Developing a mobile app in the digital age is an essential part of keeping your business relevant and competitive. Apps provide functionality and accessibility that revolutionise the consumer experience, with the potential to completely transform the way you do business.
Not to mention, 85% of people prefer using an app over a website.
Developed properly, an app can generate untapped profits and interest increase in your brand. It can also improve your ability to add value to consumers, boost loyalty and help you market yourself better.
The keyword here is “properly”.
By following the correct steps, any company — great or small — can develop a business app that provides benefit and value to their operation. However, failure to maintain good practices on the road to launch can result in an ineffective piece of software.
Identify the Problem Your App Will Solve
Why are you building an app? What is the issue you are trying to overcome?
Identifying the catalyst for its creation is the only way you can effectively solve the problem.
Creating an app for the purpose of creating an app means that your development lacks focus. If you don’t have a focus, a plan for what your app should be doing, the rest of these steps will be a challenge.
Your reason doesn’t need to be some deep and complex thing. You may want to use your app to convert existing customers into repeat buyers, or you may just want to make it easier for them to order products.
Whatever the reason or reasons, identify it/them.
Perform Market Research
So you know what you want from your app, but what do your customers want?
Do your research and find out.
Send out surveys and talk to consumers directly. Ask what they’d like to see or find useful in a business app from your company. The answers might surprise you
As a retailer, for example, you may believe people want an easy way of buying, but you might find that a contact system or order tracking service is what your customers are really craving.
Building an app is all about adding depth to your business and providing a service that benefits your customers in a way they don’t currently have access to. Knowing what they want is absolutely essential.
Consider Features and Functionality to Include (and Exclude)
Once you’ve settled upon what goals you need to accomplish, you can start to look at what app features and functionality to include. Common inclusions in business apps are:
- Booking and reservations
- Online ordering
- Contact forms
- Social media integration
- Videos and visual media
- Loyalty programs
- QR and code scanners
- Push notifications
- RSS feeds
- File uploads
What is important to note is that exclusions are just as important as inclusions when it comes to app features. You want to make sure the app has the functionality it needs, but going overboard can be detrimental to development.
Opting to include unnecessary features will result in three things:
- They will draw your users away from the elements of the app you actually want them using
- They will clutter up your app, making it more difficult to use and navigate
- They will cost you extra money to install and maintain
For example, if you run a hair salon business, you want to be directing people to your reservations feature. Throwing in an RSS feed is just going to distract customers and clutter your interface.
Be thoughtful and restrained when deciding on how your business app should function.
Sketch Out Design and Branding
For a business app to be successfully integrated as part of your company, it must act and look the part.
For many, your app will become the front line of their interaction with your business — perhaps their only interaction. It has to look good, it has to be easy to use and it has to mimic your branding and business identity.
Get your ideas down on paper, don’t just let them swim around in your head. Why?
You wouldn’t expect a builder to build your house without plans, so don’t expect an app development team to do the same. Sure, you can describe an idea to them, but that idea is subjective and open to interpretation.
It can be time-consuming, but having some basic visuals to convey exactly what you want your app to look like will ensure what is in your head ends up on screen. Consider using a wireframing tool like Balsamiq when designing your app. This very useful piece of software allows you to quickly draw basic screen layouts, creating clear demonstrations of your vision for the app.
Consider the designing and branding of your app just as important as your website. Invest time into getting things right. Don’t just make it functional; make it a part of your company’s complete package.
Develop Your App
Once you’ve mapped out the elements that need to go into your business app, it’s time to build it.
It is advisable to hire a developer for this process. Creating an app requires complex coding knowledge and advanced software. Building one yourself may seem like it could save some money, but it could actually incur much higher costs (beyond that of paying for a third party to create it for you), due to increased time input, training costs and the potential for errors.
At this time, it is crucial you carefully oversee development, making sure all your desired elements are being included as needed. Going back and having to adjust the app at a later stage, when features and elements should have been included initially, will create delays and extra costs.
During the development stage, it is also worth investing in building the app across all three major operating systems now — iOS, Android and HTML5. While you may consider just building the app on one operating system to see how it is received, it is far easier to build an app that works across multiple platforms during initial development than it is to return later and migrate across.
Test, Acquire Feedback and Fine Tune
Hurray, your app is built! Time to get it on the marketplace and soak up the rewards.
Of course not.
Like any product or service a business develops, your app needs to be fine tuned to ensure it is fit for purpose. At this stage of the project, it is important to break the review process into separate subtasks, so you cover all the bases.
- Test it yourself: Run through how you expect it to work. Place orders, send messages, open notifications. Pretend you’re a customer.
- Have consumers test it: Pretending you’re a customer doesn’t make you an actual customer. Customers might be thinking differently to you. They might find flaws you never could. Ask your best customers to test a beta version of your software. Offer rewards, such as discounts or deals, for their help.
- Gather feedback: Get anyone and everyone you can to test your business app; customers, colleagues, friends, your bus driver. Find out what people really think of how it works — what the love and what they hate.
Using this data, you can return to the development stage and fine tune your app. The result should be a much better, more valuable app. Repeat this step as many times as you feel is reasonable to ensure you are confident in the app.
An app that isn’t fit for the purpose, one full of bugs or lacking the appropriate functionality, isn’t going to be received well and, therefore, is going to be a hindrance to your business.
Release Your App
Once your app is ready, it’s time to take the plunge and release it into the world.
There is little to this process other than registering and following the necessary protocol desired by the major app stores. Be sure to get your app in is as many places as possible, including the Apple, Android, Windows and Amazon app stores.
Market, Market, Market
There are one million apps on the Apple App Store alone. This means visibility is tough.
Of course, you have your niche and you have your branding, but most of this doesn’t matter if nobody knows your app is out there to find.
Market your app’s release. Take advantage of press releases, put out adverts, include details in any promotional and branding material you hand out — say restaurant menus, brochures or business cards — and simply tell your customers you’ve launched an app.
Get the word out.
But don’t just promote your app at launch.
As time goes by, continue to make sure that your app is a part of your marketing strategy. Make sure all customers and potential customers know it’s out there.
Don’t Forget About It
Just because the project is finished, doesn’t mean you should just forget about your app.
Using the analytics gained from recording app usage, you can make adjustments to increase the benefits of having it on the marketplace. For example, if after six months you find a feature is hardly used, you can either make it more prominent or remove it to streamline the app, depending on your goals.
Over time, as your business develops, you may also introduce new products and services. In this circumstance, make sure they are as accessible on your app as anything that was prior to its launch.
An app is a business tool, but tools can get rusty. Keep refining it and making it better, and you’ll ensure it always serves the needs of your business.
Nicole Reddie is an business app development specialist. Co-founder of Apps4U, builders of affordable, high-quality mobile apps designed specifically for SMEs on a budget, Nicole knows everything there is to know about the app development process.