Tech & Tools

Does Your Business Need Its Own Mobile App?

By Stephanie Taylor Christensen

You use mobile apps. So do your customers, and your staff. It’s only logical that your business could benefit from its own mobile app, too.

Or is it?

Here are a few critical questions to consider before you decide that developing a native mobile app is the right tactic for your business goals.

How will you stand out? The data behind consumer interest in apps presents a compelling case for offering a mobile app: Geekwire reports that app use accounts for the majority of the 2 ½ hours a day consumers spend on their smartphones. Mobile users over the age of 18 used apps 65% more in 2014 than they did just two years prior, according to Nielsen.

Though there’s clearly an audience for apps, businesses of all sizes have already taken notice: There are more than two million apps available on the iTunes app store alone. Though a crowded app marketplace doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity to benefit from a mobile app, it does demand that you have a clear understanding of how to make an app your customers perceive as unique and compelling enough to download, and use repeatedly.

What do you want to get out of your app? Before you invest in the creation of an app or determine its features, identify your ultimate intent for it, based on business objectives: How will it contribute to your business? How will you measure whether it’s working to achieve those goals? If it’s not well-received, how can you adjust your strategy swiftly to recoup losses? If it proves popular, how will you sustain the momentum?

Whether you want your app to help cultivate customer loyalty, increase engagement and awareness of your brand, or serve as a tool to promote your products, understanding what you want from your app will help you determine whether an app is the ideal tool to help you meet your goals. If it appears to be, these questions can also help you stay focused when it comes time to determine the features the app needs to meet your objectives.

What features does your app need? There’s plenty of room for creativity when you design a native app for your business, but the app must include features that are relevant to your customer, and functional to their mobile devices and lifestyle(s). Whether you use your app to give customers a means to save money, find inspiration, stay informed, or be entertained, identify the “hook” that will cultivate lasting user relationships, and encourage consistent use. (Remember that these “sticky” services may require continuous development work, and marketing initiatives to promote new app features).

What are you willing to invest? Though there plenty of low cost developers that may be able to create a basic app for a few thousand dollars, software architect Jeff Weinberger of Ground Up Logic says small business owners who want to use their app to drive business goals should be prepared to invest at least $15,000. (In addition to the fact that you may need a developer to address real-time usability issues, there are several types of devices, platforms and operating systems your app will need to accommodate). Weinberger says a simple app will likely take two to three months to develop from start to finish; a complex one could take six months or longer to develop.

To keep costs down, app developer and founder of CallTools.com Taylor Murray recommends that all small business owners test the basic features of the app with a select user group to fine tune the app’s design and strategy before you begin development. (If your app isn’t particularly innovative or sophisticated, he says an inexpensive tool like MyAppTemplates.com can also save hundreds of hours on development work).

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