Should You Develop a Mobile App for Your Small Business?

Wednesday, 06 February 2013 Written by Carlo Pandian

small-business-app-article

A guide to finding the one that will meet your shipping and logistics needs.

Apps. They’re the must-have add-on for every smartphone, tablet and hand-held device. Anyone can create an app, and small business owners are under increasing pressure to bring out their own app to make the mobile experience for their customers better. But just because you can create an app, does it mean that you should? Here are some pertinent questions to ask yourself before you invest time and money in developing your own mobile app.

How will a mobile app improve your customer’s experience?

There’s no point in going to all the trouble creating an app if take-up is non-existent or it doesn’t heighten the value of the experience for your customer. Mobile apps are far more limited than their desktop PC counterparts, so your ‘lite’ version of your brand, your sales catalogue or your website may actually end up detracting, rather than attracting.

Everyone else has one, why shouldn’t I?

Apps may be the flavour of the moment, but that also means there’s a swamped marketplace full of half-hearted attempts to ‘go mobile’. Peer pressure may be mounting for you to follow suit, but don’t have a mobile app just because everyone else has one. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Do your customers really want your app?

The average user only has around 10 apps installed on their smartphone (and that includes Angry Birds!). Is there a compelling enough reason for your customers to download your app, and is it something they’ll want on their phone all the time?

Could your app end up damaging your brand?

Mobile is, without doubt, one of the fastest growing aspects of digital business, and there’s nothing more tempting than being able to put your brand identity right into the very pockets of the customers you’re targetting. But once there, what’s it doing for them? Unless your brand adds value to their experience, they won’t keep it for long (even if it’s a free download). Unless your mobile app really gives customers a better brand experience and, of course, actually works, it could end up doing your business harm, rather than driving it forward. A poorly designed app will damage your brand’s reputation, possibly beyond redemption

How much will building one cost?

Your customers may not expect to pay much (or even anything at all!) for their app, but don’t think you can get away with the same. Developing a good app takes time and the skills of a top quality webmaster. Yes, you can do it yourself, but how confident are you that the results will do your brand justice? Unless you’re an IT professional, the chances are you will have to call in help – and that will cost you money. For small business owners, developing an app can sometimes simply be too costly an exercise for very little guaranteed returns.

Do you need an app, or would a mobile-optimised website work better?

If you’re trying to develop an app for your mobile site then it may be more cost-effective and quicker to develop a mobile-optimised website instead. This gives you greater scope and flexibility to change things, update content and adapt to a changing market.

Will a lack of an app devalue your brand in the opinion of your customers?

The short answer is probably not!

Will it work across multiple platforms?

Apps are not ‘one size fits all’, so are you prepared to invest in developing one for Blackberry, another for Android and another for iPhones? Will your app work on a Windows phone? The cost of developing a multiple-platform app will quickly make a ‘simple’ app development programme skyrocket - again, with no guarantee of a decent ROI.

Is your app actually any use?

A practical app that provides a service or offers added value is the most sought after by customers, so make sure if you do develop an app that it’s got a point to it! Accounting apps, organisational apps – make sure your app really does something useful.

Do your developers know what they’re doing?

Investing money in an app developer without understanding the principles yourself is a short-cut to wasted time, money and effort. If you’re a newbie to apps, enlist the help of a tech-savvy friend to make sure your developer is delivering the goods.

Overall, while creating an app for your small business seems like the thing to do, it's important to assess why and if you really need one. Unless you can create a great one that will be something that your audience will want to use, it's probably not worth the hype. Save yourself some money and focus on creating a great mobile site experience instead.

Carlo Pandian is a freelance writer about business, start-up and technology. He also reviews small business software tools from accounting tools such as Intuit QuickBooks to market analysis dashboards. When he’s not online, Carlo loves visiting art exhibitions and cooking good food.

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