Mobile apps used to be for Fortune 500 businesses with large budgets, but not anymore. Small companies can now create their own apps at very low cost.
Think you don’t need one? Consider this: Global smartphone shipments are expected to increase 26 percent to more than 800 million units in 2013. That’s at least 800 million reasons to make mobile a larger part of your advertising and outreach efforts.
Here are four services — both free and fee-based — for creating a mobile app. (Keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for with free services.) All four allow you to create apps for the iOS and Android platforms, which together comprise more than 85 percent of the smartphone market.
1. AppMakr — You may not know how to program software, and that’s OK. AppMakr helps you build a simple app for free. You can include push notifications, your Twitter updates or RSS feed, and a customized icon. However, you’ll also have to host advertisements placed by the company. Tip: Upgrade to the $79 per month premium service to create an ad-free app.
2. Conduit — Conduit allows for easy social media integration, user reviews, e-commerce options, and analytics to track your app’s reach. It But be warned: The free option only permits 25 downloads of your app. For $29 per month, you can offer it to up to 5,000 people. Along with support for the IPhone and Android platforms, Conduit allows users to create Windows Phone apps as well.
3. Bizness Apps — If you want to make your mobile presence look more professional, you’ll have to pay. For $59 per month, Bizness Apps lets you build an app and a mobile website. You can choose among customer-loyalty features, opt for integration with business services, and create a more customized look that doesn’t scream, “I made this for free!” What’s more, Bizness Apps allows an unlimited number of users/downloads and you can try it out for free before committing to the monthly plan.
4. Mobile Roadie — For $99 per month, Mobile Roadie lets you create a mobile website and an app. Its features are similar to other paid services with various options for promoting yourself, conducting e-commerce, gathering usage data, and integrating with other platforms (such as Instagram, Foursquare, and Vimeo). Like Bizness Apps, Mobile Roadie offers a free trial that allows you to evaluate the platform to see whether the higher monthly fee would be money well spent for your business.
Another Option: Hire a Programmer
Although they’re relatively cheap and convenient, these platforms will only go so far when it comes to creating a customized app for your small business. The most professional solution is to hire somebody to build one specifically for you.
As with most technology services, the price has come down drastically as more programmers have entered the marketplace. You can hire freelancers to build custom apps for $1,000 to $2,000, depending on your needs. Be sure to ask for references (and check them) — and put your agreement in writing.
Lastly, in order to publish to the Apple App Store, you must create a developer account with Apple, which costs $99 per year. Publishing an app on Google Play, the Android equivalent of the App Store, costs only $25, but each publisher has specific requirements before it will publish your app. (The four platforms noted above offer varying degrees of help with the publishing process.)