North Florida’s Small Business Development Center.

“It’s very easy to rearrange things in your office or work on a new flyer or redesign a new logo,” he said. “You can kill a whole day.”

Sound familiar? New technology, mainly through applications on the iPhone and BlackBerry, make it even harder for small-business owners to make the excuse that they need to be in the office to run their business. Lena Shore, who provides Web and print design and hosting, said the most important application on her iPhone is something that was unheard of years ago but is now a basic offering on personal digital assistants: e-mail.

Before she got her iPhone, she would have to run back to her office to change a customer’s Web site, but now she can connect to her office service using her phone.

“I don’t have a lot of problems, but every once in awhile something will come up,” Shore said. “With the way everything is instantaneous, people expect results fast.”

She said the way people communicate is different. Although she does the bulk of her communicating through e-mail, Shore finds it easier to get in touch with some customers using social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Debbie DeAngelo prizes her ability to view PDF documents that are sent to her via her iPhone. The owner of Outdoor Advertising Services can check out the image on the road instead of just in the office or on a laptop.

She also recently downloaded an application that allows her to do her online banking via the iPhone. And for those who travel often and forget where they parked, DeAngelo recommends an application that helps find your car.

Tim Kinney, a Brunet-Garcia Advertising Inc. vice president, said he used to joke he has a business in his bag, with his laptop, computer and other necessities being able to fit in his backpack. Now, his business is in his iPhone.

But there are limitations to the phone, such as when you need to create new documents. He is hoping a new application for Microsoft Office will help him fix that limitation.

The iPhone applications available are numerous and range from features that allow you to do your business accounting to monitoring how successful your e-mail blasts are, Kinney said. There is another application that allows small businesses to receive credit card payments.

The phone’s applications can cost up to hundreds of dollars, but Kinney’s favorite is a free one. The Wi-Fi locator helps users find a free wireless Internet access within a 10 mile radius. That can be a big help when you need to receive or send something using a laptop but aren’t ready to shell out money for access, Kinney said.

“Technology allows you to be effective wherever you are,” Monahan said. “All that technology is a means to an end to get that face-to-face.”

Ultimately, all that networking via technology comes down to small-business people doing the following:

Showing that you’re an expert at what you do.

Showing that you’re up on what is going on. That means reading the daily and weekly newspapers, along with keeping up with blogs about Jacksonville.

Being viewed as a resource. Business cards should not be placed on dinner plates, but selectively given to those who ask for it or to people you think you could help network with.

Jennifer Miller, owner of Printing and Promotional Partners, said she spends at least 20 hours per week out of the office making connections, whether it’s in smallbusiness groups or meeting with customers. The approach has helped keep her business steady. Constant communication with customers ensures that they can bring her lower quotes from competitors that she can then match or beat.

“I think it is really important to be in [customers’] faces,” Miller said. “If they don’t know you, you are just another person calling or e-mailing them”