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 |  August 10, 2016

It has become a fairly common practice to provide click-bait (links, headlines, or evocative images) designed to entice you to click on them and follow them.  Maybe you're so familiar with them that you studiously avoid them.  

One link which I stumbled on the other day said consumers are now spending 85% of their time on Smartphones using apps, which, of course, is patently ridiculous.  You couldn't eat, sleep, or take care of your daily ablutions in the remaining 3.6 hours of the day. 

It does however bring up the interesting point that people are indeed using their mobile devices more and more.  The number of successful businesses without a customized app is diminishing hourly.  The question arises: Do you need an app for your business to remain competitive?

This article will help you understand how apps can help your business connect with future and existing customers. 

What Does an App Do for You?

An app connects you with your customers, allowing you to interact with them on a 1-to-1 basis.  It keeps them aware of your products and services and allows them to connect with you for customer service and support. It's an opportunity to increase your volume of business by addressing the needs of your customers in a new way.  You can make the purchasing experience so much easier and thus encourage it to happen more often.

If your app is really handy and well-designed, your customer will recommend it to other customers; this, in turn, helps to grow your business.  More importantly, it sets you apart from other businesses which do not have an app.  You're more convenient; you address the needs of a self-serve culture that we're developing; this results in improved customer loyalty.

Not Just for the Big Guys

Of course your bank, Wal-Mart, and your local grocery store all have mobile apps—they need them to function and to meet customer expectations.  However, smaller and smaller businesses are building apps every day.  I was surprised recently to find a one-person masseuse with an app that revealed her entire schedule, months in advance, with available blocks of time.

I clicked on a 1-hour segment, entered my contact information, and instantly received an automated e-mail stating that she would confirm the appointment shortly.  Cool!  Within an hour I had received confirmation, complete with driving directions, street parking restrictions, and a reminder to arrive about 10 minutes early.  Cutting edge!

Being Exceptional

People may not actually be spending 85% of their day on their phone, but they are dedicating a slice of their time to it.  It's not a huge slice of pie, but it is your slice.  Whatever business app you are supplying will fit into that portion of their day.  And since they are going to spend their time there anyway, it may as well be while looking at your product or service—and that is where my masseuse is away ahead of you.  We don't have to interact until the day of the appointment.  It is super-convenient.  I open her app, find a convenient time, and the process is essentially complete.

You Can be Exceptional, Too

An app should work for almost any business, whether you are an antique book dealer selling a single $4,000 volume per month, or someone with a small restaurant or coffee shop that PUSHES a message to a customer who happens to be walking nearby your establishment.  

Your app could simply be a clickable catalog of all the goods you have for sale, with plenty of pictures, which takes a customer to a more detailed description on your website.  Or it might drop the item in a shopping cart for a cumulative purchase at the end.  Just about anything you can imagine can be done.

How Will I Get One?

Great question!  Asking how to create an app shows that you're not someone who says, "I already spent time creating a brand on social media, writing a blog, and building up a mailing list so I could send out my newsletter.  Why do I need this?"  You clearly understand the need to meet your customer halfway.  You're ready to embrace taking advantage of this new tool.  All those other things are good of course, but they were just the prep work for this direct and profitable interaction with your customers.  

What’s Your Budget Like?

Big Time

The reason this is important is because having a professional developer create your app for you can be a very expensive process.  There is no upper limit, but even a first, introductory project can reach into the tens of thousands, if it is reasonably complex.  If you can afford this, fantastic!  You'll get a beautifully designed app with a fantastic User Interface (UI) with an excellent User Experience (UX) built right in.  It will be thoroughly bug-tested, and your customers will be thrilled with how easy it is to use.

Small Time 

The price should not discourage the small business owner with a small budget however, because there are some very talented app developers on freelance websites like Upwork and Fiverr.  You can look there for independent contractors with a good reputation, and they're definitely less expensive than a dedicated app-development house.

Even at its most rudimentary, if you can't come up with a better idea, convert your beautifully designed web site and all its features into an app.  I'm just looking at an example on Fiverr right now.

This person will build the app, provide the source code, submit it to the app store, build you a control panel for the app, create an icon for your app, provide an opening splash screen, and send lifetime, unlimited push notifications.  It's not ideal by any means, because it doesn't provide any new functionality for your client that they couldn't get by logging on your website, aside from being able to access it from anywhere.  But it shows that there is talent out there. 

Do It Yourself (DIY) 

Alternatively, there are many products available out there in the wild that will let you develop your own app, even if you had no previous knowledge about programming.  Many have a point-and-click interface so that if you need a shopping cart feature or catalog feature, it is added as quickly as you can click.  

You just drag and drop the components where you want them to appear and everything is managed behind the scenes for you.  The easiest ones have a WYSIWYG interface (What You See Is What You Get). Others can manage even more if you have even a little bit of programming experience.  No matter what your level, there is something out there to suit you.

The Takeaway

Whether you develop an app for iOS or Android, or even less prevalent systems such as Windows Phone and Blackberry, the important thing is to market to your audience.  Remember, however, the objective is not to simply "have an app" because other people do.  Your task is to provide a new level of service for your customers; to encourage them to engage with you and, ultimately, generate more business dealings.

There is plenty of opportunity out there.  You just have to be willing to outline your needs, and then decide whether a mobile app can meet them. 

Download our guide for a full rundown on how to successfully launch business apps at your company.


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