Building a Mobile App for Your Small Business

by Rochelle Bailis

3 min read

More businesses are finding benefit to having a mobile app for smart phone users. Are you one of them? Here’s your how-to guide for getting started.

Assuming you’ve done your homework and determined that your small business would benefit from a mobile phone application, let’s look at the actual planning, execution and implementation process.

Start With an Idea

You probably have a few ideas about what kind of app you want. Keep in mind that it should be functional, useful or amusing. Don’t waste your time developing an app that might get attention for a day, then gather dust in the corners of the iTunes store. Here are some notoriously unsuccessful types of apps:

  • Store Locators: People now use Google Maps to find any type of store, so developing an app to find yours is redundant.
  • Novelty Apps: Popping bubbles, simulating a lighter, or making ugly noises. They’re cute for about a minute, then people forget about them.
  • Poorly Designed Apps: Some apps simply are difficult to use or figure out their purposes. Better to have no app than one of these.

Make sure the idea for your app jibes with your company’s voice and mission. If you’re PETA, you shouldn’t have a “shoot the puppy app.” Remember that the purpose of an app isn’t to sell your product but rather brand your business and introduce it to new people in a mobile format.

What to Look for in an App Designer

Assuming you don’t design your own app, you’ll need to find a mobile app designer who has experience in the type of app you want. Ask for referrals offline and through your social media contacts first, then begin a search for an app designer.

If you want a game, don’t hire a designer who creates productivity apps. Look at the design firm’s portfolio online (which they should have, readily available) to find a company that’s created apps like what you want, or at least for your industry.

Interview several firms or independent designers, and make sure to find out:

  • What the design process is
  • How involved you will need to be
  • How many employees they will have on your project
  • What the expected turnaround is
  • How much it will cost
  • Any possible additional fees

Some designers charge a fixed-price fee, while others use an hourly model. Determine which is a better fit, and if it’s the fixed-price, find out what is included. There may be additional fees for changes you request.

Before you hire a firm, spend more time researching its reputation. See if you can find any reviews online, or any other mention of their services. If not, ask to speak to former clients of the firm. Ask them about their experiences and whether expectations were met.

There are mobile app designers located overseas, especially in India. Using an overseas designer can save you a bundle, but you may find that the language barrier (accent) and time difference make it difficult to communicate.

A Word on Platforms

Sometimes companies focus on a single mobile phone platform to save money. But with the mobile market so segmented among iPhone, Android, Blackberry and new up-and-comers, it’s necessary to create apps across all platforms. And keep in mind that the tablet market, especially the iPad, is opening up to apps too, so you may need to include that in your list.

Typically tweaking an app to work on these different platforms isn’t a major undertaking for a skilled designer, but ask for it up front to bring down the costs. If your chosen designer doesn’t offer services for all phone platforms, find one that does, as this is a normal skill requirement for designers.

Getting in the Stores

Your app must be approved by each of the mobile application stores, including iTunes, Android Market and Blackberry’s App World, before it will be hosted there for people to download. Each store has its own requirements for apps, but your designer should be able to meet those specifications and help you get it in the store.

Once it’s there, you need to market the app so that people download it. Share a link to each store via social media, your website, your blog and email newsletters. Encourage reviews of the app, which will bring more people to download it.

Your app will remain in the marketplace for the foreseeable future, so don’t neglect it. Pay attention to reviews that mention bugs, and make sure the designer makes corrections to the app. Hire a developer for a day to fix any bugs, and release new versions so that there are always new features for users to enjoy.

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