Must-Have iPhone Apps for Entrepreneurs

Fetch files, scan pictures, process credit-card transactions, manage expense reports, track packages, and more, cheap and on the fly

By Bill Snyder
Small Biz

When Scott Schaefer, restaurateur and owner of the Milwaukee Brat House, meets with a supplier, he doesn’t need to boot up his computer or launch Excel to see which beers are selling well. “I take out my iPhone, and all the inventory information I need is there, quickly and simply,” he says. Schaefer uses a free data visualization program called Roambi, one of a growing number of apps aimed at putting the iPhone to work for entrepreneurs.

With more than 85,000 iPhone applications, finding what you need can be hard. That’s why I’ve scoured iTunes and the Web for ten of the best. Each is designed to solve a specific small business problem, and, by and large, they are inexpensive and easy to use. Unless otherwise noted, they’re available via the iTunes App Store.

CREDIT CARD TERMINAL processes credit-card sales on the spot without any extra hardware. You’ll need an eCommerce merchant account with a payment gateway, and, just as if you were accepting payments in a physical store, you’ll be charged monthly transaction fees. Transactions are encrypted; you can e-mail a receipt directly from your iPhone to the customer. Price: $49.99.

JOTNOT makes your iPhone a mini-scanner. Just take a picture of any document, whiteboard, or receipt, use the built-in cropper, and store the image with your other photos or attach to an e-mail. Price: $4.99.

ROAMBI produces colorful charts and graphs from spreadsheets and business intelligence reports, making the most complex data readable on a small screen. Processing takes place on Roambi’s secure server. Price: Free, although a more advanced version due later this year will carry a charge.

PC2ME is handy when you need a crucial file that’s stuck on your desktop while you’re out and about. Keep your PC on and the app allows you access to your Windows desktop (or Mac running Windows) remotely via your iPhone. It can be a bit slow, but it’s a lot faster than a cab ride back to the office. Price: $9.99.

HARVEST (GETHARVEST.COM) lets you track client billings and expenses and create invoices on the fly. Data are synched with the Harvest server, which aggregates information in a central report that can be reached via a desktop. Price: $40 a month for up to five users.

PACKAGETRACKR is a handy tool for businesses that get deliveries from more than one service. It tracks arrivals from 13 companies, including UPS, FedEx (FDX), the U.S. Postal Service, and DHL, plus shippers in Canada and Britain. The information is the same as what you’d find on the Web, but Packagetrackr puts it all together. Free.

SMARTER AGENT (SMARTERAGENT.COM), for real estate agents, shows house listings in a compact, easy-to-read format, including pictures of properties. Covering 300 markets, it takes advantage of the iPhone’s GPS capabilities. Agents can place their own brand on the application and distribute a free, read-only version to clients. Price: About $39 a month.

QUICKOFFICE lets you make last-minute edits on Word or Excel files and view PowerPoints. With a bit of configuring, QuickOffice acts like an extra drive on your PC, making it easy to drag and drop files. Price: $12.99.

NEXONIA streamlines expense reports. It tracks expenses by category, formats reports as PDFs, adjusts for the exchange rates of 161 currencies, photographs receipts, and forwards it all to the right person for approval. Price: $10 per month per user.

SALESFORCE.COM presents custom views of complex customer data on a small screen. Free to subscribers.