Eduardo Valades, president of iHispanic Marketing Group, had traveled to Mexico City in February to sign a particularly demanding client. But it wasn't long before Valades realized he needed some backup, fast. He was getting peppered with technical and pricing questions, and he didn't have the answers. Nevertheless, he was prepared. Glancing at his BlackBerry on which he'd installed WebMessenger software, he could see that both his director of technology and his CEO were online back at headquarters in La Jolla, Calif. Thumbs flying, he started a chat session and fired off his questions. "It was like having them there," says Valades, whose 45-person, $3 million company offers search engine and other marketing services to the U.S. Hispanic market and businesses in Latin America. Those answers helped Valades land the deal. His colleagues quickly drew up the $120,000 contract and e-mailed it to Valades' BlackBerry.
If your PDA or cell phone doesn't accept attachments, not to mention instant messaging with the folks back home, it's time to check out a new wave of phone applications that are seriously boosting entrepreneurs' productivity. Because all-in-one wireless devices such as phones and PDAs are wielding increasing processing power, they can run more sophisticated applications to help keep track of everything from sales to expenses to inventory. Prices range from free downloads to several hundred dollars a pop, with the vast majority costing less than $100. Web site Handango.com lists general productivity boosters and industry-specific software for road warriors in fields including aviation, computer-and-engineering, construction, finance, law, and real estate.
Of course, there's only so much you can do on a screen that measures just a few square inches. And applications that run on the Internet may be slow unless you sign up for a high-speed data service such as EV-DO from Verizon Wireless or Sprint, which will run $59.99 a month. Plus, "it's still hard to install a lot of this stuff," says Ellen Daley, vice-president and research director with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.
That's partly because not every application works on every device, so you'll need to know your device's model number and operating system to find an application that will work for you. Those whose devices run on the Palm or Windows Mobile 5.0 operating systems will have the most choice. The number of business applications for the BlackBerry lags significantly, but that's changing. "The quantity of applications for the BlackBerry is growing faster than any other platform," says Doug Ortega, chief operating officer of Handango.
CLOSING THE DEAL
As a sales manager for the Uniontown (Pa.) Brothers LaZer Service, with $3 million in sales, Dean Gregg clocks significant time on the road with his BlackBerry. In February he began using Nice Office Wireless, a customer relationship management program from eAgency. It costs $19.95 a month but must be purchased in conjunction with Nice Office Small Business, which carries a monthly fee of $29.95. The software lets Gregg remotely retrieve sales contracts, lease applications, or product information, then e-mail or fax them to clients. It also automatically tracks the phone calls and e-mails he sends each day, allowing Gregg to enter notes along with each call or message. At day's end he simply prints out a report and follows up on unfinished business. "It has cut off an hour of work at home each night," says Gregg.
David Zenk, an associate for Gund Partnership, a Cambridge (Mass.) architecture firm with 52 employees and $10 million in 2005 revenues, spends about 20% of his time traveling to client sites. To stay in touch, Zenk uses Documents To Go, software that came with his Treo 650. It lets him view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents sent to him as e-mail attachments. "By being able to modify business documents, it makes the Treo much closer to the capability of a laptop," he says. The senior people at his firm all use Treos. "We have 10 people trying to keep the other 42 busy," he says.
Valades' iHispanic Marketing Group gives every employee a BlackBerry or Treo, and execs get theirs loaded with the WebMessenger service Valades uses. The company pays Cingular Wireless about $2,000 per month, which doesn't include the software. Still, Valades says it's a crucial tool that helps him sell to clients and manage a fast-growing company. He regularly pulls out his BlackBerry in restaurants or meetings, demonstrating Google (GOOG ) searches and explaining how clients might get better placement if they use his services. "It has helped me several times to close the deal," he says. For now, he's still working around the clock to build his business. He hopes to take a vacation soon -- but plans to bring along his BlackBerry when he does.
By Rachael King