From crushing candy to streaming video, anyone who has a smart phone probably has a sizeable collection of entertaining apps. But many apps add convenience to daily lives. People can pre-order restaurant meals, compare prices on the fly, or check in at the airport.
The real question is whether or not it is time for your small business to consider adding its own custom app to your customers' phones. Technology can certainly help your business keep up with the competition. But, considering that even a small app can be more costly than expected and require more attention than you anticipate, you need to ask some important questions — and make sure that you like the answers — before you move forward.
Is the App a Win-Win for You and Your Customers?
If you have an app idea that your customers will use on a daily basis, you probably have a win-win for your customers and your business. It's all about solving common problems. So, a customer who has a few extra minutes available for a haircut or even a medical visit might welcome the ability to grab a quick appointment from your online appointment app. Similarly, clients who can monitor the progress of custom projects gain better control over their own plans.
Of course, the customer's perspective is only half of the picture. For a company like Uber, the app is a major part of the business, so continuous tweaks and expansions are clearly justified. Unless your business is app-based like Uber, however, you have to decide if an app would sufficiently increase your customer base, encourage existing customer loyalty and promote recognition of your brand. Some service businesses may decide that an app that puts them right in their customers' pockets 24/7 justifies the expense and techy details.
Do the Benefits Justify the Costs?
You might spend big bucks by hiring your own programmer to design and develop a custom app. On the other hand, there are many app development services available with flexible pricing arrangements that make them affordable to many small businesses.
Still, determining affordability can be highly subjective. Even if you decide that an app will pay itself back within a year (a common benchmark for measuring app effectiveness), what does that really mean? Let's assume that most businesses would decide to take the risk if they know that an app will increase their customer base. An app that provides enough direct benefits to the customer, perhaps by making it more convenient to choose your business over your competitors, can provide obvious payback through increased sales.
You need to look at the full range of costs and benefits. If the ultimate benefits justify the costs of developing and maintaining the app, then go for it.
Does App Development Require Technical Knowledge?
Technical knowledge never hurts, of course, but all you really need is imagination and vision. There are many app-creation services that provide amazing services that turn your idea into an app , help you get it into app stores and promote it — at reasonable rates. You can certainly hire a programmer, but a number of services let you create your own app by entering specs into a basic template and testing it online. You pay for human assistance only when you need it.
What Can Go Wrong?
Regardless of the significant potential benefits, developing an app involves any number of issues. You need to expect — and plan for — many concerns before you decide to take the leap.
First, expect that the time from original concept to implementation is likely to take longer than anticipated. Even after you have a test version ready for testing, it may not look anything like the app you pictured. In a perfect world, it will be better than you ever imagined, but it's probably just as likely that even you won't be able to use it easily enough to pass it on to your customers.
Assuming that it passes the usability test, can you guarantee its accuracy? Even skilled testing experts cannot predict every conceivable error that can happen, not to mention glitches that cause the app (or even the entire server) to crash. Without adequate testing, you could end up under-charging for your products due to pricing errors or frustrating the customers who are looking for convenience.
Getting a great-working app on the market takes money, time and effort. Think long and hard before introducing an app that can easily draw your attention away from your core business. No app is worth it if it forces you to ignore your daily bread and butter. If you believe customers will clamor for an app that resolves common complaints or adds value to their relationship with your company, however, it might be time to take the technology leap.