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Can you run a business from your smartphone?

By Gary Turner, Xero – Managing Director EMEA

The smartphone is arguably the defining tool of the modern age. Since its introduction in 1992 when IBM’s ‘Simon Personal Communicator’ first launched, it has become ever-present: ownership in South Africa is at 37%, and the average citizen spends up to three hours a day simply browsing the internet on their device.

Why? Because they bring everything together. A smartphone is a camera, a computer, a telephone, a music player, a calendar, a map, and a television – amongst other things. If you can think of it, there’s probably an app for it, and the app is probably more efficient than whatever the analogue version is.

In theory, the centralised nature of smartphones makes them perfect for running a business. But does the reality measure up?

Practical considerations

 Whether or not you can run a business from a smartphone is largely dependent on what kind of business you aim to run.

Where functions such as accounting are concerned, if you’re still using desktop software or manually inputting financial data into Excel spreadsheets, then smartphones can’t help you. They have limited capacity, and you’re unlikely to have enough storage space for personal and business use when this data is saved locally to your device. Furthermore, your colleagues won’t be able to access this information.

If you’re already cloud-enabled, of course, it becomes easier to run a business from your smartphone. As mentioned, mobile apps are available for everything – and as Software as a Service (SaaS) technology enables you to work from anywhere and share information across all devices, you really only need an internet connection. Small businesses are particularly well-positioned to go smartphone-only, as they’re typically far more agile than companies with decades of information and legacy applications to consider.

And it’s not just easy – it might even be a good idea.

Advantages and disadvantages of going smartphone-only

There are clear benefits of adopting a phone-only approach. Mobility, for example, is immediately boosted: when you’re running a business from your mobile device, you can work from anywhere with Wi-Fi or 3G capability: a park, a beach, a plane, on the other side of the world: the possibilities are endless. You bring the office with you wherever you go.

The range of apps available means that you can more effectively consolidate your business functions. Time management, accounting, and HR tools are available, and can simplify and streamline your operational processes. Accessing these tools and sharing files is also made considerably easier: collaborating with colleagues is built into the very fabric of cloud technology. Digital personal assistants such as Siri and Cortana are invariably cheaper than real personal assistants: if you need to make an urgent appointment or remember someone’s birthday, these AI tools will do so on your behalf.

That said, it’s not perfect. Entrepreneurs who go phone-only invariably find it harder to switch off: after all, if the business is in your pocket, the business is always with you. You can account for this by setting clear boundaries and ‘no-work’ times – it’ll be difficult at first, but it’s better than dealing with undue stress.

Going phone-only can also diminish human interaction: if you can speak to someone via instant messaging (IM) without leaving your chair, why wouldn’t you? But this can be alienating for employees, and actively harmful to company culture. Make time to speak to people, even if the conversation isn’t particularly substantial: technology can diminish interpersonal relationships, but it really doesn’t have to.

Indeed, it’s something you should turn to your advantage. In many cases, the benefits of running a business from your mobile device will outweigh the costs. It allows for greater flexibility and lesser expense. Furthermore, you don’t have to throw out the entire kitchen sink: there’s no reason you can’t mostly rely on your phone but still use a laptop or desktop, for example. It’s about deciding your own preferred configuration for your business – and then implementing it. Smartphones, if nothing else, provide you with the option.

Xero is a proud Partner of the NSBC.