The following is a guest post by Charles Dearing, who contacted me and brought up an interesting conversation about whether all small businesses should introduce an app to their marketplace. Let’s hear his thoughts and suggestions …
With over a billion smart device users worldwide averaging four or more hours of usage per day, it’s no surprise that an app exists for almost every imaginable purpose.
In fact, the New York Times reports that “consumers now expect brands (and businesses) to have their own apps.”
So, if your business doesn’t already have an app, you’re probably missing out on potential revenue because m-commerce, or mobile commerce, is definitely transforming the way we do business and the way we live.
For our purposes, an app (short for application) is a software program designed for mobile devices (smart phones, PDAs, notebooks and tablet computers) that performs various functions.
Benefits of Apps for Small Business Owners
Apps can be used to increase productivity or portability of a business’ operations or they can serve as a means of reaching out to customers by serving a purpose in their daily lives, such as keeping track of travel arrangements and expenses, counting calories, creating grocery or to-do lists, even comparing prices or planning meals.
The true capabilities of an app extend further than one person can even imagine.
Basically, if it can be done, there’s an app for it, or perhaps there should be!
Furthermore, if your business’ name is on that app, you could quickly become a household name.
And isn’t that what every business owner dreams of? Maybe not, but still the pros of having an app for your small business definitely outweigh the cons.
For online businesses, a major advantage of having an app is the fact that most websites look really bad or don’t display properly on mobile devices.
An app, however, can offer all the functions of a website and more with usability that is appealing to the eye and can be accessed without an internet connection.
Murray Note: It’s 2013 and many small business owners are STILL resistant to launching a website (unfortunately). The introduction of apps and social seems to be accepted by many small biz owners far more readily and so it becomes a quick win especially with many automated app development programs and mobile-ready templates out there.
Apps for Customers
Some businesses develop apps to serve their customers’ needs, such as managing their accounts or reminding them of scheduled appointments or payment due dates.
The business owner’s benefit is the fact that their business name is installed on the consumer’s mobile device, which creates a bond or sense of partnership between them.
Common functions that may appeal to customers include:
- calendar apps
- loyalty club offers
- discount coupons
- buy products/services
Welcome to the wonderful world of m-commerce, which reduces the need for storefront overhead, staffing costs, and eliminates much of the need to support physical records.
But what if you want to take it a step further and tailor an app specifically for “your” business? No problem — there’s an app for that!
Murray Note: I can attest to how awesome a business app can truly be. Often, the girlfriend and I will pick up crafting supplies at Jo-Ann’s and we always remember to load up the app which contains coupons.
Apps for Business Productivity
Apps aren’t just for customers.
- increase business productivity by providing an easy way for colleagues to stay up-to-date
- share information and ideas
- track sales
- customers or finances
- check the effectiveness of marketing strategies
Busy executives can maintain their schedules synchronously with their secretary’s additions or cancellations.
Contractors can keep tabs on specific jobs by using an app that allows workers to track their time and progress on jobs, send photos of work while on the job, and even collect customers’ credit card payments with their smart phone.
Murray Note: Taking your tracking to mobile definitely keeps you productive in business because you’re no longer forced in front of the computer. As far as mobile payments go, I’ve seen this in action and it does wonders for small businesses that can’t/don’t want to invest in a big, clunky cash register and pay massive cuts to the billing companies. I wrote a tutorial on this topic, too: how to accept mobile payments with Square.
How to Get an App for Your Small Business
Common apps are usually available from the app page of your mobile device or the carrier’s website; however, if you want a custom app for your business, it will have to be programmed.
This can be done by a software design firm or web developer, or if you’re technologically-capable, by using do-it-yourself app development software.
Take a look at this set of DIY app development tools and resources: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/small-business-matters/14-diy-mobile-app-development-resources-for-small-businesses/2288
Generally speaking, most small businesses will want to hire a professional app developer to create their app, as this ensures the app will function across the rapidly-growing technologies and operating platforms used by mobile devices.
Hiring a professional also better ensures the app will be ready in the expected time frame.
In some cases, a business may choose to form an in-house development team or develop the app using low-cost software that requires little or no programming knowledge.
The best option depends upon the app requirements, capabilities and budget of the business.
How to Get Started Creating Your App
The first step in creating your app would be deciding what kind of app would be most beneficial for your business.
- Do you want to use your app to promote your business?
- Do you already have a specific app function in mind?
- Is your app for the purpose of maintaining functions inside your business, such as finances, order processing, or job tracking?
Here are some questions to help you start thinking like an app:
- What is the purpose (promotion, business function, communications with consumers)?
- Who is the intended audience (existing clients, potential customers, or employees)?
- How much can you afford to spend on your app?
- Does someone within your organization have the required skills to create the app in-house or should you outsource with a professional? (Be sure to research DIY app dev software to see if it fits your needs.)
- Is there an existing app available that can be branded for your business to avoid the expense and time required to develop your own?
With the number of mobile device users now in excess of one billion, every type of business could benefit from having its own app.
In fact, most successful larger corporations now consider mobile apps to be an integral part of their business operations.
Many experts agree that every small business needs an app because whatever consumers want to do, they have come to expect that there will be an app for it – and so there should be.
Murray Note: I would say the quickest route is to simply develop a mobile-ready version of your website (if you have one), use plugins for your CMS (many have mobile conversions), or use one of the DIY routes before you make the full investment as it would be ideal to see how well received the app for your business becomes before going all out.
Charles Dearing has worked extensively in the web hosting industry. He is also an avid blogger and he enjoys sharing his hosting insights on various blogs. Click here to read reviews on popular webhosts.