The ever-growing population of smartphone owners has led more and more companies to develop mobile business apps to cater to customers and generate leads. What used to be an optional “nice to have” mobile component is now becoming an essential part of any business, regardless of industry. But, to build a great mobile presence for your business, you need a lot more than just the realization that you need an app or the decision to build it. Many poorly-conceived small business mobile apps end up as nothing more than an expensive novelty.
If you don’t take time to develop a fully-functional, properly-planned app that offers real value to users, all of your efforts will go wasted. We’ve learned some important lessons through creating countless mobile apps for small businesses; here are the five essential elements that play pivotal roles in the building of successful business apps.
A Professional Developer
The first thing your mobile app needs is a professional developer. It’s tempting to view mobile development as a commodity—it’s not. Seeking the lowest price for your development (and ending up with the lowest quality) can result in major headaches, glaring software glitches, and brand damage. You should never try to cut corners and costs by hiring someone with little experience in mobile application development. Professional, seasoned developers know the ins and outs of mobile operating systems, version control, optimization, best practices, and the latest web technologies. With a veteran (or veterans) working on your project, you’ll be assured a mobile app that’s a strong benefit to your business instead of a frustrating hindrance.
An Adequate Budget
You can’t start the development process without an adequate development budget; having a half-built app and no funding to finish is arguably worse than having never started. You’d be amazed at just how complicated it can be for a developer to breathe life into what initially seemed like a simple design. The process often involves a designer, a project manager, and input from executives, marketers, and salesman. You have consider all of the moving parts of your design and how much it will cost to incorporate all of the multifaceted needs of each stakeholder. If your budget is not enough to cover these development costs, you might not be able to make your app as functional as you wanted it to be, and both customers and stakeholders could end up disappointed.
Original Content That Will Keep Your Customers Coming Back
You are not going to have thousands of customers lining up to download your app—even if it’s free—unless you have something truly valuable to offer. Many businesses expect a lot of exposure from their app without a real investment into the app’s content. Others make a substantial commitment of content upfront, but then consider the app a completed project instead of an ongoing project. Neither is a good long-term strategy for maintaining and leveraging a mobile app to benefit your business. You’ll want a steady stream of special offers, updates, or other reasons to revisit your business app.
A good litmus test of your app’s appeal is to simply play the role of the prospective user. Ask yourself why you’d notice the app, why you’d want or need it, and what would cause you to keep it on your mobile device’s small screen and limited storage. If you struggle with the answers, you may want to remedy the problem with original, valuable, regular content updates.
Careful Branding to Grab Your User’s Attention
You will need to find ways to grab your user’s attention the first time they load your business application. Clever loading screens and new user tutorials are a great way to do this, but you need to make sure you do not go overboard with your introduction efforts. Mobile users are inherently busy multitaskers; you never want to keep them from their purpose without good reason. You are not dealing with a captive audience; Users can leave your app or turn off their phone at a moment’s notice. You’ve already won the competition for their attention and gotten your app installed on their device; offer them some carefully-designed welcome messaging that’s just as easy to use as it is to bypass.
Loading Indicators that Keep Your Users in the Loop
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to navigate through an application just to be directed to a blank, unresponsive screen. One of the first thing your users will think if you do not have loading indicators is that the application is frozen or malfunctioning. Loading indicators and animations let your users know that the app is fully-functional, working, and waiting on your phone’s network or hardware to respond. A process indicator might be even more useful, because it tells the user how much of the process has been completed and the specific steps involved. This may sound like a small, inconsequential addition to an app, but in the minds of many users, it’s the difference between a buggy, crash-prone app and a snappy, responsive, user-friendly one.
“We need a mobile app” is just the beginning of your planning process. You need to take time to think about what you want your users to accomplish and how you design to suit their needs. Do not cut corners during your design, development, funding, or testing—your shortcuts will likely be noticed in a very public way. But, if you test your app thoroughly, design it thoughtfully, and keep the essentials in mind, it will be a valuable asset worthy of your time, investment, and brand.
Do you have any essentials to add to the list? Have you worked on mobile projects that lack thorough planning? Do you have any hard-earned development lessons to share?