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How to develop a successful mobile app

Developing an app might seem outside the scope of your business but there are great reasons for doing so. So, whether you’re a start-up or a SME, how you would develop an app for your business?

Why should I develop an app?

With so many of us working, buying and playing online, even small businesses cannot afford to remain digitally disengaged from their customers. And with apps becoming more varied and reliable, there are many reasons why it’s good for business. 
 
An app can:

  • provide increased revenue
  • connect your customer more quickly with your product
  • generate and sustain customer loyalty
  • encourage self-service – saving your business time
  • create useful data for improving your business
  • provide the means to operate a business at a larger scale. 

For the consumer, apps provide a convenient shortcut to your business. The app does all the work. Whether it’s ordering a takeaway, buying a new product, or looking for up-to-date information, your app can become a pocket-size concierge. 
 
However with so many apps on the market, very few will be truly successful. So it’s vital that your app is based on more than just a good idea. 

What do I need to consider before developing an app?

Every new product or service starts with a lot of research. With 1,000 new apps launched every day, it’s vital to ensure that your app is going to be a worthwhile investment.

If you develop an app without doing your research, you risk putting a lot of time and effort into something that no-one actually needs. Perhaps you may have recognised a need, but you are targeting the wrong customer? Or, your app just isn’t offering what you set out to provide?

Here’s a checklist of all the questions you need to ask yourself before making that all-important decision. 

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What’s the best approach?

There are two approaches to the launch of a new product which apply equally to developing an app.

The waterfall approach

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Having done your research, you proceed to development and invest everything in what you believe to be the perfect product ready for launch.

It’s an all-or-nothing approach. If you’ve got it right, you make a big impact. If you get it wrong, you’ve invested a huge amount of resources in a product that’s going to have to go back to the drawing board because it’s simply not fit for purpose.

In 2013 the NHS launched a Digital Apps Library. The aim was to provide healthcare apps in a forum that was accessible and trusted by the public. However, by 2015 it was shut down due to concern over quality, reliability and a failure to provide adequate protection for patient data. It was also questionable whether its core customers were even smartphone users.

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The test and refine approach

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Whatever the eventual scale of your app, user experience testing is about getting your pre-release product into the hands of real users to collect feedback before launch. For a startup, you can proceed with the idea on a smaller scale, perhaps with a handful of willing volunteers.

You put the product in their hands, get their feedback, and improve the product as you go.

Monzo is one of a small number of startups offering mobile-only banking. It’s operating on a restricted banking licence with a limited beta test, offering 50,000 cardholders their services through pre-paid debit cards.

It’s entirely app-based and wildly ambitious, which means they are up and running, with an engaged ‘community’ of users and developers, fixing their “leaky abstractions” as they go.

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How to make money from an app

If you are looking to monetise your app, it will need to be developed with that goal in mind. The biggest driver of app revenue is in-app purchases followed by subscriptions and ads. 
 
In-app purchases allow you to release a version of the app for free whilst charging for additional functions or services, as you develop them or as your customers need them. 
 
However, most apps don’t generate a profit. Research shows that many mobile apps are “not designed to generate revenue, but rather are used to build brand recognition and product awareness or are just for fun.” 
 
Sometimes selling directly through a mobile app doesn’t work for your business, but an app still presents valuable opportunities to connect with your customers, increase engagement, market share and greater revenue. 

Knowing when to launch

There will come a stage at which you have to decide whether to proceed with the app or not and timing is everything. Delay too long and others may seize the market before you. Act too soon and whilst your app may be ready, you may not have the infrastructure to support it. As a result your business suffers. So at this point you’ve got a decision to make:

  • Go

    You’ve done the research, you have tested and refined your product as far as possible, you’re ready to proceed to development and you have the resources to launch. 

  • Not go

    All the research and testing has shown you that there’s not sufficient need for your product and you don’t have the resources to risk developing or launching your product with so little chance of success. 
     
    You may decide to shelf the project until a later date. Or that it’s not worth pursuing any further. 

  • Pivot

    Somewhere in between Go and No Go is the decision to ‘Pivot’. At this point, the testing stage has shown up some vital changes that needed to be made to your original idea. As a result, you’ve had to significantly refine the services offered and changed the features, but you’re now ready to develop the app. 

How do I find a developer for my app?

Finding a developer can be as daunting as creating it yourself. Although the increasing availability of app development software does make that an option. 
 
However, just as creating your own website can seem straightforward, a good relationship with a designer can make all the difference. So it’s worth considering what you should look for in a potential developer or agency. As well as weighing up the costs involved
 
Working with freelancers comes with the usual cost benefits or risk implications, with you driving the process forward. Or you can use an interim agency to connect you with a developer. They may come with a project manager and team, who can help with everything from design to marketing. In fact, Devzy’s approach is to develop an app just for that purpose, to find the best and most affordable development teams available. 

How do I release my app?

Once you’re ready to release your app more widely, you can do so by letting users download it from your website or sending the app directly to them by email.  
 
Publishing your app with Google Play or Apple’s App Store involves an application process for each platform. Alternatively, there are sites such as PreApps that will allow others to preview your app for feedback. 
 
Most apps are released via soft launches, to early users or loyal customers. Even Apple release beta versions of their software to developers, then public testers, before they are satisfied the product is ready for general release and has the infrastructure in place to support it. 
 
Soft launches allow for new staff to be brought in gradually to meet increased demand. Or for marketing campaigns to build anticipation. Soft launches ensure they can be kept small and specific to get your app to your target customer.
 
As with any new business idea, there is a lot of risk and no guarantee of success, but a good idea, based on sound research and thorough testing, stands every chance of making it out of your head and into your customer’s pocket. 
 

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