If you search for mobile tools for your small business, the majority of tools you’ll find, from software to app makers, are focused on one thing: marketing. No doubt marketing is important businesses of any size. And, among small businesses, retail venues and restaurants typically need to get their message out, promote deals and create enthusiasm in order to meet the scale needed to be profitable. But the sole focus on marketing is a huge mistake among any small business (even those with high volume) because it is only half the conversation. Marketing lets the business talk. Who lets them listen?
As someone who’s collaborated with teams globally and across industries, I’ve come to see how important it is to provide channels for client input. This is important on a practical level — you can actually get the work done — but is invaluable as a business level because the client knows when they are heard and they treasure you for it.
So, as clients move from desktop to mobile for communication and data sharing, how do we as business owners maintain genuine connection and resist the temptation to turn mobile communication into a one-way street? Here are 5 steps to help get you there:
Step 1: Ask how your clients like to communicate and remember to use their preferred channel. On a smartphone this might mean text, email, snap chat, skype, face time. Some may even use their phones to make calls! Be flexible, be available and be consistent. The worst thing as a client is when a business asks me how I want to communicate (email, it’s always email for me) and then within five minutes, they call me! Don’t do the bait and switch.
Step 2: Find out where your client is on social media. You don’t have to focus on every social media channel as a business owner, but you can certainly set up a free account in order to say hi to your clients. This is especially true if yours is a B to B business. Whether you are the accountant or the office cleaner, you should be focused on supporting your business clients to grow and promote their brand.
Step 3: Don’t send attachments. Ever. The fact is, attachments are awful on phones. Resist the temptation to attach anything that doesn’t need to be printed or signed. And while you’re at it, use something like Hellosign or Docusign so that you never send anything that needs to be printed and signed. Here’s the thing about attachments, whether a pdf form or an Excel report, they never work on mobile. But if we see that little paper clip we just have to click it. You need to find a work around, see Step 4…
Step 4: Use alternatives to attachments. For reports this will often involve cutting and pasting key tables and findings in the body of an email. For forms, you should consider mobile form builders like Typeform Lite or Wufoo. If you want a simple solution for generating mobile reports and forms for mobile, you should check out what we do at Augl, which converts spreadsheets and forms into client service apps.
Step 5: Only build an app if you need it. At some point you may find you need an app. This should not be when you read an article that tells you you need an app. Apps really need to provide applications, to do processes for your business. Otherwise they are just phone screen decorations. Do you use business processes every day? Do you report and collect data every day? Do most of your clients tell you they would install an app for your business? If the above is true, an app is a great idea. If an app doesn’t actually serve your core business, you should think carefully about making the investment.
Finally, forget all of this in five years. The fact is, the technology and the platforms will change. You’ll move your processes and your habits to smartphones and something else new will arrive. The solution is to embrace the change. To do this, you need to have a crystal clear vision of what your customers value and what you provide, so that you can find creative ways to provide this wherever and however they work.
Ultimately a mobile strategy is part of your overall business strategy, not a replacement. Do you know your clients? Do you listen to them now? Is your business built on providing true value to these customers? If so, the mobile solution is just a matter of choosing tools and processes. The mobile business is up to you.
Small business owners are overwhelmed by the multitude of channels at their disposal for engaging audiences online. Most marketing experts suggest a business owner should find a platform or two that work for their clients, and stick to it. But I know from experience that this is not always easy. At least it’s not always fun.
When I was running an accounting practice, I once complained to my friend Chloe that I couldn’t think of a way to promote my brand on Instagram. She innocently suggested that I take a picture of my neatly arranged files as an inspirational photo. Chloe, calling from another state, could not have realized that the only thing my messy office inspires is fear.
Nevertheless, I was recently amazed to discover that there are many popular accountants and lawyers on Instagram. In the list below, I present channels that total over 85,000 followers. Is this a good thing for their business? Is this a good thing for humanity? The thing is, most of these Instagram posters focus on in-group humor which, if anything, alienates their clients (usually the butt of the jokes). Yes it humanizes the accountant or attorney, but do their clients want that much human?
Where Instagram marketers seem to do best is when they focus on the community. Instagram is an emotional, visual platform and @lambdalegal, with their focus on supporting LGBT community members, is smart to use lots of pictures of community members and their staff engaging at events. They bring the focus to the clients they serve, which is always smart marketing.
As both a former small business owner, and someone who develops tools for small businesses to collaborate on mobile, I suspect that a lot of the knowledge workers who stumble onto Instagram and Pinterest are there for lack of other options. At Augl we’re interested in finding new ways for professionals to reach their current and future customers.
In the meantime, here are some examples of creative accountants and lawyers using the tools they have:
10,000 followers. Lots of in-group humor about busy season, big fours and client quirks.
10,000 followers, seems geared at law students, with a mix of snark about law school challenges with punchlines about annoying clients.
29,000 followers. Lots of Simpsons imagery and edgy humor about drinking and destroying bosses.
@attorney_burrell12,000 followers. Tupac appears amidst current events. A personal injury lawyer who mixes his own family and personal photos with jabs at local and national politiical targets.
4,000 followers, as the name suggests, visual pop culture references with in-group accounting jokes. Lots of photos of t-shirtst to boot.
6,000 followers. Stands out in that it’s all visual humor. Where others tend to squeeze in quotes that might make more sense on Twitter or a t-shirt, they rely heavily on funny expressions and puns with cutting one-liners.
17,000 followers. It shows fashion for lawyers by a lawyer.
7,000 followers. This firm supports its aim of supporting LGBT community members with the occasional inspirational quote, but also includes lots of event and community photos. As a mission-focused firm, this works.
I’ve been working on a way to fix spreadsheets on mobile and I’ve noticed something really funny: Every business owner or manager uses spreadsheets and almost all of them are ashamed of the fact.
Spreadsheets are seen as an admission of failure, particularly for highly “technical” people. We’re supposed to be past that. If we were truly good at selecting/implementing software, we would never need an outdated Excel workflow, right? Wrong.
There are some very good reasons to use spreadsheets and, if anything, these problems will only continue to increase in the near future. For one thing, the way businesses are using software is changing, making a need for more manual data management. But on a more basic level, people really like spreadsheets. Those same managers who sheepishly admit to using Google Sheets to manage some core function, are almost invariably proud to show me how they use Google Sheets to manage that workflow.
First, the software. When I’ve talked to business owners about their business processes, the spreadsheets usually appear at the edges of one tool, where it connects with either a person or another tool. Sometimes as a simple report, but more often as a report that will be edited or merged with other input, or synced to another system. Where spreadsheets are used to connect software manually, there might be APIs available but the business owner (particularly in small businesses) doesn’t know how to implement them or want to take the time and expense to do so.
If spreadsheets show up at the edge of software, it makes sense that there will be more spreadsheets where there are more edges. This is the moment we find ourselves in now. Market forces are pushing behemoth, all-in-one ERP products out in favor of smaller SaaS offerings that serve particular niche functions or industries. Add to that the tendency of small business owners to act like consumers, jumping from one free trial to the next, facing low switching costs and you have a state of continuous flux, with lots of rough edges to address.
Fortunately, to my second point, people just seem to really like spreadsheets. I might be at the extreme end of this phenomenon but spreadsheets appear in my own life at times of great stress and change: moving, having a baby, a child’s illness, selling a home. Sure there are functional reasons to turn to a spreadsheet (list making, calculations) but I think there is something about the very structure of a spreadsheet that makes you feel calm and in control. A child’s illness can be terrifying, but list the specialists along a Y axis and you will feel as if there is something adding order to the chaos.
The same is true in a business context. The spreadsheet brings a sense of order and clarity to business owners who are often overwhelmed with day to day management of their operations. And they do it fast. Software developers would do well to realize just how valuable it is for busy, stressed people to be able to do something right now instead of 5 days from now, or 5 hours, or 5 minutes from now.
So it’s time to stop dismissing spreadsheets as “old fashioned” and respect the very valid reasons that they appeal to industrious people and define workflows. It’s a bad idea to let people create workarounds in Excel because they are tool confused or lazy to learn a new software, but don’t assume this is always the case. No matter how great a new software is, it’s just not possible for it to check every box for every user. So they will find ways to make their own solution.
Interested in getting tools to support your own business on mobile? We’re launching Augl soon, a new way to report and collect data on mobile. Join our beta list!*Fun Fact: We named Augl after the “Gold” (Au) in “Golden Rule”.
Clients today are increasingly using their phones for tasks they once did on computers, like web browsing and email. Whether you are an adviser to individuals or a consultant to business clients, it’s important to be aware of the rules of the road to give awesome client service on mobile.
10. Fill out forms for your clients wherever possible.
This is a no-brainer. If you already have your client’s address, business name, and other details, fill out the form for them. Don’t even worry about tools unless you actually need to collect something you don’t know.
9. Phones are not for talking, unless they call you.
This obviously depends on the generation, but many of us find phone calls to be annoying and disruptive. I personally prefer to schedule calls, unless they are genuinely urgent. Obviously this varies by individual but if your client doesn’t call you and doesn’t leave voicemails for you, take the hint. Email, text, Slack or Skype them.
8. Embrace constraints
Phone screens are small and can’t fit everything you might wish to write. 99% of the time this a very good thing. Say less, ask less and focus on what’s important. You’d be surprised at what you can convey in a decent sized email or text.
7. Fill out your own forms on mobile.
Do you use web forms? Make sure you test out the form yourself. For example, when running an accounting practice, I really liked Google Forms because they sync with Google sheets. This is great for me as the business owner. Problem is, a lot of form fields got cut off on users’ phones. So I switched to the Weebly form on my own website because it’s mobile optimized. This made the data management more work for me, but the experience faster for my clients. The advisor should always be doing more work.
6. Use their tools of choice.
One of the first things you should ask your clients is how they work and how they like to communicate. If possible, use the tools they are already comfortable with. If you like Slack and they are using Google Hangouts, use Google Hangouts just for them. Please don’t tell them your choice is better because I guarantee what they’re using is just fine. Why? Because they say so.
5. Be a cheerleader for their brand.
Your clients like attention. Find out where they go online and where they would like to go online, and follow, like, support and engage them. Social platforms are at the head of pack when it comes to mobile design and function, so the right platform can really enhance your connection to clients on mobile.
4. Remember who works for whom
It seems so obvious that a person who is a paid advisor should do the work for the one paying, but technology sometimes leads to rudeness. Say I’m paying you to do my taxes. You should not send me a pdf, ask me to print it, fill it out, sign it scan it and fax(?!) it. You should ideally complete the form for me. Barring that, you should provide a form I can complete on my phone. Barring that, a form I can complete online (for example an editable pdf). Then for a signature, you should use Docusign or a free version (I like the Hello Sign extension in Google Docs).
(A note for worriers: If security is an issue, remember whose security is at stake. As long as you can cover your ethical and liability requirements, if your client is comfortable with email, don’t make them fax you).
3. Reduce friction
Friction means work. Everything I have to do to complete a task. If you ask me to download something, that’s friction, install an app, register an app, all friction. Just as if you were designing software, when choosing software, pick tools that require the least work from your client.
2. Only use apps that play well with others
You and your clients will be using some of the same tools but you will also be using lots of software that is specific to your industry or interests. Try to always pick solutions that have an open, robust API environment so that your data can connect to as many other platforms as possible.
1. Attachments are for a$$!*les!This is why I started Augl. I commute on the train every day and often have a couple minutes waiting at my son’s after-school care. I love to use this time for my email but when someone sends me an attachment, it just doesn’t work. Nearly 2/3s of email is opened on mobile. Attached pdfs, spreadsheets and documents are a bad idea on these devices, which is to say attachments are a bad idea. Don’t do it!
Ultimately the only rule you need is the Golden Rule: Do unto your clients as you would have them do unto you.* Are you busy, scattered, and looking for every possible way to reduce your workload? Then you probably understand exactly how your clients feel. Use this information to give them helpful, thoughtful service.