Does My Small Business Need a Mobile App?

By Francesca Hill
10 October 18
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Apps are the shiny, digital toy on the business playground. Sometimes, though, mobile apps have the facade of being unattainable for small businesses. Your business can most definitely have a mobile app!

Many times small businesses owners ask “should my business have an app?” But before going into app development, the question you should be asking is “does my business need an app?”

No stress, we’ll help you determine that.

What is an App?

Apps are a great digital resource for small businesses and can help streamline a process.

Almost half of small businesses (47%) with more than 50 employees have had an app since before 2017.

There are two main types of apps (or applications): mobile apps and web apps.

Mobile apps are on your phone and are programmed for the specific system. When developing a mobile app, you’ll need to decide if you want to have an iOS app or an Android app – or both. Mobile apps are downloaded from an app store and live on your phone. Google Maps, Wallet (on all iPhones), and Snapchat are examples of mobile apps.

Web apps are accessed through an internet browser and are not downloaded on your phone. Many apps also have a web app, for instance, you can access Yelp and Instagram either through a downloaded app on your phone or through your internet browser.

Instagram as a mobile app versus on an internet browser

Above is an example of Instagram as through the mobile app versus through your internet browser on your phone. The layout is very similar but there are some key differences. For example, in the app you have access to live stories – which is not showing on the internet browser version – as well as to new update announcements from Instagram in your Stories.

Most mobile apps and web apps have some key difference just like Instagram does. Also, mobile apps will need to be updated periodically and can be used without wifi.

Most times when businesses think about developing an app, they jump to mobile apps.

So, how do you decide if you should have a mobile app and what that app will do?

What Problem is My Mobile App Solving?

We don’t advocate building a mobile app to build an app. It goes the other way as well, though. Just because no one else in your industry has an app is not a reason to not build one – we’re all about branching out and being the first. But first you need to ensure there’s a need for it and how it will help your customers.

Why spend the time and money developing a mobile app for your small business if it’s not helping anyone?

Your mobile app should be filing a hole in your customer’s lives – maybe not a massive hole but there needs to be a reason they take the time to find and download your app. Plus, it takes up precious storage space!

What’s the point of your app? What is it helping to accomplish? Why use it? These types of questions help you determine if it’s worth it to build a mobile app for your business.

There’s a couple of steps you can take to help you narrow down the purpose of your mobile app.

Analyze Your Customer Touchpoints

Oh, the customer journey. The customer journey is the different touch points you have with your customer when working toward a specific goal. For instance, what is the process when someone purchases from you?

Analyze your customer journey and think if an app would fit into it. What part of your customer journey can be enhanced through an app?

Most likely, there will be some form of improvement you can make or a strengthened connection can be built through the app. If you can’t think of one, though, we say stop the mobile app discussion for now and come back to it later.

Look at Similar Mobile Apps

Now you know the touchpoint (or points) you’ll be trying to improve, research other apps that could also solve this “problem”.

Generally, your app is solving a specific problem associated with your business, such as increasing order speed, or it’s solving a general problem, such as curating music. Either way, there’s going to be similar apps on the market.

Even if you feel your mobile app is specific to your business, look and see if there is another app available for the same function.

Let’s say you’re a restaurant developing a mobile app to order food for pick up or delivery. People can download a plethora of food apps – that compile a multitude of restaurants and allows them to deliver from any of them. Why should they download your app instead of one of those?

Checking out the competition ensures you’re streamlining your functionality and design. Knowing what else is out there only sets you up for success to focus on your key differences.

Look Into Your Target Audience

You’ve decided what area of your customer journey could be helped with an app and started to see how it differs from the competition, now you need to be sure your target audience will actually like the mobile app.

Tied into the solution your app offers is who the solution is for.

Who would you want to download your app and, importantly, who would download the app you’re thinking of producing. Are they a certain age, live in a certain place, what are their hobbies and interests?

Once again, you can use previously-developed mobile apps for small businesses to help. There are different softwares or sites you can use to find out who are downloading these apps. If you have a friend in the same industry or know of someone who has a similar app, reach out and see if you can discuss it with them.

Have Expectations for What Your App Does

You’ve built a preliminary idea of what your mobile app does and who it is for. Now to not let your target audience down, you need to clearly outline expectations. Set expectations for what your app does and what problem it solves.

For instance, Pieology is a build-your-own pizza place (highly recommend). They recently released an app for pre-ordering called Pieology Pie Life Rewards. They sweetened the deal by offering discounts if you order through the app – further incentivizing the download. When I see advertisements for the app it clearly explains it is a pre-order app. This helps me realize I shouldn’t download the app if I want discounts in-store because it only applies to orders through the app itself.

example of mobile app for Pieology

This helps your customers know the exact reason they should download but it also helps you.

Going back to the first point of the customer journey, the app should fit into your processes and your overall business strategy. Your internal team needs to set expectations and know so they can do their jobs better. Imagine if they told someone to download your app and they told them it does something it doesn’t … oops.

You Can Deviate

What happens if your research shows those downloading the type of app you want to develop aren’t in your target demographic? Or in your research, you develop an idea not fully aligned with your business?

You can always look into developing the app as a separate endeavour.

Here at Forty8Creates, we’re all about developing and helping small business owners and are always trying to think of different ways to do so. In our research, Chloe saw a gap in the market for dog groomers. The app she launched, called Grooma, doesn’t really align with Forty8Creates, but there’s still a need in the market for it. So, Chloe developed the mobile app separate from us as another branch of the business.

If the data and your research show you something, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.

Think of the Return on Investment (ROI)

You’ve set the goals and expectations so it’s time to think of what the benefit of the mobile app would be. Designing and developing an app is not a cheap endeavour for small businesses. Will having an app help you? How are you going to reap the rewards of it?

If your mobile app is free to download, will you harvest the customer data? If it’s paid, are you offering enough of a service to incentivize people to pay for it?

Think of the end goal ROI before the development of the mobile app begins. The ROI will be another measure of success for your build.

The cycle for determining if you need an app is critical to ensure you’ve thought about each aspect of the app, how it will affect your business and the true purpose of the app.

If need be, go through this cycle a couple of times! Make sure you’re thinking through the app design and development thoroughly before you decide to create one. App design and development is not a cheap endeavour for your business but if pursued properly can be a great catalyst for growth.

Also remember, sometimes, you think of a great app idea right away and sometimes the app comes to fruition after a couple of years in business. Like all things in business and digital marketing, do what works for your audience.

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