The rise of smartphones has changed the way consumers shop. They no longer need to visit brick-and-mortar stores to purchase goods or services. Instead they can browse through their phones, pick out items from their favorite retailers, and complete transactions without leaving home.
Mobile apps are becoming an essential part of every business’ marketing strategy. In fact, according to Statista, over 80% of smartphone owners use their devices to access the Internet. This means that businesses that don’t have a mobile presence are missing out on potential customers.
In this article, we explore the basics of developing a mobile app for small business. We discuss the cost, the benefits (read: value), and the best steps to take when building your business’s first mobile app.
Mobile apps are very useful tools for virtually any business. They help reduce waiting times, engage users with push notifications, provide personalized experiences for customers, and respond quickly to customer needs.
Apps put you in direct contact with your customer, even from halfway around the world. Apps can allow you to reach customers that you would never connect with in person. They also allow your customers to shop and research online, so they are more prepared to buy in person.
Apps can also be a marketing tool, as many consumers discover new products and services by searching app stores. App Store Optimization (ASO) makes your app more visible by optimizing your app for app store searches.
Social platforms are great ways to connect with your customers and create a community around your brand. Engagement and value are key aspects of social platforms, and these can be woven into your business app. Your app should be engaging enough to encourage users to stay longer and provide more value than competitors.
App developers focus on creating apps that help people do things better. Apps that make life easier are most likely to be successful. This is likely do no different than the purpose of your business – to make your customers’ lives easier.
There are three key aspects of implementing an app for your small business:
Designing the app
Developing the app
Marketing the app
In each of the above steps, you need to keep one key in mind: integrating the app into the business. Your app should complement your business and make it easier to be your customer. It should not complicate your business.
Your app should be useful. You should know what your users want before you start developing your app. You may also consider why you need an app. Do you need an app to help your customers accomplish something or do you need an app to make sales?
A small business application should include features like informing customers about your service, making payments easy for them, creating a catalogue of products and services, creating two-way communication with your audience, etc.
Keep it simple and relevant
People won’t use an app if it doesn’t give them something new or better than what they’re used to. No friction means that users must be happy with the experience. Apps should be easy to use and provide value.
Apps are not everything, and they’re certainly not guaranteed to skyrocket your business performance. You should focus on what makes your customers choose you over other companies. Your customers want an easy-to-use app that serves a purpose. They like simple interfaces, and they don’t want too much complexity.
Apps cost money and time to create. Building faster doesn’t necessarily mean costing more, however. There are many factors that go into the cost of developing an app. You can read more about that here.
Many small business owners who come to developers with ideas about developing an app often don’t have a clear picture of what they need. This makes it difficult to take advantage of mobile opportunities. A coherent strategy helps make sure that you’re making the most out of your app.
Pro Tip: Research what your competitors are doing. Try out their apps, see what features they offer, identify what you like and don’t like about it. Read reviews of their apps to see what their users compliment or criticize.
Focus on UX
Mobile app user interface (UI) design is arguably the most important part of any mobile application. User experience (UX) should also be taken into consideration when designing mobile applications. Put simply, UI is the “look” of the app, while UX is the “feel”.
Mobile apps are different than websites because they are designed to be used by people on the go, and on a smaller screen. Websites are generally designed to be viewed on computers. Mobile apps should be faster and simpler to use than websites. Apps can be better for businesses than websites because they allow users to pay online, get updates, and share information easily and from anywhere.
Planning your app
You need to make sure that you have a clear idea about what your app should do before you begin developing it. Brainstorming helps you come up with ideas. Your development team needs to have a clear understanding of how the app will work, whether that’s an internal team or a mobile app development company.
There are several considerations to plan:
Should the app be for iPhone (iOS), Android, or both?
Does the app need to be published to the app stores, or would a web app suffice?
What features are most important, and which can be held back for a later release?
Will customers be able to make purchases in the app?
Will the app use location services?
What kind of customer engagement should be included – live chat/messaging, contact form, email, push notifications?
Does the app need to be updated frequently with time-sensitive deals, or can it be largely static?
Businesses need to consider how much money they’re willing to spend on an app before starting development. Features like push notifications, geolocation and map integration can be more complex to implement, so they should be considered early on in the process.
The more features you include in the app, the more expensive it is likely to be to develop (and the longer development is likely to take).
Study your customers… and your competitors
Before starting any project, make sure you know your audience. Know what they want, and how you can help them. As we mentioned previously, you should also consider your competitors’ products.
As with any marketing effort, communicating with your customers before you start building is important so that you don’t waste time and money building something no one wants.
Make sure your business app is in line with your branding
Small businesses should focus on building strong brands. Branding is important because it helps people trust you. Strong brands come from consistent branding across different platforms. Your apps should be designed to make sure that every part of your brand is consistent.
External experts can help you develop your company’s logo, slogan, and corporate identity. These elements of your brand will help distinguish your company from others.
For example, if you position yourself as a service-first company that’s not necessarily the lowest priced, you don’t want to focus on discounts and low prices in your app. Your customers should get the same impression of your company from your app that they get from your website and brick-and-mortar locations.
Choose MVP first
A minimum value product is an app that does something useful but simple. It offers the bare minimum functionality to achieve its goals. For example, if you’re a shop looking to offer products online, then a simple product listing and shopping cart/payment processing are the minimum needs. Don’t worry about bells and whistles to start.
MVPs are very simple apps that don’t require much time or effort to create. These apps can be used to test working hypotheses and get feedback from customers. Investors can be found by using MVPs. Otherwise, developers could waste years of time convincing themselves that a hypothesis is wrong before launching a more complex version of an app.
An MVP-first philosophy is a common and sensible strategy, but it doesn’t mean you should start building your product without any test cases or user stories. You need to make sure that your product at least achieves those minimal goals before you launch it.
Add the right features
What are some of the most basic features to consider for your initial MVP? Remember, your goal here is not to build the “perfect” app, but to build an app that benefits your customers and allows you to start gathering feedback.
Top features that you should add to your online business app
1. A login page including social login(s)
In order to provide a personalized experience for your customers, you will want to include a login page so you can gather basic information, such as their name and age. Providing an option for one or more social logins, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google, can make users feel more secure and make the login process much quicker.
2. About us page
The About Us page is where you can tell your customers who you are as a company and what you do. This page gives your customers insight into why your company does what it does and what makes your business unique.
3. Contact form and/or live messaging
If your customer service team is not able to respond to your customers immediately, they may become frustrated. Live messaging allows your customers to reach out to your support staff directly via text message, email, or phone call. Some customers may not want to engage immediately, so a contact form that you can respond to at a later time is also valuable.
4. Product and/or service listings
Whether your customers can purchase on the app or not, it still greatly benefits you to provide a detailed listing of all products and services that you offer. The more informed the customer is prior to connecting with you, the smoother the sales process will likely go once they engage.
5. Pricing page
Providing detailed pricing may not be possible, depending on your business model, but giving customers an idea of the cost of purchasing your products or hiring your service is important. Being too vague about pricing can be a turn off for customers that are leery of a bait-and-switch situation.
6. Shopping cart and checkout
If you offer the ability to make purchases through your app, then these are obviously necessary. There are a number of payment processors like Stripe that offer easy integration with a large number of app development platforms.
7. Scheduling page
For service-based businesses, providing a way for customer to book their service through your app can be hugely beneficial to them and to you as well. If customers can book without contacting your company, that frees up time and resources that would otherwise be spent on the phones handling booking and scheduling tasks.
As a addition to this item, if you do offer scheduling through the app, be sure you include a user dashboard where they can view and manage their appointments.
Cross-platform development such as with frameworks like Flutter, React Native, and Ionic, allow you to build your app for Android and iOS simultaneously.
2. Build with No-Code
No-code, or Codeless, app development requires less time and technical skill than building with code. No-code platforms often include pre-built components and plugins to implement common functionality easily without having to reinvent the wheel.
3. Select an app template
App templates, or App Blueprints, are pre-built apps that include a variety of functionality relevant to a particular business or website type. Even if you can’t find one that exactly matches your business needs, you will likely be able to discover one with many of the primary features that you can replicate or add-on to.
What is No-Code and should you be using it?
No-code tools allow people who know very little about coding to create fully functional apps. Advances in no-code technology have been tremendous in recent years, opening opportunities to build highly complex apps very quickly.
A quality no-code or low-code platform such as Backendless will give you virtually all of the capabilities of a fully coded app in a fraction of the time and cost.
Mobile apps are great for small businesses. They’re fast, easy to use, and provide more functionality than the web. However, there are other ways to get things done besides building a mobile app. You could also consider using a website instead.
A mobile responsive website or web app may well be enough for most businesses. An app might be the next logical step if your mobile traffic is decent. But if not, it might be time to consider a progressive web application.
Creating and launching your own mobile app requires some serious effort and resources. A website or web app that automatically adjusts to the screen size of the user can often accomplish the same thing as a mobile app but without having to jump through the hoops required to publish on the app store.
With a platform like Backendless, you can build responsive web apps without code that look great on mobile and desktop. You can then publish your app to Backendless Viewer, which enables users to access the app in a mobile native environment. If you then choose to publish to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, you can use the Flutter native shell to do just that – without making any substantive changes to the app.
App Marketing vs Email Marketing
Email marketing is an old and effective standby that still serves today. Your subscribers can unsubscribe at any time. When you have a mobile app, push notifications can be used as a more immediate version of this.
Push notifications are used to notify users about events or updates. They’re also used to remind users about something important. Studies show that users are much more likely to open a push notification from an app they downloaded than an email promotion from the same company.
Utilizing push notifications is a great way to get users to open your app instantly. You must, however, then provide a valuable interaction, which is why business apps should focus on user experience and engagement.
Other Marketing Mediums vs Benefits of Mobile App Marketing
People usually have around 27 apps installed. That means that your app is competing with millions of other apps for attention and recognition. But don’t be deterred! Just think about how many web pages you’re competing with online. This is just further reason to make sure you are providing a valuable and engaging experience in your app.
Building a mobile app is not necessarily a marketing strategy in of itself. Aside from app store optimization, as we discussed earlier, your app is best as a completement to other channels. For example, adding a link to download your app via your social media profiles and your website can get your users to make the plunge and hit that download button.
Once your app is installed on their device, you get the benefit of marketing via push notifications and maintaining engagement that can lead to more sales. App downloads are a sign of customer loyalty, and you can reward that loyalty with offers and benefits that non-app users miss out on.
Finding a reliable development partner
This can be easier said than done! Still, there are ways to increase your chances that when you choose an app development company, it will do everything possible to deliver a product that meets your specific needs. Checking testimonials first, then checking reviews on third party websites like Clutch. Interviewing managers yourself to ensure that the information is not tainted.
A good company has a good vibe around it. Look for experiences that your friends, acquaintances, and other entrepreneurs like you might want to share.
Another valuable approach is to explore certifications that companies may have. Sites like Codemap.io, for example, do not allow freelancers and agencies to list a tool as part of their portfolio without first demonstrating competency with it.
If you have a specific tool in mind, you can look for partners of that platform. For example, Backendless Partners handle app development projects specifically built on the Backendless platform, providing you with the confidence that they know the platform inside and out.
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