January 16, 2015 Mobile & Apps en_US As consumers spend more and more time on their mobile devices, business owners are getting wise and developing apps to make the lives of their customers easier. https://quickbooks.intuit.com/cas/dam/IMAGE/A4xjmCw5L/f6101172a9f714522c271e75b1ad0e3c.jpg https://quickbooks.intuit.com/r/mobile-and-apps/should-you-develop-a-mobile-app-for-your-small-business How to develop an app: A guide to taking your business mobile
Mobile & Apps

How to develop an app: A guide to taking your business mobile

By Suzanne Kearns January 16, 2015

As consumers spend more and more time shopping, scheduling appointments, and playing games on their mobile devices, business owners are getting wise and developing apps to make the lives of their customers and potential customers more comfortable.

Stats show that there are roughly 2.8 million Android apps available in the Google Play store, and about 2 million iOS apps in Apple’s App Store.

But, is mobile app development a smart move for business owners? And, if so, how do you go about designing a new app? In this article, we provide you with answers to all of your questions. By the end of this article, you’ll have a much better understanding of how to develop an app and whether doing so is right for your small business.

What is a mobile app?

Techopedia says, “A mobile application, most commonly referred to as an app, is a type of application software designed to run on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet computer. Mobile applications frequently serve to provide users with similar services to those accessed on PCs.”

Essentially, a mobile app is a program designed specifically to run on your phone or tablet. They prevent you from having to pull up a webpage to do work while on the go. For instance, you likely send email from the Gmail app on your Android, instead of going to gmail.com. Today’s smartphones tend to have multiple apps on them at any given time.

How prevalent are mobile apps in the lives of American consumers?

Research shows that 81% of American consumers now own a smartphone, which is up from 35% in 2011. This figure includes both iPhones and Android devices.

Apple smartphones run on iOS software. iOS software is exclusive to Apple products like iPhones. Google produces the Android software. Although Google creates its own hardware options, like the Pixel line of phones, Android software is not exclusive to Google. For instance, other manufacturers like Samsung run Android software on their phones.

If someone owns a smartphone, there’s a good chance that there’s at least one app on it that they use every single day. Whether it’s an app for email, their favorite game or an entertainment app like Netflix, most smartphone users rely on at least one app daily. In fact, smartphones come pre-loaded with many apps on them already.

What are the benefits of a business developing an app?

Today’s world has become fast-paced with customers seeking out and relying on instantaneous information. A recent analysis by eMarketer shows that people spend more time on their mobile devices than they do watching TV. As a business owner, it’s vital that you are where your customers are.

Allowing customers to interact with your company from their mobile devices is now practically mandatory. By existing on the phones of your customers and prospects, you can quickly build brand loyalty and distance yourself from your competition. Building an app allows customers to do this in a more comfortable and natural manner. The easier it is for a customer to interact with you, obtain information and complete a sale, the more business you will generate.

Apps can streamline the sales process by making ordering faster and more timely. As a result, orders can increase in frequency and size.

So, how can you determine if you need an app? There’s no hard and fast rule. You want to make sure that you deliver value to customers. You also want to make sure that customers use the app continually, as opposed to using it once and then deleting it. Otherwise, you’ll have wasted your funds building an app for no reason. When deciding whether you need an app, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your website work well on mobile? If your site is optimized for mobile phones, an app may not make a big difference.
  • What problem will the app solve? How can customers use the app to their advantage?
  • Do your competitors have apps?
  • Does your business rely on repeat customers? If so, an app can make it easier to retain customer information, which streamlines the ordering process.
  • Do you generate a lot of content for marketing? If so, you may find that it’s easier to share this information over an app.

If you decide that an app is right for your company, you’ll need to heavily focus your attention on app development. You should work with your app developer or development team to establish goals. You should be concerned with the user experience, creating something that is easy to use and allows you to connect with your customer base.

What elements of app design are most important?

A successful app is one that can help your business solve a problem. Examples of issues that great apps address include:

  • Allowing users to accomplish more in less time
  • Reducing waste
  • Using resources more efficiently
  • Presenting a professional image
  • Promoting better or more accessible customer service

When designing your own app, you should try to figure out what problems your customers face and how an app can solve them. If your development team can answer and address those questions, you’ll find that your app will pay for itself over time.

How much can you expect to pay to develop an app?

Figuring out how much your app is going to cost is a bit tricky. A simple app can cost anywhere from $3,000-$5,000. The cost increases from there as you add new features. This may seem steep, but remember that an app that solves a problem for customers should quickly pay for itself.

You’re also going to have to pay for app maintenance. Most of the app development cost is on the front-end, but you’ll want to have some money set aside for when things go wrong. Some developers will include maintenance in their package, while others will charge you an hourly rate whenever you need maintenance.

Technology is not perfect, and it’s a near certainty that, at some point, you’ll find a bug in your code that needs addressing. Apple and Google also continually update their iOS and Android software. When a smartphone user installs a new update, you may need to address your app’s programming language to ensure it’s compatible with the latest iOS or Android software.

Similarly, you’re going to need to pay more to have an app that’s compatible with both types of software. The iOS programming language is different from the Android language. A developer is going to need to create an entire second app if you wish to exist on both platforms.

One way around this is to consider a web app instead of a native app. A high-quality web app design should allow your app to run on various types of hardware and software, including phones, tablets and laptops. Native apps cost more and typically have a smoother user interface, but if you’re on a limited budget and are looking to dip your feet into the water, a web app could be a great place to start.

Customers download a native app from their respective app store, but a web app opens automatically from the web browser. Web apps are a little easier to maintain, especially across platforms. You’ll also find that web apps work better on older mobile devices. However, their capabilities may be more limited than native apps.

The first stage of the app development process should be determining your budget. Communicate this to your app builder, who should be able to provide you with some mockups based on your proposed budget. This will give you a better idea of what you can expect for your money. Your developer should also outline how much additional app features will cost.

You should ask your developer about ways to offset costs. You’ll need to pay for the app upfront, but there are ways to recoup your investment. For instance, you can charge customers to download your app. You could also have pop-up ads in the app. Both of these may turn customers off, but it may be necessary for a small business with limited funds.

What can you do to make your app stand out?

The most critical thing to remember during the design process is that you want to make the app relevant to users. Smartphone users may have dozens of apps on their phone, and it’s easy for yours to get lost in the shuffle. You should create something that customers will want to use and consider one of their favorite tools.

Can you measure an app’s return on investment?

Your return on investment (ROI) depends on what your app provides. Sometimes, ROI may be quantifiable, such as instances where it reduces the time needed to operate by 15% or cuts waste by 20%. If you provide an e-commerce platform where customers can make in-app purchases, it’s easy to track whether your sales increase.

If your app is more marketing or information-based, measuring ROI could be more challenging. But there’s something to be said for building brand loyalty and awareness. You should not overlook that when developing your app.

How can you promote an app after development?

Your business website and social media channels are two of the best and easiest ways to promote an app. You may want to use best search practices, like search engine optimization, to help people find your app. This is especially the case if you design a native app that is only available in the Apple or Android app stores.

You can also raise awareness about your app by sending email blasts and having your sales team promote it.

Other things to keep in mind when crafting your app idea

If you’re working with a limited budget, a web app could be your best option to help streamline your website. For instance, you may have web ordering available on your online site. But if a customer pulls your site up on his or her mobile device and the e-commerce feature doesn’t translate well, you could be missing out on sales because customers can’t easily order from their phones.

Amazon is an excellent example of the fact that customers seek convenience when shopping online. They can find numerous buying options in one place, accomplishing all of their shopping needs in as little as one click. Small business owners who sell goods should remember this. A simple web app could go a long way toward boosting sales figures. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy — just something that takes all of your websites’ features mobile, making it easier than ever for customers to shop and order goods.

How to develop an app

Are you ready to make your app idea a reality? We’ve already outlined some of the basic steps that you need to take first, like setting your budget.

Once you have your budget in place, you should create an outline of what you want the app to do. Unless you have hands-on experience using coding languages like Swift and Javascript, you’re going to need to hire a developer. Your developer won’t know anything about your business, so you’ll need to communicate effectively.

You’ll want to find an experienced app developer with a proven track record. A high-quality app is worth the investment. You can find freelancer developers on sites like Upwork or utilize a development agency like Surge Forward.

You should work with your developer in the planning stages to communicate what you’re looking for. A good developer will ask questions that demonstrate they understand the problem you’re looking to solve and your goal for the project.

You should also try to see a prototype of your app before it’s finished. It’s easier to make adjustments on the front-end before the code is complete. You can expect your app development to take a few weeks.

Is an app right for you?

If you’re a small business owner, you may be wondering whether it’s worth it to develop an app. Mobile apps can be costly endeavors. But if you design them well and offer value to your customers, they will quickly pay for themselves.

The critical thing to remember is to do your homework before you get started. Use your financial software to manage your budget and project your future cash flows to ensure you can handle both the front-end and back-end design costs. Work with your app development team to get mockups, ensuring that your app will run smoothly and deliver value to customers. If done correctly, you’ll have new customers downloading your app and appreciating your brand in no time!

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Suzanne has been a full-time freelance writer for 20 years. She’s written for numerous business and financial publications such as Entrepreneur, Reason Magazine, Home Business Magazine, and Money Crashers. Read more