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, easier. But is this a smart move for small-business owners? We spoke to Tom Droste, president of Logical Engine, to find out what’s required to create a mobile app and how they can benefit small businesses.
Small Business Center: Just how prevalent are mobile apps in the lives of American consumers today?
Tom Droste: It’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t have a smartphone with at least one app that they rely on every single day. Most people are using at least three to four apps daily.
What key benefits do small businesses gain when they offer mobile apps?
Being where your customers are is critical, and a recent analysis by Flurry shows that people spend more time on their mobile devices than they do watching TV. Allowing customers and prospects to interact with your company from mobile devices is now mandatory. Having your company live on your customer’s phones and engaging your customers with Push and SMS technology can quickly distance you from your competition and build loyalty. The easier it is to interact, the more business you will generate. Apps can increase order frequency and size by making ordering faster and more timely, increase user engagement and build loyalty, and help customers get more out of your products or services by providing relevant information on their devices. In short, just having an app is no longer enough. It’s really important to establish your goals with your app developer to ensure that your app connects with your users and provides you a competitive advantage.
What are the most important areas to pay attention to in an app design?
The key is to focus on solving a business problem. Apps that can solve business problems by allowing users to accomplish more in less time, use resources more efficiently, reduce waste, and present a more professional image to prospects and customers through better customer service will pay for themselves many times over. An owner should create an outline of what the app should do, based on their knowledge of the business.
To achieve the best results, you need to find a developer that has a proven track record and really listens to what you want. They should ask you for samples of how you currently do things. They should ask questions about your needs that demonstrate they understand your problems and goals. And if you can see a prototype of what your app will look like before it’s finalized, it will help to address additional requirements in the most cost-effective way.
Apps are everywhere. What can a business owner do to ensure that theirs doesn’t get lost in the crowd?
Most importantly, it has to be relevant to the users. The way to ensure that it doesn’t get lost in a customer’s app stack is to make sure that it truly provides value to them every day. If a customer thinks of the app as their favorite tool it won’t get lost in the shuffle.
How much does it cost to develop an app?
That’s a very difficult question because it really depends upon the type and nature of the application. A relatively simple app costs between $3,000 and $5,000. Complex apps could cost considerably more. It’s critical to get an estimate from the developer before committing. A good developer should be able to give you a ballpark figure after meeting with you for one to two hours. The cost of developing an app is why it’s so critical to ensure that the app is going to solve a real business problem.
Will it cost extra if a business owner wants an app that works on more than one mobile platform?
Yes, in almost all cases. If you really need the app to operate on different platforms, such as iOS and Android, you may want to consider a web app instead of a native app. This approach allows your app to work on desktops as well as phones and tablets, if it’s designed properly. Make sure to tell your developer you want a “mobile first” app design. If they don’t know what that means, find another developer.
What is the average return on investment for a small business app?
That is really dependent upon what the app does. If the cost of creating the app is recovered in one year or less, then it’s probably a good investment. It’s easy to calculate that if, for example, the app can reduce the time required to perform an operation by 20 percent, or reduce material waste by 15 percent. It’s more difficult if the app is marketing oriented. But even a marketing app’s ROI can be calculated if the app is going to reduce some other marketing expense.
Once an external app is developed, how can a small-business owner best promote it to current and prospective customers?
The best way to promote an app is on a website. If it’s a native app, which can only be downloaded from the appropriate app store, then it’s important to research the keywords you’ll use before you place it in the app store. You can also do an email blast to customer lists, or have the sales force promote it. Depending on the nature of the app, you may also want to create a short video to promote it, and then put that on your website and YouTube.
How often should business owners update their mobile apps?
Again this really depends upon the type of app. If the app is content oriented, you’ll need to update it on a regular basis, otherwise you shouldn’t bother creating it. For other types of apps, you’ll likely have to update it at least once a year to keep up with platform changes from Apple and Android.
Are there any business models that are not well-suited for mobile apps?
Any business that can’t identify the business problem that the app is going to solve for them is not well-suited to a mobile app.
What else should business owners consider when thinking about developing an app?
It’s important to understand that there are also web app options that effectively bring things that you may already have to the mobile platform. One example is ordering. Many small distributors have simple ordering solutions on their websites that are impossible to use on a mobile device. I believe there are opportunities there that they need to address before their competition does. That’s why so many people buy from Amazon — they have made it so simple to do business with them. It’s just as critical for small-business owners to be easy to do business with.
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