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Apps and services to evolve your business

The world of business is constantly shifting and evolving to fit the demands of a society that alters alongside it. In the wake of the global pandemic, businesses must adapt to a landscape that's both unpredictable and shifting faster than expected. With so many companies adopting a work-from-home model, the need to embrace technology as a means of growth, communication and opportunity are more important than ever. With the pandemic disrupting traditional and arguably outdated business practices, learning to embrace the future and present isn't just convenience, it's a necessity. Here's what you need to move with the times and stay relevant in this brave new world.

Your New Office

Connection is key
It's undeniable that the world is more online than ever, with huge swathes of the world browsing online marketplaces for goods and services from the comfort of their own home. Not only that, the internet has made business faster and more interconnected than ever. Your workforce and your business must connect to the greater world to keep pace with your customers' needs, industry trends and the economic shifts at large. That's where internet access comes in - there's a reason the UN classes it as a human right. You have to have it. Access doesn't need to be expensive, nor does it need to be a permanent fixture, limiting your ability to travel and move.

With mobile data services that cater exclusively to businesses, your workforce can access the Internet with minimal costs, customisable speeds and accessible coverage. Local service provider rain is a good bet at establishing that connection while paying the lowest possible amount. Not only does rain's mobile data service offer fast speeds for a highly competitive price, the fact that a copper cable connection isn't required means your office can move wherever you need it to be.

Head in the cloud
As more people slowly incorporate their companies into a digital space, hard copy documents have become borderline useful. Modern workforces are often split across different areas, potentially even countries. Making documents accessible to everyone who might need it, regardless of their location, is ever more important. Benefits are: easy transferability between users, added security and convenience of files on any connected device you own. Cloud access is essential to ensuring productivity that meets the demands of clients. While there are various options, Dropbox Professional is a prime contender for your rand, providing copious storage, quick file transfers across users and personal management of who can access what files.

Despite the free version of Dropbox, to make the most of the app you're better off paying for either the Standard or Premium packages. Standard starts at $12.50 per user per month and will allow a minimum of three users access to 5TB of online storage and easy-to-use tools for sharing and collaboration. Spend $20 per user (per month) for the Premium version, which gives your team an unlimited amount of online storage, advanced file management tools and the ability to send files of up to 100GB with Dropbox Transfer.

Collaborative working with Slack:
Office space is a commodity that fewer people can maintain these days, a reality made all the more dire by the country trying to create a sense of normality during the global pandemic. Yet office space isn't a necessity. Slack allows for organised meetings, teams and specialised group chats that simulate an office space, all through a computer. Not just a communal space that allows monitoring of the availability and productivity of individual workers, Slack provides a solid divide between apps used to discuss work and social platforms. It doubles a work-specific instant messaging app, ensuring files and documents are easily sent to the correct person without risk of losing it in transit.

Taking your office into a digital space with Slack doesn't need to cost you a cent, but if you're willing to pay $6.67 a month, your employees get access to group video call options, a complete archive to messages sent within your company and secure collaboration with guests and third-party companies outside of your own Slack.

A voice on the wireless
Some things never change. Telephone calls will forever be necessary to conduct business, but they can be improved. Voice Over Internet Protocol, or "VoIP", is a cost-effective means of conducting phone calls without requiring the infrastructure offices are enslaved by. Most VoIP providers offer better rates than traditional phone companies. Additionally, using an internet connection to conduct calls means that international markets are within reach as you're no longer forced to pay exorbitant rates for overseas calls. Offering an almost identical clarity to standard phone calls, VoIP is an essential, efficient and cost-effective method of growing your business potential.

Check out local VoIP services offered by FreshPhone and its associated app. FreshPhone is the best local VoIP provider, offering its services for a more-than-decent price. With features such as your own geographical number for only R25, a pay-by-use business model and no monthly subscription fees, there's no reason why your business should still be attached to that crusty old landline.

Your New Shopfront

No contact Payment Solutions
Contactless payment is all the rage right now, for various reasons, but setting it up for your customers doesn't have to be a chore. FNB's QR Speedpoint is easy to get (since you don't have to pay to sign up for it), is as easy to set up and supports payments from all South African banks.

Best of all, all that's needed to operate QR Speedpoint is a smartphone or similar device. Since you're likely already using one, there's no additional overhead for the Speedpoint hardware. Getting payment is a simple, three-step process that ends with the customer scanning an on-screen QR code with their own smart device - letting you accept payments without ever having to come into contact with someone else - or their bank card.

Build it and they will come
The internet is an ideal space for businesses to sell their products. Potential customers have never been warier of leaving their homes. If you provide goods and services without them leaving the comfort of their couch, they'll shower you with revenue. While migration online is daunting, services and apps like Shopify or local ecommerce site Shopstar help shift products or services online with easy website construction, product payment strategies and distribution methods.

Local offering Shopstar is better suited for smaller business due to lower rates, with the most expensive version coming in at R899. That tier only allows 25 products on an ecommerce site. If you have more to ship than that, Shopify takes precedence. It offers the same features but supports an unlimited number of products. Just prepare to pay extra for the expanded features: the highest tier of this service comes in at $299 USD per month.

The fastest payment in the West
It's no good having an optimised ecommerce website if users don't trust your payment solution. Secure payment options allow customers to part with their cash without feeling worried that their information is in any danger. PayPal is an option for local businesses but given the obstacles to using that service, local option PayFast is highly recommended. Incorporating seven unique payment methods, include cheque and instant EFT, alongside a host of security features such as 256-bit encryption and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology to ensure that payment info is safely stored and inaccessible to anyone else. PayFast is a PCI DSS Level 1 Service Provider, essentially the highest tier of online security. Don't set up a robust website only to lose a customer right at the finish line. Secure online payments are essential for sealing that final deal.

Don't neglect your social responsibility
Just as retail has shifted online, so has the marketing game. More eyeballs peruse social media every day. Certainly, more than are browsing outdated forms of advertising such as newspapers and billboards. Having a presence on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has become an essential form of marketing. COVID-19 has forced advertising to change gears, adapting a model that's more conducive for an online age. Marketing is a must and if they won't come to you, you have to go to them. Social media is always booming, with people more attached to their personal devices than ever. Your business should be capitalising on that growth wherever possible.

Having an active and responsive Facebook page, purchasing ad-space on Twitter timelines and boosting your business on Instagram will force your company into the eyes of people who might otherwise go days without leaving the house. Billboards are flashy but if no-one is driving past them, they're not serving your business at all. Nowadays, it's quieter, more personal and omnipresent marketing that forces people to remember a brand.

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