While mobile apps were once the domain of those with technical skills or deep pockets, it is now within the realm of affordability for any entrepreneur.
They can turn your smartphone into just about any type of gizmo you can think of in about 15 seconds. Need a bar code scanner or credit card swiper? Done. What about a guitar tuner and a comprehensive encyclopedia of cocktail recipes? OK! Internet radio? Presto! Zombie detector… you get the idea.
So Much More Than a Shortcut
Mobile apps can also be a huge boon for small businesses, but it’s important to put plenty of thought into which features you want your app to have and what benefits it will offer your customers. Basically, you need to ask yourself why anyone would want to have your app.
If your app consists of a shortcut to your website, but pocket-sized, don’t expect it to be a huge hit. Think about it: your customers can already go to your website on their mobile devices. If they want a shortcut to it, they essentially already have one.
However, if your app neatly solves a problem that your customers have, or offers them great savings or exclusive opportunities, then you might have a winner on your hands. For example, you could include location-based services, such as discounts for checking in at your store, or a navigation feature that will get them there from wherever they are.
Your app could also have features specific to your business. If you own a bookstore, you could reward loyal customers with exclusive meet-and-greets with authors. If you have a delicatessen, your app could feature an addictive game, in which your customers have to defeat a cow with a samurai sword before choosing which cuts of meat they’d like to order. Macabre? Yes, but also awesome. Lightning-quick payment and ordering options are also popular choices.
Don’t Break the Bank
A custom mobile app is now within the realm of affordability for the bootstrapping entrepreneur. A quick web search reveals plenty of companies who will develop apps for your business on an extremely reasonable budget.
To give you an idea just how affordable having your own mobile app has become, SwebApps and Mobile Roadie both offer packages that include apps for iPhone and Android, starting at $499 plus $29 per month. Of course, these are the entry-level packages. If you want something fancier, both sites accept custom orders, but expect to pay more.
Running With the Pack
You might be wondering whether you should have your app developed for other smartphone platforms, as well. Well, Android and iPhone are currently dominating the market, so your app is likely to reach more people if you stick to these platforms. If so much buzz develops around your app that Blackberry and Windows Phone users are clamoring for some love, cross that bridge when you come to it. Oh, and congratulations.
Speaking of which, how do you create buzz for your shiny new toy? Make sure you choose a logo that is unique, visually appealing, and if possible, conveys the function of your app. Good screenshots in the marketplace are also helpful.
If your business already has healthy Facebook and Twitter followings, then utilize social networking to promote it to those customers, as you already know they’re likely to be tech-savvy. Finally, if your app was built right in the first place, and offers your customers functionality that they find really useful, they’ll share it with their friends.
By Rick Klaras