6 ways to cut costs and save time with business apps

A closer look at how mobile apps can help owners manage their companies whenever and wherever they are

A flourishing business can be built on the foundations of the simplest idea but success in the longer term is all about execution.

Whether you run a coffee shop, sell shirts online or design apps, your priority from day one is to sell products and provide customers with the best possible experience. But in order to do that there are a host of practical issues that must be addressed.

And when you start to think about the day-to-day realities of keeping accounts up-to-date, managing the cash flowing in and out of the company, paying your employees, and taking card payments, the prospect of setting up even a small company can appear daunting.

What you don’t want is to spend a huge amount of money on software and systems before you’ve even begun to generate revenue. Nor do you want a system that is too complex to use. But equally you want to trade efficiently, keep accurate books and stay on top of your finances.

So how do you square the circle? Well happily you can take advantage of a new generation of cost-effective business apps offering powerful functionality delivered via a software as a service model.

Rather than buying software you rent the functionality on a subscription basis with all the data storage and processing taking place remotely and all necessary updates included in the package.

Here are six ways apps like these can help your business thrive while remaining lean and agile.

1. Taking point of sale payments

There is a growing customer expectation that even a very small business – a local window cleaner or newsagent – should be able and willing to process card payments. A payment app will help you do just that.

If you’re a distance seller – internet or mail order – all you usually need is the app itself, which can be downloaded from supplier websites or app stores. Packages are available to run on PCs and mobile devices.

If you have a physical point of sale device, you will also need a card reader, which app providers will supply. Payment models range from rental only to rent plus upfront fee for equipment or upfront fee plus percentage of transactions.

2. Keeping on top of sales figures

All business owners should have access to the latest sales figures but traditionally the data available on company computer systems could lag behind the actual numbers by several days. That was because a sale made on Wednesday out in the field might not have been processed for a day or two.

Cloud based accountancy apps enable managers and employees to enter sales across a range of devices at any location. For a lean start-up this is ideal. You can keep the ‘books’ up-to-date, when you’re out at a customer meeting, on a train or in a hotel for an overnight stay. And all employees can do the same. This means up-to-date sales data can be accessed at any time.

3. Managing your cashflow status

It’s hard to overstate the importance of keeping a close check on cash. All businesses have bills to pay weekly and monthly – bills that have to be paid with the money coming in as customers settle invoices. It’s vital then to have instant access to relevant income and outflow figures to ensure that cash is available.

A cloud-based accounting app offers that information, by providing the means to record invoices raised and invoices paid and match them against outgoings. This offers an instant overview of the company’s cash situation.

4. Checking your stock inventory

Without a clear view of your inventory, you won’t know when you’re running out of a particular item and when to re-order. At the other end of the spectrum you could find yourself ordering too much – and thus spending more than you need to – because of false assumptions.

Inventory management tools come in a range of formats from cloud based systems for PCs and mobile devices to add-ons to desktop accountancy packages. They provide a means to run a tight ship based upon ordering the right amount of stock at the right time.

5. Processing and amending payroll

Payroll is something you must get right and with tax, National Insurance and student loan deductions to factor in, plus sick and holiday pay, simply paying your people can be a complex undertaking.

A payroll app takes the pain out of the process by allowing you to set up payments and deductions over a payment calendar that can be run weekly or monthly. A well-designed payment app will allow you adjustment of an employee’s pay in one pay period while factoring in that adjustment over the whole year. Figures entered monthly and weekly can later be compiled into an annual report. Payroll apps can be rented on a monthly basis. All the processing takes place remotely in the cloud. But payroll is complex, so look for a package with telephone support.

6. Marketing your business

It’s a fact of life that the vast majority of start-up businesses can’t hope to compete with the marketing budgets of larger rivals.

But smaller businesses also have access to a widening range of sales force automation apps. These packages offer a range of functions to help you attract customers and drive sales. These include email marketing apps, lead automation tools (for instance, form creators to enable you to collect contact details from your site), landing page creators, and campaign schedulers. Some of these apps offer limited functionality free with monthly rental for premium functions.

Apps offer many advantages to small businesses. They are scalable (as the business grows you pay for more users), can be used across a range of devices and, therefore, locations, and can be rented without heavy upfront investment. They are, in other words, ideal for the lean start-up. They also provide a means to address the practical aspects of trading.

This article was produced in association with online business software specialists Sage as part of a series of features on start-up essentials.