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Going mobile with your small business

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(ARA) - Cellphones have been around for a long time and many small businesses have them. They're good for phone calls and basic text messaging. Smartphones - more powerful cellphones - were introduced to the business world more recently, and their popularity has grown exponentially ever since.

Smartphones, such as BlackBerry, are used today for much more than phone calls and text messaging - small and large businesses alike rely upon them every day for everything from email and browsing the Web, organizing calendars and scheduling appointments, to editing documents and tracking orders and customer activity. They're essentially pocket-sized computers that have, arguably, led to a new generation of mobile workers, new ways of doing business and the emergence of a new type of office - the mobile office.

The mobile office is about cutting the ties to physical office space and making all the tools and technologies available to employees wherever they may be. The traditional office technologies - the desk phone, the desktop computer, the printer, the video camera and even whole business systems - are connected into today's smartphones. The recent introduction of tablet computers is further accelerating the trend toward the mobile office.

In fact, a growing number of small businesses are embracing the mobile office as a permanent measure to drastically reduce telephone, computer and office space costs. The concept also meshes well with today's emerging workforce - smart, eco-friendly and always-connected people who are highly agile, driven, and can work anywhere.

While the idea of ditching the office may seem intimidating, a few guidelines can make the mobile office an affordable reality.

Step 1: Ditch the old landline for a smartphone

With cellphones came the concept of being accessible from virtually anywhere. This convenience, and the realization that the desk phone was being neglected back at the office, led to people replacing the desk phone with the cellphone altogether in some cases.

But the idea of ditching the desk phone hasn't yet taken off in a big way, in part because cellphone costs remain higher than landline calls. Enter the smartphone with Wi-Fi and the ability to make free phone calls over Wi-Fi, and the prospect of replacing the landline phone becomes even more appealing.

Step 2: Replace laptop computers with ultra-portable tablet computers, and wow your clients

Tablet computers like the BlackBerry PlayBook are relatively new to the business world, and they're attracting a lot of attention. They're sleek, powerful, affordable, light-weight and portable, and they're becoming the new laptop for anyone needing to work on the go. Capabilities like output to a projector or large display in HD quality for showing presentations direct from the tablet make these new devices an essential part of a road warrior's toolkit.

Step 3: Get free instant messaging - the next best thing to chatting face-to-face

Day-to-day wireless communication with co-workers, customers and business partners can take on many forms, but perhaps none is as instant or helpful as the advent of modern text messaging. The free BlackBerry Messenger or BBM app is one example. With BBM, text messages are free and can be used to exchange not only brief messages, but photos, videos, documents, games, and even your location.

Step 4: Get your desktop programs on your smartphone or tablet and stay productive on the go

There's a mobile app for just about everything these days. Many of them come at a minimal cost or are even free. Many come pre-loaded on smartphones or tablets, some of which ship with free travel, maps and navigation, and productivity apps like Documents To Go for viewing and editing Microsoft Office documents.

Step 5: Secure, back up and protect smartphones just as you would a desktop or laptop computer

Smartphones have evolved into powerful computing devices and need to be managed and secured, perhaps even more so than their desktop and laptop predecessors. They're small enough to fit in a pocket and people carry them everywhere, making them more prone to loss or theft.

Free online services like the new BlackBerry Management Center for small businesses help locate, automatically back up, restore, remotely lock or erase contents from a lost or stolen smartphone to protect company and customer information, and help mobile workers get back to business quickly.

These five easy steps will help you on your way to making your office mobile.