How to run a start-up business from your mobile


Is it now possible to run an entire business from your smartphone or tablet?

On trains and buses, in queues and cafes, people are working on their businesses. Whether you’re a sole trader or running a business with international reach, smartphones and tablets have become integral to the way almost all of you work and grow your firms.

But, with the right apps and some mobile know-how, is it possible to forgo the desktop altogether?

Starting up

Setting up a business and seeing it through its early days demands unwavering focus and attention. Mobile devices, and the ease of getting online via the cloud, can make this much easier. Platforms such as WordPress or Shopify make it possible to start a website from a phone or tablet, for example. Wi-Fi access means it’s easy to find suppliers, stockists or partners. And, as Olumide Adewunmi, founder of music streaming service Gidilounge, points out, social media apps allow you to get instant feedback on your brand from your potential customers.

Olumide points out: “Many customers impulsively and almost instinctively use their phones to share what they think of goods and services on social media.

“Mobile phones make it easier to get natural and unadulterated feedback for your business which will in turn, help you make calculated business decisions.”

The essentials

Mobile devices remain equally integral to how most mobile-savvy entrepreneurs manage the day-to-day running of their business. As Lyndon Wood, CEO and creator of Constructaquote.com, says: “Things that once required multiple platforms are now contained within a handheld device.” He notes that in particular “creating, uploading and distributing relevant and inspiring content to your clients via your smartphone has made authoritative brand building simpler and more immediate.”

Alec Dobbie, CEO of FanFinders, uses his mobile for most elements of running his business. The essentials include “researching competitors, communicating with suppliers worldwide and setting up meetings, as well as finding business partners via LinkedIn and other corporate social media”.

Winning apps

The potential of mobile devices is due, of course, to the huge array of apps at the fingertips of any phone or tablet user. So, which are the ‘killer apps’ for the savvy business owner?

Document creation and editing is infinitely more simple thanks to the cloud and some key applications. Simon Osmon, CEO of iFollowOffice, comments: “I’m a huge fan of Citrix ShareFile – with this app, I can get secure offline access to my documents. As any London commuter knows, offline access can be a lifesaver! Other apps I rely on include Microsoft Office Suite for document creation and templates.”

Storing files is unproblematic thanks to the cloud and apps such as Dropbox. Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are also a favourite of many business owners.

When talking to entrepreneurs, Evernote crops up again and again as a useful app for creating and storing notes. Wood says: “Evernote […] will allow you to clip web articles, capture handwritten notes and add photos in order for you to gather everything you need for your project in one place.”

Project management is also made easier by Trello, according to Adewunmi, a free app which lets you see everything relating to a particular project in one place.

Accounting, like tax, is an inevitability in the life of a business owner, but at least being able to do it from any location reduces the pain. Jules Quinn, founder and managing director of The Teashed, relies on Sage One via her smartphone: “The app enables me to keep on top of my invoices and cashflow so that I can work efficiently wherever I am, even whilst running our tea tent at V Festival!” Managing director of Candy Kittens, Ed Williams, uses Xero. “With a live feed to our bank account and varying access for the whole team, Xero allows me to keep a close eye on the numbers,” he says.

For sales and CRM, Osmon relies on Pipedrive, an app which allows users to organise contacts, follow up leads, and forecast sales, while Williams says that Highrise is useful when remembering customers and what they’ve previously been told. For sales, Williams says: “iZettle allows us to take card payments via smartphones and tablets at anytime, anywhere.” When it comes to organising their time, Osmon uses free calendar app Sunrise, and Williams uses iCal.

Social media is something of a necessity for most businesses too, and an area in which mobile devices really shine. Quinn uses apps such as Buffer to schedule social media posts quickly and from any location, and Wood notes that “using tools like Hootsuite can easily give you the ability to manage the content you distribute across various channels”.

Meetings can now of course be carried out remotely too, and Lyndon recommends that “If you’re a regular to mobile video conferences, Webex will allow you to attend and schedule, arrange and host sessions in HD.”

Communication is still arguably the primary function of mobile devices. Olumide uses WhatsApp, for example, for “group chats and the majority of my personal and official communication”. Quinn uses Slack for instant messaging, and Osmon of iFollowOffice is an avid user of Skype for business calls.

Limitations of mobile

Thanks to the breakneck speed of change in mobile technologies over the last decade, it is certainly possible to make huge inroads into starting and running a business purely through mobile devices. At the moment however, almost all entrepreneurs return to the trusty computer for at least some of their tasks. “Though I can’t imagine my day without my phone, I’d rather use a laptop or a larger screen for specific activities such as writing code and mind mapping,” Olumide adds.

Similarly, FanFinders’ CEO Alec Dobbie says: “There are still few things I rely on the desktop for including software development, proofing visuals, writing long documents and plans, and creating spreadsheets.”

The future

So, will business owners ever run their businesses entirely from mobile devices? “Via my phone?” asks Simon Osmon, “No. Via my iPad? Yes, absolutely. In fact I already do. The larger screen size and the fact it can be kitted with a keyboard also means I can do everything from sending a quick email to the team to drafting a full proposal and everything in-between.”

The future, it seems, is mobile, but there will always be one thing that keeps people off the phones at least some of the time: “Face-to-face meetings,” says Ed Williams. “It’s too easy to hide behind a phone or keyboard and I quite often find that the only way to get something done is to meet people in person.”

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  1. kevinbhurst
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    I love this article, many good tips, and it shows the very real possibilities of what a mobile presence is capable of. However, I would have loved if mobile device management (MDM) was mentioned, even a little bit.

    Everything you mentioned is good for when it is just a device or two, for when the business is REALLY small, but once you start adding more than that, management of them all, between several workers, becomes a real issue that businesses must address. A lot of times, this makes people think that MDMs are only good for big businesses that have hundreds of devices, but the benefits can be seen even when there are less than 10 devices.

    Of course, with that few of devices, a lot of MDMs become too expensive to justify. That’s why there are a few new ones, like Bushel, that specialise their services for small businesses, while maintaining an abnormally low price (Bushel is only $2 per device).