Let the prediction be known: 2011 will be the Year of the Mobile App. So says digital-development firm The Click Agency.
But why wait till 2011? In recent years, the market for smartphone applications became more accessible for business of all sizes, and now more and more entrepreneurs are wondering, “How can I build one for my business?”
BusinessNewsDaily assembled a team of experts to explain how to do it yourself or hire a developer to cash in on this growing mobile craze, one that’s reminiscent of the time when all businesses – even if skeptically – rushed to build websites for their companies.
“The fact that you can have a presence in a person’s pocket at all times is a powerful thing,” said Andrew Gazdecki, CEO of Bizness Apps, a website that lets entrepreneurs build applications.
“Mobile applications are unique because the consumer chooses to download them and is therefore acknowledging that they have an interest in your products or services.”
Use a do-it-yourself website
Bizness Apps is one of several online outlets helping entrepreneurs see their app ideas go from the drawing board into consumers’ hands.
Web services allow businesses to create, host, market and maintain applications at prices cheaper than consultants’ hourly fees, which often run in the hundreds of dollars, and firms’ rates, which soar into the thousands. Bizness Apps, for example, charges $39 per month to produce and maintain Apple iPhone apps.
Executives of some websites said building an app can take as little as 30 minutes.
“It boils down to picking functions that align with your goal for mobile engagement,” Gazdecki said. “Once you begin to see how your customers interact with the app, you can begin picking up on which tools are best for you.”
Magaly Chocano, founder of app creator SwebApps, said the creation process should begin with entrepreneurs defining their goals. Businesses need to ask themselves whether the app will be an extension of a product or a tool for their consumers to stay connected, she said.
“Once the business determines the level of complexity they are seeking, then you can decide whether a build-your-own platform suffices or if you need to have a custom app built,” Chocano said. SwebApps’ basic service costs $29 per month, with a one-time development fee of $399, for iPhone and Verizon Android.
Do-it-yourself websites provide extensive step-by-step tutorials to guide entrepreneurs, who need only to sign up for an account and pay the service fees to get started. Once they sign up on one of these sites, businesses create tabs by choosing icons, naming those icons and assigning the icons’ functions.
The majority of business apps are created to add convenience to customers’ lives. For example, Lifeshield – one of SwebApps’ clients – launched its app in September for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry users. According to BusinessNewsDaily's sister site SecurityNewsDaily, the app lets customers “monitor and activate their wireless home or office security network with the push of a button, from anywhere in the world. … The LifeShield app is designed to give users the same peace of mind without tying them to a desk.”
Other websites that businesses can use to build an app include Google’s App Inventor, AppMakr, BuildAnApp, Shout’Em and Socialight.
“The do-it-yourself process is a great way to enter the mobile space,” Chocano said. “It allows you to take a peek at what you can do without too much expense. As Time magazine's article said about (SwebApps and Mobile Roadie), we have democratized the app-building process for the small business.”
Hire a developer
Businesses sometimes contract out the duties of creating an application to consultants or firms in order to save time and money.
“Some things are just better outsourced, especially if a deadline is crucial,” said mobile consultant Vincent Hesener of development firm Lucid Vapor, which is offering a two-day training course in December to businesses that want to teach an in-house employee how to build an app.
“It may appear more expensive to hire an outside firm, but if the risk of hiccups along the way are minimized by an experienced development firm, it may end up being cheaper,” Hesener said.
Hesener recommends businesses follow these steps if they want to hire a developer:
- Ask for references: Contact clients of the developer. If the firm is fairly new and looking for a shot to prove itself, expect a premium for the risk.
- Set up a progressive payment plan: These are milestones that are created, with payments awarded after the completion of each. A development firm will have no problem providing quality work in exchange for incremental payments. This protects both parties.
- Request source coding: Find out if the source code will be available after completion of the project. This will allow you to hire another firm to finish or make changes, should the relationship not go according to plan.
- Inquire about support options: A development firm can potentially hold you hostage by charging astronomical fees to fix bugs or make upgrades. It's more than likely that you will have to go back and make changes to your mobile app after it is complete. Try to come up with a support plan (maybe an hourly rate) to make additional changes, or obtain the source code so that you can outsource the support to someone else.
Types of applications
People are most familiar with business-to-customer applications, such as apps that are mobile versions of companies’ websites, apps that influence interaction between a business and customers, or fun apps that draw attention to a business's brand.
“A mobile application is not a scattered marketing ploy,” Gazdecki said. “It's rather a platform that allows a business owner to cultivate existing relationships and turn regular customers into brand advocates.”
However, some apps are built solely for internal use among a business's employees. Hesener said businesses can create dashboard apps that let executives see company health data while they are traveling, point-of-sale apps for salespeople to use to see where purchases are made, and productivity apps such as bar code readers and real-time inventory updates.
“Either way, the ultimate goal should be to obtain a return on investment,” Hesener said. “There are almost as many reasons to create a mobile app as there are companies.”
Reach BusinessNewsDaily staff writer Brian Anthony Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter (@BAHjournalist) and become his friend on Facebook (BAH Journalist) to interact or stay updated on news about small businesses.