How many times have you thought, "that's a great idea for an app"? You're not alone. Thinking of cool and clever app ideas has become a parlor game of sorts. Just about everyone's got an idea for a least a few apps they're sure would be huge.
The problem, of course, is that few of us ever put our app ideas into action. Still, it doesn't stop us from dreaming. The appeal of coming up with ideas for new apps isn't that hard to understand. Unlike a "system" or a "program," an app conjures up an image of a tidy little solution to any number of life's irritating little problems.
Need to lose weight? There's an app for that. Going bird-watching? Download the app. Don't have room for a Maglite in your purse? No problem. Get the flashlight app.
That's the thing about apps … they quench our desire for instant gratification. With apps, you don't have to figure out which part of the product solves your particular problem. Each app solves only one problem. If it didn't solve yours, you wouldn't buy it. And that's the other thing about apps, of course — they're cheap.
It's no wonder everyone wants to get into the app business. They are the like shiny little pieces of digital candy just waiting for you to snatch them up in the mobile checkout line. "Go ahead, it only costs a dollar," you say to yourself.
For entrepreneurs, the popularity of apps offers unique insight in the way customers think. Why do people buy so darn many of them? Because people have problems and apps offer solutions.
Can the same be said of your business? Can you say in just one sentence what problem your business solves for your customers? How easily can customers figure it out for themselves if you're not there to tell them?
Is your business message as clean and simple as that of an app? If not, you may need to rethink your business plan or your marketing message. In this age of niche marketing, customers have the ability to get exactly what they want. They don't need to pay for something that approximates a solution to their problem. The digital age has presented them with myriad opportunities to find the real thing.
Apps are Chris Anderson's "long tail" concept coming home to roost – in our pockets. The ability to find exactly what you need is just a finger stroke away. Your every wish is your smartphone's command. There's no need to pay for what you don't want, when you can only pay for what you do.
And therein lies the challenge for all business owners. In an age when people are used to getting exactly what they want, your company has to figure out a way to deliver it. For starters, you have to start listening to your customers. It's no longer your job to tell them how your business works. It's your job to listen to how they want it to work and adapt.
It's no longer about just customer service, but customer customization. If you want to survive in the age of the app, you've got to be willing to be whatever it is your customer needs you to be.
If you're used to offering products or services as packages, you may need to consider breaking them apart and providing whatever itemized products your customers want.
If your business isn't currently structured to allow you to do that, you may need to rethink the very core of your operation. And, here's the good news for entrepreneurs. Small companies and startups are still young and flexible enough to make changes quickly. While bigger companies are busy having meetings to assess the feasibility of changing, you'll have already done it.
That's because, like apps, small businesses are used to solving problems – one customer at a time. In the age of instant gratification, you'll be particularly well-suited to changing with customer demand. (Maybe there's an app for that?)
Jeanette Mulvey has been the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily since its debut in 2010. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.