A good business app is not hard to find

Brian Lee knows his stuff. As the president of Revelation PR, Advertising & Social Media and the featured speaker at the upcoming IB seminar The Best Apps for Your Business, he has a handle on the wide-ranging array of apps available to simplify most any entrepreneur’s life.

What he isn’t is a know-it-all.

At the Aug. 7 seminar at the Alliant Energy Center, Lee will highlight the best business apps in the categories of communications, productivity, and project management. And while he has a good idea what he wants to talk about, the final agenda will be shaped by a last-minute exercise in crowdsourcing.

“A lot of people come up and give me some idea that they want implemented right away,” said Lee. “‘Brian, I want to be on Twitter.’ And to me, that’s as arbitrary as saying, ‘Let’s buy every billboard along the Beltline.’” — Brian Lee, Revelation PR, Advertising & Social Media

“I already have in my mind the apps I want to talk about,” said Lee, “but just in case, I’m going to say to my Facebook followers and my Twitter followers and so forth, ‘What are some of the apps that you love?’”

That’s not an admission that Lee is less than knowledgeable about his subject, of course. But it is an indication that the app universe is both vast and rapidly expanding, and that even the experts can use a little guidance from time to time. While that wide expanse might give your less-than-digital-savvy business owner a healthy jolt of fear, in this day and age, there’s really no excuse for not thoroughly exploring the world of apps.

“I do agree that the number of apps out there are overwhelming, and it’s hard to know which ones a business should use,” said Lee, “so my recommendation is that companies should look at their existing software and processes, and chances are an app exists that can do a certain function more efficiently and/or more cheaply. This includes areas such as time management, file sharing, invoicing, accounting, interoffice communications, and so forth.”

Lee said he will be talking about numerous (mostly free or “freemium”) business-related apps during his presentation, and he was willing to share just a few of his favorites in advance of the seminar.

Lee said that one of his favorite business apps is Dropbox, a robust file-sharing app that offers an economical alternative to other systems.

“I’ve been immersed in these apps since my company launched two years ago, and when you’re starting out, it’s especially important to figure out how to get up and running without spending a fortune, so I love Dropbox,” said Lee. “My employees and I can access files anywhere on any device. We didn’t have to have a network or VPN installed, so Dropbox is that cloud-based file-sharing system that you can install onto your computer, phone, and tablet, and then you can access your files anywhere, and anyone that you grant access to can access those files as well.”

According to Lee, apps like Dropbox help businesses address one of the most urgent challenges in the business world today — staying connected in a more physically disconnected world.

“I think right now collaboration is huge,” said Lee. “There’s a lot of software out there from Basecamp to Dropbox to you name it. We’re entering a world that’s more and more connected, not just socially but on a business level, where businesses can have employees with virtual offices around the world, and it’s just one way to stay more connected, work together more, have more collaboration, and just achieve more serendipity. People aren’t working in silos anymore.”

Lee said he will also be discussing another useful business app that can be accessed across multiple platforms — one that helps businesspeople connect their thoughts rather than their workforce.

“Another one I’ll talk about for sure is Evernote,” said Lee. “I think that’s one of the best note-taking tools out there. I use it all the time. As the founder [of the company] would say, it’s Google for your brain. It indexes all your thoughts.”

Setting a plan

While Lee is saving most of his recommendations regarding specific apps for the IB seminar, he said there are several rules of thumb to follow when you’re considering using an app for your business.

First of all, it’s not always necessary to be an early adopter. While having the latest state-of-the-art product might make you feel like the coolest kid on the block, it won’t necessarily make sense for your business.

“What I like to say is let people like me be the early adopters of these and figure out what’s good and what’s not, what are the best features and what are some of the poor features of certain apps,” said Lee. “Then that helps with the decision-making process to say, ‘Well, okay, this app’s good and has a lot of these features and I wouldn’t have known that without someone telling me that.’”

At the same time, says Lee, once you’ve zeroed in on a decision, you shouldn’t be too rigid about sticking with your original assessment.

“What I usually recommend to people is that once you do make some decisions, it’s okay to change your mind later down the road,” said Lee. “It’s possible that Dropbox is not a great fit for absolutely every company out there. You might find that you prefer to use Box or Microsoft SkyDrive. Each company will have its own set of circumstances.”

Lee said one common mistake that companies make with regard to new apps is implementing on a large scale without testing on a small scale first.

“Obviously, if you have a three- or four-person office it doesn’t matter as much, but if you’re a large organization with several hundred people and you say, ‘This is what we’re going to use now,’ and it doesn’t go well, well now this whole company has this and that can lead to complications,” said Lee. “I think it’s best that you maybe have a department or smaller division within the company that tests out the software first and says, ‘Yes, I think this would help us in our day-to-day jobs’ before widespread adoption.”



Lee said it’s also important to clearly establish your goals with respect to social media and other apps before you rush into using anything.

“On the public relations, advertising, and marketing level on which I work, a lot of people come up and give me some idea that they want implemented right away,” said Lee. “‘Brian, I want to be on Twitter.’ And to me, that’s as arbitrary as saying, ‘Let’s buy every billboard along the Beltline.’ I’d like to see what your goal is first, who your audiences are, the strategies and tactics around that. And that’s what everyone should do who deals with apps. What’s your goal, whom are you trying to reach, what’s your strategy, and so forth?”

Finally, says Lee, it can be useful to keep your ear to the ground if you want to find out what apps other business owners have found useful.

“There’s many ways to keep up with the industry, like reading trade publications like Mashable or even being on things like Twitter and seeing what people are talking about,” said Lee. “I’ve actually gotten some recommendations that way. People have tweeted about how much they love a certain product or software or tool, and then I take a look at it and I feel, ‘Whoa, this is good. I haven’t heard of it before.’ So things like that.

“Word of mouth, going to networking events. And at networking events, just asking questions. It’s easy to say, ‘What kind of software or tools are you using?’ It’s an interesting icebreaker, and it’s a good way to keep up with what other people are doing.”

If you would like to attend the Best Apps for Your Business Seminar, click here for more information.

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