Better question: Should you?
Look around. Wherever you are—whether it’s at work, a coffee
shop, the airport or at home—the people around you are texting, emailing, updating
and shopping on their mobile devices.
We’re living in a mobile world, and the tech bug has bitten
small business owners, too. According
to a 2013 AT&T survey, 98 percent of small business owners are using
wireless technologies in their day-to-day operations, and 66 percent say their
business could not survive—or it would be a major challenge to survive—without such
With two-thirds of the small business world relying on
mobile devices and programs for their operations, is the future here? Is it finally
possible for owners to run their companies completely from their pockets?
We talked with small business owners who are doing just that.
They use their smartphone as their primary work number. They check their email.
They download financial reports. They video-chat with clients. It’s like being
on a desktop computer.
Except it’s not entirely the same, and that’s why it’s
Started With Mobile
Randy Parker, co-founder of online marketing company
Constant Contact and CEO of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based mobile marketing
company PagePart, recommends that the first step small business owners should
take toward a mobile strategy is tapping into a cloud-computing IT solution, in
which data, applications and software are hosted off-site and can be accessed
from any device with a Web connection.
For anyone attempting to go mobile, the cloud, where you
store and access data and programs over the Internet rather than a computer, is
a must. “Mobile is all about easy access to something that’s being run or
hosted somewhere else,” Parker says. “It’s not about keeping all your data on
your phone. It’s about your phone being your window into your data, which is
securely tucked away in the cloud.” (Check out “Mobile Use by the Numbers” to
see a breakdown of how smartphones are used.)
For Nicholas Addonisio, CEO of tech accessory NFIB-member
business Titan Elite Inc. in Bohemia, New York, going mobile had an obvious
benefit. “Most of our employees use smartphones, which allow for multitasking
anyway, so having a phone call while looking up a price list PDF file is
relatively easy using off-the-shelf smartphones and Web apps,” says Addonisio,
whose small business distributes “rugged” computers (think, a computer you can
toss in the back of your truck) and manufactures custom accessories that
protect used-in-the-field devices.
Rhonda Abrams can name a few other benefits: increased
productivity, lower and more predictable costs, less time in the office,
keeping customers satisfied and fewer headaches. Abrams, CEO of PlanningShop, a
resource website for entrepreneurs and small business owners, is an advocate
for going mobile.
She knows from experience. In 2012, she converted most of her
business operations—from payroll to document storage to email to shipping—to a
mobile strategy. The goal? To give necessary employees access to company files
any time, anywhere, in addition to reducing expenses and IT headaches.
A few years earlier, Abrams started small by moving her
enewsletter service to Emma, a cloud-based service. Then, when other pieces of
software needed upgrades, she moved them to the cloud. In 2012, she switched to
Salesforce as her cloud-based customer relationship management tool, which
helped keep client records in one accessible location. Her previous CRM
manager, which she asked us not to name, required a pricey update in order to
work on multiple operating systems. Instead of paying for the upgrade, she
switched to Salesforce because it’s accessible through the Web and works with
multiple operating systems.
Abrams also selected Intuit Online Payroll, Dropbox for her
file-sharing needs and Hootsuite for social media management. To round out her
tools, Abrams chose Microsoft’s Office 365, a cloud-based email and
document-storage service with small business plans starting at $5 per user per
Most reports, spreadsheets and documents Abrams needs for
her business can be accessed on her phone. But it’s not as though she—or her
employees—have abandoned desktop computers or laptops. “I’m a writer,” she
says. “I do my writing at a desk with a full-size keyboard and large monitor or
from my decent-sized laptop.”
Still, the shift to mobile has been unavoidable. “Like most
businesspeople, I don’t talk on my phone nearly as much as I used to, but I’m
on my phone for email, texts and reading documents all the time.” Abrams’
office manager even calculates payroll from the comforts of her bed—all from a
That’s why going mobile requires heading to the cloud. The
cloud enables Abrams and her employees to access many files on their phones or
on their desktop computers or laptops.
For Abrams, the switch to the cloud to make mobile possible
has translated into savings. Because these services charge monthly fees, which
Abrams says are very affordable, she can more easily plan her budget. There are
no hidden fees, costly software updates or the possibility of losing data to
physical theft or damage to a computer or server. Although Abrams hasn’t
calculated exactly how much money going mobile has saved her since 2012, she
says the company’s IT support costs went down.
For Addonisio, accessibility has meant better customer
satisfaction. “Today, people put value on communication time. The quicker you
can get back to someone, the better chance you have at completing a project or
transaction,” he says.
The Risk of
The biggest concerns with a cloud-based mobile strategy: data
HP’s Cyber Risk Report 2013, 46
percent of apps use security encryption methods improperly, leaving data at
risk for hacks. That’s more than a 75 percent increase from 2012.
This is why running your small business from your phone is
different—and dangerous. “I know what the bad guys are capable of,” says David
Willson, a Colorado Springs, Colorado-based attorney, risk management and cyber
security consultant with experience working with the National Security Agency.
However, Abrams believes business owners are actually
assuming more risk by keeping all of their information on-premises. Before
moving her company’s data to the cloud, “if someone broke into our office and
stole our server, we would have lost an immense amount of data. It’s far
riskier to have your data on-premises and have that be the only place,” she
That’s why Willson advises small businesses to use a hybrid
approach, storing some data on the cloud and backing up critical data on
premises. If the cloud provider is hacked, destroyed, goes bankrupt or has its
servers seized, then the small business owner is left with few options to
recover data. Most service agreements make it so the cloud provider will not be
Willson advises small business owners to take a three-step
approach to securing their data:
1. Perform a risk
assessment. Understand the flow of data across your organization: How it
comes in, who it’s coming in from, where it goes within the organization, who
has access to it, how it’s secured while in the organization and where it exits.
Make sure your cloud provider is a reputable company by checking online reviews
and educating yourself about the technology. You should also ask several
questions to your provider, such as: Has the company had a security audit in
the last year? Was it internal, or did a third party conduct it?
According to HP’s white paper, “Minimize
the Risk of Your Cloud-based Service,” a cloud provider should have “a
thorough program for continual and ongoing audit” whereas a traditional regime
of annual or monthly audits becomes meaningless in an environment that changes
completely on a daily or hourly basis.”
HP also recommends that cloud providers should have third
parties perform these audits.
2. Draft and
implement the right security policies. They “must be short and
readable or else no one will read them,” Willson says. These policies should
include topics such as creating strong passwords. You should communicate these policies
to your workforce, who should then sign the policies, acknowledging that they
read and understand them.
3. Train employees on
data security. Educate them on what data you’re protecting and why it’s
important to protect it. “If you train your employees on how hackers can get
in, then they’ll have an idea of why they need to have better passwords and
better security practices,” Willson says. He recommends annual live
training for employees on cybersecurity. If you have the onsite personnel
to conduct such training, use your internal support. If not, you should consider
hiring a consultant to provide this type of training.
Risks be damned. Abrams says the benefits of going mobile far
outweigh the drawbacks. “Small business owners should realize that this can
increase your productivity. There’s going to be a transition, but you have to
understand that there’s going to be a big payoff.”