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Small Business Owners are Going Mobile – Have You?

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With all the press surrounding the iPhone 4 launch, I'm reminded that it's been seven months since we introduced our Mobile Payroll app. As excited as we were to be the first in the industry to offer a payroll processing app for the iPhone, I can't say that all of my colleagues were sold on the idea. I was asked by more than one if I really thought people used their iPhones for any other business purpose than to check email.

With more than a half-year of data behind me, I can assure you they do.

It's true that as the online alternative to traditional payroll services, we knew we had to be the first service to offer a mobile option – providing a mobile application is a natural extension of our mission to provide the most convenient payroll process on the market. But we were absolutely stunned at how many customers have downloaded the app. In fact, it had the fastest adoption rate of any feature we've ever released. We now know that it's more than just something to talk about in marketing materials – it's a useful business tool thousands of our customers rely on to get payroll done.

We are quickly reaching the tipping point when it comes to the expectation that all things capable on a PC should also be capable on a mobile device. More and more business applications continue to be built for smartphones, and you will see greater adoption of mobile devices as an essential business tool.

Smartphones offer more control than any other technology out there. They provide the ability for a business owner to stay connected to their business at all hours of the day, or night, without having to stop their lives or interrupt other business activities to access information. So if you're in the technology area servicing small businesses, you need to think about offering one. And there's a lot to consider.

First, you need to understand for which mobile device you should develop your app. For us, we know that our customers who use iPhones use it for browsing, while those who use a Blackberry rely on that device primarily for email. So it made sense to launch an iPhone application first.

Second, you need to be aware that Apple or Blackberry or Google will have to approve your app, which can take longer than you think. And you will owe them a percentage of your sale price if you charge for it.  

Third, you need to figure out if you're going to develop the application in house or outsource it. Knowing that it was going to be a core part of our business, we wanted the control and skills in-house.  As with any application, 'simple is not easy.'  We invested a lot of time and resources over six months designing and building our application.  It was a lot harder than we thought to develop an easy-to-use, intuitive mobile business application robust enough to be able to run payroll. 

Finally, you need to be able to commit to its support, just like any other platform. You need to be able to make upgrades, manage security and have the appropriate level of customer service staff and provide them with the tools to support it. For all intents and purposes, you should think of it as a brand new product platform that needs regular care and attention.  We are only seven months in and have already launched versions 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, and 2.0. 

While an app takes a lot of work to develop and maintain, the increased business, customer loyalty and promotion could be well worth it. SurePayroll not only sees that thousands of customers are using the app, but we've been recognized by PC World as one of Five Helpful iPhone Apps for the Office, named a Top 10 Must-have Small Business iPhone Apps for a Productive 2010 by Small Business Trends and won the CPA TechAdvisor's Tax and Accounting Innovation Award winner for 2010. It's a key differentiator for us and one more way that we stay loyal to the needs of our small business customers.

Last updated: Jul 21, 2010

MICHAEL ALTER | Columnist | President of SurePayroll

Michael Alter is president of SurePayroll, America?s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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