Business AppsDespite the popularity of smartphones and tablets, many business owners are unaware of just how greatly software apps can improve the way we communicate and share business data. From simple apps that collate group travel itineraries to ones that provide feedback on financial transactions, apps have taken over the world and everyone can profit – especially businesses.

If you’re struggling to keep up with what’s out there, here are 10 business apps that will help you communicate more effectively.

1. Conferencing: Cisco WebEx Meetings

Truly a bridge-building app, this lets Apple iOS, Android and BlackBerry users join web conferences through 2-way video and a camera switcher. But unlike other video conferencing, you can now attach files to a meeting space. So you can go over financial projections on a spreadsheet or give a presentation to investors on the other side of the world without leaving your office chair, which saves on travel costs and time, and makes face to face communication crystal clear.

Cost: Free account for up to 3 people per meeting, with no limit to meetings or time. Premium accounts available starting from £15 (£12/month annual plan).

2. Collecting contract signatures: DocuSign

Sign on the dotted line please – now where’s a pen? Create and collect signatures securely using a mobile device and then forward them on without pen or paper. With the touch of a button, the days of printing, faxing, scanning and sending contracts overnight are gone, and the signatures are legally binding as DocuSign’s legal signatures comply with the eSign Act. A complete audit trail allows you to see who signed where and when, and the documents are encrypted.

Cost: £13/month per user for Professional Account, £20/month per user for a Business Account and £80/month per user for a Business Premium Account.

3. Creating and managing documents: Office Mobile

For businesses that use Microsoft Office, the Office Mobile for Office 365 app allows subscribers to create and edit documents in Word, Excel and PowerPoint on iOS, Android and Windows Phone by syncing in the cloud. Because the formatting remains intact and charts, graphics and animations look the same as those in the original documents, there is no chance of having different versions. Cloud sharing is through SkyDrive, SkyDrive Pro, or SharePoint, making the management of data even simpler.

Cost: £3/month per user for Essentials Account, £5/month per user for Business Account, and £8 Business Premium Account.

4. Travelling: TripIt Travel Organizer

Anyone who’s rummaged through every pocket at the airport check-in will know the horrible feeling of forgetting a trip itinerary. Or you may have stood in the Arrivals Area wondering if your colleague overslept and missed their flight. TripIt takes the work out of organising and sharing travel itineraries. Booking confirmation emails, e-tickets and other essential items are forwarded to plans@tripit.com. From there plans are displayed through e-mail, Facebook and LinkedIn, and you and your colleagues will find it harder to miss a flight or forget which car hire company you’ve booked with.

Cost: Free to sign up or £3/month per user, with a free 30-day trial offer.

5. Spending and saving: Mint.com Personal Finance

Ever wish you had a money management guru to keep track of business finances keep track of business finances, log incidental purchases and offer advice? When it comes to professional accounts, there are plenty of opportunities for communication (and filing) to go wrong, especially with company credit cards. This Mint.com app displays spending habits in a single dashboard, and you can track banking, credit, mortgages, loans and retirement planning. Mint.com even suggests ways to save money in key spending areas and creates a personal budget based on what you actually spend. Now everyone can be on the same page when using the same ‘business wallet’.

Cost: Free.

6. File Sharing: Dropbox

Hear the one about the missing email attachment? It wasn’t funny, was it? While we’ve said goodbye to floppy disks and storing files on CDs, not all email attachments are safe, secure or guaranteed to reach the recipient due to file size limits. Dropbox is a cloud storage provider where files are uploaded and made immediately available to any other of the user’s computers and devices that have the Dropbox client installed. Users can also upload files manually through the Dropbox web application. It couldn’t be simpler.

Cost: £10/month per user for a Business Account.

7. Organising and Reminding: Evernote

Who needs bits of paper in the digital age? But we don’t seem to be getting much better at making use of all the sticky notes, business cards, to-do lists, reminders and new contact details that collect in our pockets at networking events and business lunches, and are forgotten rather than shared back at the office. Evernote’s virtual notepad can change this by carefully filing everything – and what’s more they are all searchable on Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

Cost: A free version is available for up to 60MB per month of usage, and it comes with a usage metre to keep track of how much data is used each month in case you want to upgrade.

8. Accepting payments: Square Register

This handy app makes managing a business wherever you are into child’s play. By using a free card reader and point-of-sale tools, it takes the hassle out of financial transactions and will impress clients with its simplicity. While the app does take 2.75 per cent for all major credit card transactions, there are no merchant accounts or hidden fees involved and the funds arrive into your bank account within two business days. You’ll be able to speed up financial transactions and improve client communication, both of which are key to growing your business.

Cost: Free to sign up, then 2.75 per cent per swipe or 3.5 per cent plus 10p per keyed-in transaction.

9. Protecting your network: Private WiFi

How often do you think about hackers in day-to-day business? Public WiFi networks offer no protection against cyber criminals as the signals are unencrypted. Despite this, many people continue to use trains, cafés and other public areas to work on important business. Private WiFi protects you from potential hackers by encrypting data going into and out of your device by routing all traffic via the app’s secure servers and by assigning you a random, temporary private IP address that cannot be traced through its servers. Protect all your communications, data and contacts automatically, without giving it another thought.

Cost: £2 (1GB, unlimited devices) or £8 (10GB, unlimited devices) for pay as you go, £6 (unlimited data, up to 3 devices) or £8 per month (unlimited data, up to 5 devices), or £51 (unlimited data, up to 3 devices) or £84 for an annual subscription (unlimited data, up to 5 devices).

10. Managing multi-user passwords: Keeper for Groups

Is there more to creating a password than including a capital letter and a number? This security app enables IT admin and security professionals to manage, back-up and synchronise passwords for office teams, networks and business groups of more than five users, with unlimited devices. Users and access are managed through the admin console, with connections encrypted with the 256-bit AES standard.

Cost: £193 annual subscription for multiple users, unlimited devices and unlimited password storage.

Note: prices correct as at January 2015.
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