When it comes to converting leads to customers, Grant Baguley has a few high-tech weapons up his sleeve. Baguley runs two businesses: fencing company www.cityfencing.co.nz and wholesaler www.glassoutletnz.co.nz quite literally from his car.
The short story is that he can produce an electronic or printed quote showing 3D modelling of the proposed job before he leaves a property.
For straightforward pool fencing and glass balustrading Baguley uses an application (app) from Smart-Builder. With his iPad and a stylus he designs the job using drag and drop elements. The app produces a scale isometric drawing as well as pricing the job, spitting out a quotation, and once accepted it creates an order for the supplier and written installation instructions for the tradesman.
The quote is either emailed to the client electronically, or Baguley can open the boot of his car and rustle up a hard copy on a Canon iP100 printer. The printer can run off its battery or mains power using an inverter. That same inverter allows Baguley to charge his phone, iPad and other mobile devices while away from base.
That's good because a two-door diesel car is Baguley's office these days. His businesses are paperless and there is no reason to go back to his office. Even when Baguley wants to raise a quote or invoice through the accounting system on his business server he uses a virtual private network (VPN) connection over the Internet to run the accounting programme from his iPad. "I am entering a quote from the car, but it is created on the server at our house."
Much of Baguley's work comes via his websites, which are promoted using Google AdWords. As soon as he receives an email he calls the potential client to arrange a site visit.
This is done from his car using Bluetooth hands-free calling so that he can enter the appointment in the iPhone calendar app. Any additional information is typed into an app called Notes. This and other data is synced through iCloud, which means it's accessible from any of the business' internet-connected devices.
If the job is more complex than the application can handle, Baguley will sketch out the design and record measures using a $2 app called Penultimate for iPad. He also uses a number of other small measurement apps including Level and Triangulation.
Whether it's a simple job using the Smart-Build app or a more complex one, the customer gets a quote before Baguley leaves, which gives him a competitive advantage over other tradespeople who might take days to send a quote through.
"There is typical stuff a (potential customer) uses to make a decision," says Baguley. "The speed of returning the quote is one. It gives them confidence."
Whatever he is doing Baguley needs a connection to the Internet. In the old days he used a Vodem. These days he simply turns his iPhone into a Wi-Fi hotspot and uses it as a modem over this Vodafone connection. Or, if he's in range of free Wi-Fi at a cafe service station or elsewhere Baguley connects there. At times he'll get out of the car, go into Mobil, McDonalds or Starbucks to do his administration work using the free Wi-Fi.
Baguley had his doubts about whether his two pool fencing installers could work from the iPads he bought them, but was pleasantly surprised at the result. "They are fantastic tradesmen, but hands like spades don't normally mix well with keyboards. Neither of them had ever owned a computer."
The two installers have been set up with calendars, email and iCloud accounts. "It means I can email plans and info to them at any time of the day or night without needing them to switch on a fax. (The iPads are) very handy for maps getting them to site as well."
Byron Powell, Vodafone's head of SME marketing, says mobile technology is changing the way businesses work. In particular many SMEs are finding benefits in the areas of:
* How they connect with customers
* Being more efficient with their time
Smartphones and tablets mean that staff and owners can keep in contact via email and check calendars wherever they are, meaning colleagues and clients are not waiting hours or days for replies or appointment confirmations. In a world where people expect instant responses this can mean the difference of clinching business or losing it to the next guy.
There are numerous apps for smartphones and tablets that are making all sorts of SMEs more efficient.
Lawyers, says Powell, are benefiting hugely from the ability to take their office with them when they go to court. During the downtime waiting for a case to be heard they can work on their tablet computers. Tradespeople willing to go digital get enormous benefits.
David Schofield, The Garage Door Guy, invoices on the spot when he has completed a job. Apps such as Invoicing for iPhone, Zoho Invoice and Invoice2go allow tradesmen and others to invoice before they leave the customer's property.
Schofield enters the details in Invoice2go on his iPad and the invoice is emailed automatically to the client as a PDF. His wife, who handles the accounts and administration, also gets sent a copy. He also carries a mobile eftpos machine, which means that clients can pay on the spot, which saves a lot of administration work later.
Eight months ago before Schofield went digital he would expect to be chasing 20 clients at any one time who had owed him money for more than 30 days. In the past eight months a total of two customers haven't paid on time. When there is an old-style problem of a customer not paying Schofield can simply re-send the invoice as he speaks to them on the phone and confirm receipt verbally.
Schofield has bought a printer and inverter for his van so that he can print invoices for pensioners and a small number of others who don't have email. Only one out of 10 New Zealanders don't have access to the internet, according to IAB research company.
Another app that Powell sees used regularly by clients is called ProntoForms. Businesses can convert their paper forms into online versions that can be completed on a tablet or smartphone. Staff can even take signatures. The data is automatically entered into the company's system back at base.
Medium-sized businesses may prefer to use an integrator such as BlinkMobile to design mobile forms that integrate with existing systems.
Either way staff can fill in forms on the road without the need to return to base to action the job. Mobile apps reduce downtime and duplication of activities, says Powell.
A time-saving app that is proving popular, says Powell, is JotNot, which is a portable iPhone scanner. JotNot allows the business person to take a photo or scan, attach notes to it, and email it back to the office or automatically upload it to cloud storage website Dropbox, Google Docs or a number of other programs.
It's not just small businesses that are benefiting from mobile technology. Many medium and larger enterprises are finding innovative ways to use smartphones and iPads.
Telecom NZ customer Move Logistics has supplied all 70 of its drivers with iPads. The logistics, storage and transportation company built an application on the iOS platform to connect with its freight management system.
The application uses "sign-on glass technology" and has a number of benefits for the business including:
It geotags all events involved in a delivery including when a driver enters a site and when the customer's signature is captured
It can help with tracking equipment such as the whereabouts of CHEP pallets.
It enables drivers to take a photo, for visual proof of delivery. This can avoid potential disagreements when there is no one present at time of delivery and the goods are subsequently mislaid. With photographic proof of the delivery such disputes can be avoided.
The ability to track and give an estimated time of arrival for all deliveries.
The system is more efficient for Move Logistics because the drivers no longer have to note done information and file it manually, says David Snell, the company's IT manager.
James McLeod, senior business marketing manager at Telecom, says medium-sized enterprises are using mobile applications to increase efficiency and better serve their customers.
"We are seeing these businesses investing in building their own applications - as you can see with Move Logistics, or - where they can - using 'out of the box' products.
"A good example of this is AMS, which has developed 'a generic mobility platform' that works across a range of devices and platforms."
The application transforms the data gathered with a mobile into documents or reports and then allows employees to share those reports either by uploading them to the web, integrating them into business systems, or sending them via email.
"All this can be done while you're out in the field - there is no need to go back to base."