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BlackBerry (MANU FERNANDEZ/AP2010)
BlackBerry (MANU FERNANDEZ/AP2010)

Part Four: All-in-one solutions

Mobile apps, sites trickiest to hand off Add to ...

Of all the turnkey solutions we’ve looked at in this series – the various ways that small businesses can hire an outside firm or use a service that does all of the hard tech work for them – mobile apps and sites are probably the trickiest to figure out.

Setting up a social media page may not take a very long time, but building a mobile app from scratch can be a difficult – and, if you pay someone else to do it for you, expensive – endeavour.

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And given that a lot of small businesses don’t even have regular websites, there’s a tendency to wonder if going mobile is even worth it.

For most businesses, the answer is a definite maybe.

Whereas a lot of people aren’t currently using their mobile devices to find the nearest plumber or driving school, there is a growing movement to ditch traditional desktops for smart phones and tablets.

That means that, even if your business may not particularly lend itself to all the interesting location-based perks that mobile offers, your customers are increasingly switching to mobile devices.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to establish a mobile presence without having to do a lot of the technical work yourself.

Although we have previously profiled turnkey mobile solution providers such as Toronto’s Polar Mobile, those firms tend to work best for businesses that regularly produce content, such as magazines and newspapers.

For small retail outlets that may publish news of a sale or a special offer every once in a while, a dedicated content app might be a bit of overkill. In most cases, those businesses would probably do better with a blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed.

But there are other options for small businesses looking to establish a mobile presence.

As smart phone sales took off, developers built a Web standard for mobile devices called .mobi. Essentially, it’s a set of rules that ensure websites built with a .mobi extension play nice with all manner of smart phones.

Although the standard wasn’t a hit with a lot of businesses, it did offer a way for some companies to build a sort of mobile app in the form of a website. As such, some website builders will also build .mobi sites for customers using the same hassle-free terms as regular websites: Simply give the developer the specifications you want, and let them do the hard work.

Indeed, because most small businesses build a mobile site after they’ve built a regular one, the process becomes even simpler, since all a business owner has to do is pick the features from the regular website they want imported to the mobile one (mobile sites tend to be more bare-bones than full-featured ones).

That’s also what makes designing a mobile site – or, in this case, having someone else design it for you – somewhat difficult.

Whereas business owners can ask for just about every feature under the sun for their regular website, a mobile site requires a bit more selectivity.

After all, users tend to have pre-set data plans on their phones, and don’t necessarily want to be downloading megabytes at a time on a slow cellular connection when all they’re looking for is the business’s address.

For small businesses, the most challenging part of an all-in-one mobile solution isn’t finding someone to do the heavy lifting for you, it’s knowing exactly what features are worth including.

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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