Business apps have become essential to connect on-the-move employees and help them communicate with each other effectively. These productivity apps are an integral part of many small businesses. According to Infostreet, the average small-medium business, which uses mobile applications, utilises 5-15 apps every day.

Benefits of mobile apps for small business infographic - As a direct result of using apps: 60% of employees see an increase in their personal productivity - Average increase in productivity of 34%

Some organisations develop custom apps for specific business-driven tasks, but you can personalise many off-the-shelf apps to provide extensive functionality within any organisation. While there are many apps to choose from, here are five types of app that I recommend to improve your workforce's productivity from Day 1.

Must-Have Mobile Apps for Small Business

Password Management - 1Password [Visit website]

Mockup of iPhone with screenshot of 1Password app

With an increasing number of apps being used daily for personal and business use, juggling multiple passwords is a very real issue. While some people try and fix this by using the same password across the board for simplicity, this approach has security risks.

This password problem is already a major concern relating to personal use, but for work-related apps, it is crucial to protect your credentials to an even greater extent, given the sensitive data being managed. Solutions such as Single Sign-On (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) have been developed for this critical business issue, but these solutions are still not available for every app.

This is why we recommend 1Password for SMBs. This password management app uses military-grade encryption to control and store your login credentials for all your accounts. 1Password helps employees create and use strong, unique passwords for their accounts so that your business is always protected. The added convenience of auto-filling forms and syncing across devices and operating systems that come with 1Password only means employees are more likely to embrace it.

1Password is fully functional on mobile devices and allows you to access all your most important apps whilst on the move. For a greater, more seamless usability experience, 1Password integrates TouchID and FaceID, providing practical access.

As the manager, you can create private vaults for personal- or user-specific information and shared vaults designed for group or team-specific logins. And the great thing is that 1Password doesn't only store login credentials. The app can also be used for credit card information, personal identity numbers, and many other sensitive pieces of information.

Also worth a look . . .

Bitwarden – a great alternate to 1Password for SMBs, if you want to get started for free without compromising on security.

Project Management - Smartsheet [Visit website]

Mockup of iPhone with screenshot of Smartsheet app

When it comes to collaborative work management software, users are spoiled for choice. There is no straightforward answer to help determine the best software available due to the different styles and preferences of each end user. But we're fans of simplicity, and you may have noticed that we always love a checklist, so Smartsheet works best for our style.

Smartsheet is a powerful "work management" tool that combines extensive features with simplicity and ease of access. A favourite feature of ours is the ability to create hierarchies of tasks and subtasks. Each line can be indented multiple times, allowing tasks to be broken down beyond subtasks and into bite-size items. This makes the workflow much more manageable and ensures no details slip through the cracks. The hierarchies can then be instantly collapsed, allowing you to see the big picture and keep the wider project on track. It was challenging to find this core feature in any other app.

Also, Smartsheet has apps dedicated for mobile and tablet that allow you to switch between the views to stay optimised when working on mobile. I prefer the grid view on mobile because it allows me to see more on the screen at any one time, keeping my thoughts in line with the project at hand. Some other key features available on Smartsheet worth mentioning include its alternate Kanban view, real-time dashboards, enterprise security, automated workflows, and ease of integration with all your favourite apps. An impressive 75% of the Fortune 500 use Smartsheet, and I even used it to plan a 3000-mile rowing expedition across the Atlantic Ocean.

Also worth a look . . . – very clean user interface, multiple hierarchies and can switch between list view and Kanban at any time – currently completely free of charge.

Customer Relationship Management - Bigin by Zoho CRM [Visit website]

Mockup of iPhone with screenshot of Bigin app

It's pretty straightforward to handle your initial few clients manually through spreadsheets, notes, and emails in the early days of managing a business. But, as you begin to grow, a much more robust process is required to handle your client information and sustain successful relationships. Now that we're in the days of transparency and social media, ensuring positive client experiences from the get-go is crucial to maintaining a healthy and reputable brand.

Social media also adds to the list of channels you're required to maintain, which typically include phone, email, and text. Centralising these communication channels into a single, easy-to-use platform can greatly help provide a more efficient and effective customer experience.

This is where a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system comes in. A CRM is responsible for managing client communications and integrating with functionality to improve sales, marketing, and customer support. This system is truly designed to help you manage the entire customer lifecycle in one place. And thankfully, many of them offer mobile apps to allow you access to essential client information at your fingertips no matter where you are.

We like the Bigin CRM, which is part of the Zoho suite of apps. This family of apps offers a CRM and marketing automation, customer support, call/chat services, and many others. All of the services on this platform are readily integrated to provide a seamless, enjoyable experience.

The Bigin CRM is very user-friendly and provides an intuitive user interface, allowing you to get your profile up and running instantly without the learning curve some other platforms carry. And to top it off, all your communication can be managed without ever leaving the app, thanks to the email sync and built-in phone features.

The platform's sales funnel feature allows you to easily oversee all your current deals via a Kanban board and can help you manage different tasks between you and your team members. You can also leverage email templates with open-rate analytics and real-time notifications.

The best part about the Bigin CRM is that the mobile app provides you with all the web app functionality, allowing you to be efficient no matter where you are. The user-interface has been designed to accommodate mobile devices' vertical screen size, allowing you to find and access all the information you need when you need it.

Also worth a look . . .

Hubspot CRM – if you're looking for a free CRM that is packed with features, you can't go wrong with Hubspot – be aware that if you need to upgrade to a paid plan further down the line, Hubspot can get pricy for a small-medium business.

Report Management - Harkster [Visit website]

Mockup of iPhone with screenshot of Harkster app

Reporting may not have the reputation of being the most glamorous of business functions, but in a world where data drives an increasing number of decisions, businesses are reliant on analytics to inform future direction. Reporting is quickly becoming one of the most important components of a healthy business foundation, underpinning any company's survival and success.

It's simply no longer enough to have your standard weekly reports feeding you the data you already know from observation. If your competitors are gaining insights through data analysis, they already have the edge, and it won't be long before they start attracting your customers.

Michael Lewis demonstrates this point in his book, Moneyball, which tells the story of a baseball team who, in a revolutionary move at the time, picked their roster based on data instead of the coach's observations. "One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks." The strategy paid off, and the team won their division that year. Following that season, the use of statistical analysis of player performance was adopted by all teams in Major League Baseball.

This lesson can be directly transferred to your business. If you want to see the trends in your organisation before they can be picked up by the naked eye, then you need a platform that allows for the efficient delivery of your data in bite-sized reports. This will help people access crucial information in real-time, and this is where we recommend Harkster.

Harkster allows you to create micro-reports containing only essential information and then broadcast it to specific channels which can be subscribed to by a permitted group of colleagues. These channels provide real-time updates to their subscribers, and because of their bite-sized nature, these updates encourage frequent sharing of information. This allows the business to be more reactive to changing circumstances.

For categorisation and access management, multiple channels can be set up and then grouped into workspaces or teams. This provides an organisation with the ability to efficiently manage different reports from different departments in one centralised application. And the data source is flexible. It can either be manually entered into the system through templates, dropped in from Excel, or directly integrated with your existing systems using an API.

There is a real productivity win here for the channel follower who chooses which channels to subscribe and unsubscribe to, keeping their notifications minimal and essential. When considered against the traditional method of sending reports via email to an infrequently updated distribution list, Harkster shifts the power of notification from the sender to the recipient.

And to top it off, Harkster was built with mobile users in mind. The app layout lends itself well to mobile, and the desktop app mirrors this layout for a seamless transition between devices. Updates from channels you're subscribed to populate your timeline instantly, which, when combined with native notifications, keeps the essential information at your fingertips at all times.

Also worth a look . . . – a reporting tool for all your data, offering pivot tables and spreadsheet-like models in template reports. Suitable for web and tablet but no mobile app currently available.

Basic Data Management - Airtable [Visit website]

Mockup of iPhone with screenshot of Airtable app

You would have to ask many people before finding someone who's never used Microsoft Excel to accomplish a business task. But, ask those same people about their experiences with the program, and it's much easier to find someone who has had a negative incident at some point in time. I'm sure you can relate. You only have to look the UK government for a recent example, when they missed 16,000 Covid cases as a result of a data import that didn't work as expected. This isn't because Excel is a bad product, far from it. It's actually because Excel often is used for a purpose for which it was not intended.

The program is great for quick and simple data manipulation or analysis and has some powerful features for more complex tasks. Do a little research into Excel, and you'll find many articles online arguing the pros and cons of the program. I, myself, have used Excel for tasks it was never really designed to accomplish. Why? Because it's convenient! The program is installed on almost every PC, requires no authorisation or permission to use, and involves virtually no training to get started.

But just because something is convenient doesn't make it right.

What should we do instead then? If you require a solution for data storage and management of any sort, whether it's expense tracking, creating a product catalogue, or storing user feedback, don't use Excel. Consider Airtable. This is not only an alternative to Excel but a tool much more suited for that job.

Airtable is best described as a spreadsheet-database hybrid. It has the appearance of a spreadsheet, allowing most users to get started right away and provides the features of a database, permitting users more robust data management.

In Airtable, a table appears just like a spreadsheet, containing columns and rows (called 'fields' and 'records') that can be set to include a long list of data formats including text, images, URLs, formulas, checkboxes, and even barcodes. The fields can also be filtered, sorted, hidden, grouped by, or linked to another table to auto-update where necessary to save any work duplication. The entire table can be changed according to your preferences, allowing you to see your tasks from the traditional spreadsheet view, or opt for a calendar, gallery, or Kanban views that are also available. Another neat feature is the availability of forms, which offers a user-friendly method of populating rows if you don't want to provide direct access to the table.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg with Airtable. The platform also offers extensively advanced features, including dashboards, an integration option for automated processes, and the ability to create custom apps, build workflows with your team, and get a head start in the extensive template library. The possibilities are truly endless.

I use Airtable for content marketing planning. Adding images directly into a field helps with the planning of visual assets to ensure continuity and consistency for posts. I use the 'multiple select' field to choose relevant hashtags for a post from a pre-researched list, and then employ the formula function to show the caption's length as I update to ensure I stay within platform character limits. The great thing about this is that all the features I use are available in the free version, but I look forward to exploring the workflow automation as our processes develop.

And of course, Airtable provides a mobile app. Given that I use the platform for social media posting, it's so useful to have full access to the editorial calendar whilst on-the-go, as social media posts' timing can significantly impact their success.

Also worth a look . . .

Memento Database – simple to use interface with native desktop applications and better value for larger plans. The downside is not compatible with iOS.