Tapping In: Making Your Business Mobile

The vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting and sea salt, and the best-selling “Elvis” cupcake (banana cake with peanut butter frosting) give the Butter Lane bakery a leg up on other dessert options in its Manhattan neighborhood, but there is another competitive advantage at play: technology.

Butter Lane connects to techie customers in a number of ways. There’s an iPad bolted to the wall of the store that urges visitors to like the bakery on Facebook. Butter Lane takes advantage of the geolocation service Foursquare, offering a free icing shot upon someone’s first check-in. A sticker on the front door notes the business’s place on Yelp—its 750-plus reviews trump the total of trendy restaurant Nobu and the Empire State Building. And, knowing people love taking photos of food, Butter Lane has accounts on Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest; it’s also active on Twitter, engaging followers every day.

The small business has bet big on new media in an effort to attract and retain customers. It caters to a web-savvy, always-online audience, yet because customers are increasingly devoting their eyes and thumbs to a mobile device, there’s a huge market Butter Lane and most other small businesses are learning to optimize: mobile.

One cold winter afternoon, two customers ask about baking classes, and an employee directs them to ButterLane.com. Yet, when they visit the site on their smartphones, they are greeted by a nearly blank homepage. As it turns out, the bakery’s webpage features a Flash video, which doesn’t display on an iPhone.

Growth in the mobile marketplace is too massive to ignore. For any small-business owners who haven't considered the impact of these trends, now is the time.

Consider these four factors:

These kids today…

One in three U.S. homes is now “mobile-only,” no more accepting of land lines than they are of ham radios. It’s a trend that has increased in every state, among young adults, folks just starting out in their careers, but also trendsetters, the generation that will decide the course of the economy in the not-too-distant future.

We love our smartphones.

Of course, our phones are no longer merely phones, but indispensable communication devices from which we check email, surf the web, navigate maps, listen to music, watch videos, text, chat, and oh, yes… occasionally make a phone call. What’s more, the path to advanced devices is just getting started: The research branch of investment bank Morgan Stanley estimates only 20 percent of the world’s 5 billion mobile users currently has a smartphone.

We use them to make purchasing decisions.

When a device is by your side 24/7, it’s no wonder you will integrate it into every aspect of your life, including shopping. The good news for small businesses? Google reports that 94 percent of smartphone users have looked for local business information.

What’s emerging is a five-step, mobile-based sales funnel:

INTEREST: "Wanna do suchi for dinner tonight?"

RESEARCH: What's the highest-rated suchi bar nearby?"

ACTION: "I'll call for a reservation and map out directions."

SALE: "That monkfish liver is sooo good."

SOCIAL SHARING: "I'll post a picture. People need to know about this place!"

Tablets are getting big, too.

The mobile uprising goes beyond phones. According to Pew Research, the percentage of U.S. adults owning tablets or eReaders jumped from 2 percent in 2009 to 29 percent in 2012.

The larger screen and portability make it easy to kick back on the couch and browse for bargains without the hassle of a trip to the mall. IBM found that 24 percent of consumers used a mobile device to visit retail sites on Black Friday in 2012, with the iPad generating more traffic than any other tablet or smartphone.

Morgan Stanley predicts the tipping point for digital devices will happen globally in 2013, with the installed base of smartphones and tablets exceeding the total number of desktop and laptop PCs.

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems… at First

The need to become mobile-ready is clear. The scale of the process may seem overwhelming, but it’ll pay off quickly if you follow these steps.

1) Research the customer.

Before making a plan of attack, assess your business and the good folks who use it. How sophisticated are your customers when it comes to mobile? Ask them.

How often do they visit your website from a mobile device? What gadgets are they using to do so? How is the experience? What is most useful and what is missing?

While an informal customer survey is a great way to start, what people say they do and what they actually do can be different things, so dig into your website analytics to look at customer behavior.

Google Analytics, which is free and used by more than 10 million websites, can show you the percentage of users accessing your site via mobile, a breakout of which devices are being used, and what content they are viewing (for example, your “Contact Us” page).

2) Align that knowledge with your online goals.

A good question to ask yourself is, Will I be selling a product online? A local landscaping company will have very different goals from a designer creating handmade jewelry.

For many small to medium-size businesses, the three most crucial items that should be easy to find from a mobile device are location, hours and contact information.

Because smartphones have GPS built in, there’s no excuse for omitting clear directions and a map from your website. Embedding a map on your site is easy: Enter your address in Google maps (as if you were looking for any other location), click the “share/link” icon, copy the code, and then embed it into the Contact Us page within your website.

Simple programming also allows users to tap on your phone number and call you without having to type the number manually.

E-commerce: For some businesses, the ability to sell products online is a must. Say you manage a day spa. One area that would make sense for additional revenue would be beauty products, such as moisturizers and gift sets. By implementing a shopping cart payment and fulfillment system, you provide value and convenience to customers who run out of their favorite products between appointments. Gift cards for massages and facials can be offered and fulfilled via email.

As the diversity and complexity of products escalate, businesses need a commerce system that can keep pace. Alex Kharlamov, co-founder and chief technical officer of Loginaut, a New York-based digital development agency, says, “If your core business as a company is selling, then you need to make the right level of investment to do it correctly. You can’t afford to lose mobile.”

3) Partner with the big boys.

Before dedicating resources to web design, build a foundation of discovery, engagement and trust by making sure you are well-represented on the networks that your customers already use from their smartphones daily: Google, Facebook and Yelp.

Using Google+ local, you can claim your place of business and upload all the necessary information. When someone searches specifically for your business name on their smartphone, these tidbits will come up first. The upside of a Facebook brand page is to connect with customers and build a community of people who like what you do.

Once new users locate you, they need to know if you’re worth a darn. One Nielsen report found that respondents ranked online consumer reviews as the second most trusted source of advertising behind only direct recommendations from friends and family, and far above traditional advertising. Yelp is free, community-based and covers all types of businesses. If your biz isn’t registered already, do so right away, and watch as complimentary and/or instructive reviews start trickling in.

4) Choose and implement a mobile strategy.

In terms of cost, like anything in life, you’ll find that “it depends” and “you get what you pay for.” A Smart car and a Porsche both qualify as transportation, and a studio apartment and four-bedroom home both are places to live. Yet the experience and cost of each vary dramatically.

If your website is not a crucial element to your core business, or if you currently lack the resources to invest in this area, at least there is some good news.

Unlike the “flip phone” or “candy bar” models of the past, feeble for web surfing, today’s smartphones and tablets with massive screens and high-resolution displays allow users to pinch and zoom directly to the content they want. To optimize your existing website, you can make easy—and free—fixes. To wit: Make sure your address and contact information are clear, and that links and menu items are large enough for “fat finger” taps, not just mouse clicks.

A simple informational website can certainly be created at home using a modern theme within WordPress, or by a professional for a few thousand dollars or less. A more advanced website for a small business could run $10,000 to $50,000, while a large site with extensive commerce and interactivity might be $100,000 or more.

Let’s look at some ways to approach design for the mobile future.

• Create a mobile-specific website.

In this case, desktop users see a full-featured version of your website, and coding automatically detects those viewing from mobile devices, who are presented with a streamlined version.

Delivery service UPS is among the best at tailoring its web product to specific devices. The company’s main website is targeted at a business owner sitting at a computer. Not only does the site display ads, promotions and news, but there are a whopping 49 choices from the drop-down menus.

However, access UPS.com from a smartphone and the change is dramatic. Front and center is the most important feature: Enter a tracking number and tap Go. Below that, just four large buttons appear: Track, Ship, Locations and Quote.

The takeaway? To optimize for mobile, determine how your customer uses your site and strip away anything that is not action-oriented.

While this option works for some businesses and there are companies to make the transition easier, it has two major drawbacks. The first is that you have two websites to maintain. Every update, every post and every change needs to consider both versions. And it gets even more complicated when a content management system is involved. Not fun.

The second issue is keeping your code updated for the ever-expanding list of devices. In 2012 the social media news site Mashable.com noted that people read its content on more than 2,000 types of devices each month.

• Think about Responsive design.

This is the process of creating a website that provides the best viewing experience no matter what device accesses it. The elements on the site, from the number of columns to the size of images, are fluid and based on a percentage that can adapt to any screen size. When executed correctly, it has a slightly magical feel as you grab the corner of your browser while at your desktop and adjust the width while watching everything fall into place. Preparing to make the leap to responsive design is a little like downsizing from a 2006 McMansion to a sleek, modern apartment—it forces you to really focus on what is most important, embracing functionality over quantity.

As Kharlamov explains, “Approach a new design from a business perspective first. A lot of people don’t understand the difference between graphic design and user design. Many times a site is built from the viewpoint of a graphic designer. It may have the best eye candy in the world, but if it doesn’t lead to conversion or can’t be viewed on mobile, then it’s money wasted.”

• Create an app.

With billions of downloads across the iPhone, Android, Windows and Amazon marketplace, a dedicated mobile application for your business can provide customers distraction-free engagement with your brand… if done correctly.

For most small businesses, however, the functional advantages of an app as compared to a well-executed mobile site are few and far between. When you consider design, production and marketing costs, creating an app that your customers will use consistently is a challenge. For small-business owners, social media engagement and tailoring the web product for mobile devices are growing imperatives, but there are very few customers who will love and interact with the business so much that the investment is required.

Kharlamov agrees. “If your budget is large and you need something very specific or resource intensive, then an app makes sense. But with the huge demand for talented developers, it’s going to cost you. Most small businesses don’t need an app.”

Wanna build an app for yourself? There's an app for that. @ SUCCESS.com/app_builders

If you’re Starbucks, serving coffee globally to 60 million people a week in 17,000 stores and processing more than 2 million mobile payments a week, it’s a no-brainer. But if you’re Susie’s Snazzy Earmuffs with one store in the Maryland suburbs, maybe not so much.

Back at Butter Lane…

Not surprising given the technical prowess of her business, a new mobile strategy is on Butter Lane co-owner Pam Nelson’s short list.

“We’re in the process of rebuilding our website right now, and one of our top goals is to make it really mobile-friendly,” Nelson says. “It can’t just be a tiny version of our website. We realize more than half of our customers are purchasing cupcakes and classes through their phones, so we need as good a mobile experience as our customers would have on their home computers.”

Is your company ready to make the move to mobile? If you already have a great product, passionate customers and a strong business sense, it will be icing on the cake.

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