Entrepreneur’s Tech Tools

We live in the world of the app and the web. Thanks to smartphones, the iPhone especially, the proliferation of apps have reached saturated levels of consciousness. There are apps for all industries, all walks of life, and for all people.

We are, or already have been, reached a critical mass of apps in which people no longer want to download them and install them. Yet, many small business owners see the app as another income pipeline for their operations. A couple of years ago, I heralded the app and preached its merits to all that listened. But in this era of LTE, I am very hesitant to encourage small business owners to build custom mobile apps.

I can’t prevent you from wanting to build a custom mobile app, but if you do, I’m going to give you some quick tips for evaluating why and with whom you should hire to build it. Note. This doesn’t apply to games.

First, take a very hard look at your business and determine if your customers or personnel who are on the go will benefit from a custom mobile experience. If you’re in sales or field service, custom experiences are definitely big opportunities for custom mobile applications. Many sales or field service industries have proprietary processes that can be hard to generalize and custom apps may make sense if you can’t alter existing software. But, if you want to give your customers or personnel access to data only or scheduling, there are many existing platforms and applications available for that. In these cases your email system may already have features built-in and are already on your phone.

Secondly, determine if a web application makes more sense than a mobile application. Web developers have gotten super sophisticated in the last couple of years and can build web applications (not sites) that closely look like and mimic the behavior of Android and iOS experiences. Instead of building an app that requires downloads from the App Store, a mobile-first web application may be the way to go.

Thirdly, evaluate whom you will hire and expect to pay. In general, you will always get what you pay for. The better software developers and companies work for money. Sometimes you can get away with a money/equity split if your idea is compelling, but compelling ideas are few and far between. Evaluate a developer by looking at their portfolio on the App Store and verifying their references. Check out the App Reviews as well. I instantly subtract one star and five-star reviews but read the nuances users take time to express in 2 to 4 star reviews. If an app constantly gets mediocre reviews either the app or the idea is mediocre. There is one caveat. If the app looks cheap, that may be the reason for low reviews the publisher didn’t want to invest the time and money to build a pro application.

Most software in the world is custom, and we do help many small business owners realize their dreams by building custom software for them. But we take the time to educate them on how good software is designed and written and help them understand that like any other construction project, quality costs quality money.

Next month I’ll share with you the next technological frontier your company should start getting prepared for.

William Mapp is the CEO of Studio Codeworks, Inc. and author of the Small Business Owner’s Guide to Technology. You can purchase The Guide at Amazon.com. You can send questions directly to Will at will@studiocodeworks.com, and follow him on the social webs at Twitter.com/WilliamMapp3.

Entrepreneur’s Tech Tools

With all of the allegations surrounding Russian hackers, news about email leaks, and major intrusions at political organizations, concerns about your own information security shouldn’t be pushed aside. There is no better time to secure yourself and your business than now. This month, I’m giving you five fast tips for protecting your business.

Use the latest software For real, stop using Windows XP! The biggest threat to your enterprise is using outdated and unsecure software. Despite what we see on TV, hackers can’t just breach any system; they need to know something about a computer system in order to hack it. Old software and operating systems are insecure, and security vulnerabilities are shared amongst crackers. Keep your existing systems up-to-date, and upgrade as soon as you are able. And upgrade your browser.

Choose strong passwords Plain text passwords are very hackable. Choose passwords that combine letters, numbers, and special characters. I get it; it can be hard to remember multiple passwords. Cleverly use letters to represent numbers, ‘3’ for ‘E’, and use characters in place of numbers ‘!’ for ‘1’ or ‘I’. Use 8 characters or more and a mixture of upper and lower case.

Use secure websites Before purchasing online or handing over contact details on the web look for ‘https’ in the website’s address. HTTPS uses a security standard called secure sockets layer that verifies you are communicating with the site you think you are communicating with. HTTPS also encrypts any data shared between you and the server.

Protect your phones We live and work in a mobile world. If your staff uses phones to conduct business make sure they are the latest editions in hardware and software. Newer iPhones and Android devices support fingerprint-to-unlock technology. Use it! Also, avoid storing information on phones that are rooted or jailbroken

Stop using flash drives In some cases they are unavoidable, but in most cases DropBox, Google Drive, or SkyDrive are better alternatives to removable drives. Plugging a flash drive in a foreign computer is akin to having unprotected sex. You can spread a virus to your computer. If you need to share files with a colleague or prospect ask them to email it or use a cloud storage option. If you follow these five tips you stand a better chance of preventing data leaks and compromising your personal and professional data.

An Entrepreneur’s Tech Tools

We live in an amazing time when access to technology can determine the outcomes of our lives. At no other point in time have individuals, corporations, and small businesses had access to the

same technological advantages, products and capabilities. Thanks to cheap communications and inexpensive hardware, competition has been fierce.

This column is here to help you, the aspirational and existing business owner, to compete in a far-reaching global economy. I’ll share the right mix of techniques and technology to help

you find better customers, produce less expensively, protect yourself and your data, and make more money.

Technology is an enabler, not a panacea. You’ll gain access to my experiences helping big and small businesses use technology to make themselves more productive and more profitable.

Processes must be well thought out, and technology can’t be substituted for business sense.

My inaugural tip is a simple one. Try before you buy. Technology purchases can be a commitment. Products used for production can be costly to implement, and may require changes to your processes and operations. Even the largest and most stringent companies such as IBM and Microsoft give you the chance to try out their products. In some cases, the trial period can be as long as six months.

Before the trial, plan how you’ll use the product and your conditions for actually purchasing it. Ask for everything you need, and get all the accounts and access you need. This ensures a successful trial period, and helps you figure out the bells and whistles you don’t need.

Be careful. While you’re trying out the product, don’t ingratiate yourself too deep into the product or service. Try out multiple vendors and manufacturers of the same class of product before you buy them and have a plan that help you choose the right product for your business once the trial ends. By being smart about your product trial, you can find products that are the right fit for your business.

William Mapp is the CEO of Studio Codeworks, Inc. and author of the Small Business Owner’s Guide to Technology. You can send questions directly to him at will@studiocodeworks.com, and follow him at Twitter.com/WilliamMapp3.