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If you’re a small business owner with customers on the go, or employees that work in the field or remotely, you may want to provide them with a mobile app to connect with your business. This week I’ve found two technology solutions to help you create a mobile app simply, that won’t cost you a lot.  

The CTIA reported there were over 78 million smartphones active in the US in 2010, or about 25% of all phones. Forty percent of mobile consumers over 18 in the U.S. now have smartphones, according to July 2011 data from Nielsen, with 40% of those people using Android, 28% using an iPhone and about 19% using a Blackberry. At any given time, between 25 and 40 percent of your customers could be looking for a business like yours on a smartphone. How can you get them to think of you first?

How about creating an app that lives on their phone and sends them offers and updates from your business directly? Scott Hirsch and Arsen Pereymer created Appsbar to help small businesses create simple apps that run on iPhone and Android (about 68% of the smartphone market). Appsbar allows any business, from accountant, band, club or restaurant to quickly (and I do mean quickly) create and publish an app for review by the major app stores (iTunes and Android Market with more coming soon).  Appsbar’s community has suggested many of the business templates they currently provide, according to Pereymer.

I was able to create an app that has links to my column, a form to book me for speaking engagements, social network connections, pictures and contact info in less than 20 minutes. Now you can download the HowardGr app at the Google Marketplace for Android. I used pre-created icons and backgrounds, uploaded my own pictures and chose one of their color schemes. It's not fully polished, but it was quick and fun and I can update it.

If you already have the information about your business, perhaps from creating a website or some recent marketing material, you’ve probably got plenty to put into your app. Businesses can create coupons, QR barcodes and more on their apps. They can even notify customers when promotions are occurring. Want to send a 5pm reminder for happy hour? Done.

Now what about your mobile workforce? Earlier this year I reported on Podio, a simple app creator for the web. As of yesterday, those apps are able to follow users to their iPhones (with Android about 3 months away.) “We’ve had 200,000 apps created or modified on our platform since March,” said Tommy Ahlers, CEO of Podio. “We now have a simple interface for people to find, filter, and edit items in their Podio apps on the go.”

I spoke with Thomas Nicholls, Director of Mobile for French IT consultancy Ekito who has been beta testing the Podio software. “We started using Podio to track client leads, so our management and sales team could exchange information. Many of our people work at client sites, so we used this to make our lead exchanges and deals quick and web-based. Some of us have IT background, but our non-IT colleagues were able to modify and configure the Podio-supplied apps for our internal use very easily. I can immediately enter leads from mobile, and see the status of others’ leads.”

Nicholls notes that we all have the tendency to check lots of different social apps on our phones several times a day, like Facebook or Twitter.  “Now I also launch Podio several times a day to check on our projects, and I’m working not playing. They have done a good job making a well done integrated social aspect of their ‘work feed’ for your team from a mobile interface.”

Podio has a free version for one project and 10 people, and unlimited usage costs $4/month per person.

Will you be adding a mobile version of your tools for customers or employees? Let us know what you’re thinking about in the comments.




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