How to Get Started Building Your Company’s First App
Thinking of creating an app for your business? Rightfully so: mobile app usage keeps increasing year on year, and multi-platform access dominates the way we use the internet.
Regardless of the industry you’re in, the chances are your existing and potential customers will benefit from your mobile app.
The reason why many businesses don’t have their own app yet is the complexity behind the process. Before you ever enter the process of putting together the key pieces of your app, such as the coding, your app’s visuals, app store optimization or testing, you need to lay your app’s foundations.
Want to get started developing your first app? This guide is for you!
Define your app’s goal and objectives
Firstly, you need to know what is the role an app will play in your business. Will it be an eCommerce channel, or will it serve as a marketing tool? Will it play a role in your internal business app?
When you define your app’s goal, you can break it down into objectives. This could be the number of downloads, screens per session, session length, and more. It’s entirely up to you – just ensure you’re building these objectives into that overarching goal.
- If your app’s goal is to assist your brand awareness, your objectives may be app downloads and time spent in app.
- If the goal is to increase sales, you may want to focus on the number of daily active users and the correlating number of completed transactions, as well as push notification metrics.
- If your app will serve as an internal tool, the objectives may be the number of completed tasks, conversations, and session length.
As you can see, it’s important to define what success looks like. Not every app needs thousands of downloads to be successful.
It’s important to keep this in mind when you start working within such a measurable channel such as mobile apps. It’s easy to get obsessed with numbers and metrics. And while this means you’re after growth – which is a good thing – you could also get caught up in vanity metrics.
Always make sure you separate superficial data that lacks context from the information that reflects key behaviors in your app and helps you reach your business goals.
Know what others are doing
Benchmarks are the key to understanding the current market situation in your industry, your competitors’ focuses, and your target audience’s mobile preferences.
To research your competitors, you first need to create a list of them. Make sure to include those in your area (in case you are a local business), but also those around the world. This will help you get a clearer picture and brainstorm ideas.
Here’s what you should research at the minimum:
- Their main milestones, assets (like website, social media, communities) and budgets
- App store and usage data: number of apps, geography, growth rates, retention and engagement rates, monetization strategies.
- Public coverage and paid campaigns.
You should also look at their actual app and find out what features, sections and capabilities they’ve included in their app.
I know you may want to skip this step entirely and simply focus on you. Competitive analysis can be a labor-intensive process, but when done right, it can help you gain competitive advantage by keeping up with the industry and uncovering strategies that your competitors aren’t using yet.
If you’re ready for your competitive analysis, here are some tools to make it easier!
To begin with, you’ll want to identify the main information for each competitor you listed, such as company size, location, target audience and locations, and number of employees. Other useful pieces of information is their funding strategy and internal resources.
Here are some brilliant tools you can use to find this data:
- LinkedIn to discover team sizes
- Crunchbase to find out about rounds of funding
- App Annie to learn about app’s publish date
App store and usage data
Obviously, you can look at app store listings for your competitors, but here are some tools to help you drill deeper with your research:
- Sensor Tower to access competitor’s keywords and app store rankings
- AppAnnie to see data about keywords and rankings in specific territories
- Apptopia for data on monthly installs per geography and growth trends
- SurveyMonkey app intelligence for app usage trends
- Similarweb for insights for multiple geographies, including top apps ranked by usage
- Appbot for reviews analysis
To research your competitor’s promotional activities and media coverage, do the following:
- Search for their name in Google News
- List publications and blogs that have covered them
- Look at the content they are posting, including blog posts, case studies, videos, etc.
- Use BuzzSumo to look at the shares their content received
- Use Simply Measured to find out how they are using social media
Know the resources you can assign to your app development
This is a big step when you’re getting started, especially if this will be your company’s first app. To build your app, you will need to know what expertise, time, and budget is available to you so you can make an informed decision on your app development path.
First, you need to assess whose expertise is already available to you. As you’ll see further below, there are several development paths you can take, and each of them has a different set of skills and experts required.
So before you are faced with a decision to choose a development path, audit your existing teams and access to:
- UX specialists and mobile designers
- Backend and front-end developers, as well as developers specializing in either iOS or Android development
- Quality assurance specialists
- Marketers, copywriters, graphic designers
- Sales professionals
Look at your current employees, as well as your availability to outsourced professionals, and identify any needs and abilities to hire and/or train the staff. If there is a possibility of outsourcing, keep in mind you will need someone to liaise with them or you will have to set aside the time to do it yourself.
This is also a good time to identify if there is a hard deadline on your app development and launch.
If it’s an open-ended project, you’ll have more flexibility when it comes to choosing your development options. If you work with a strict deadline and especially if it’s quite soon, you may need to involve more people in the development and dedicate a higher budget.
The final step before you’re ready to pick a development path is your existing budget dedicated to this process.
A really important note here: the mobile app development process only accounts for one chunk of the overall app cost; there will be ongoing costs for as long as your app exists, regardless of the option you choose. You should also keep in mind the cost you will incur from hiring, training, and marketing activities.
The bottom line here is to know what you’re working with and to identify any wiggle room you may have once you’re presented with all available options.
Choose your development path
Now that you know what resources you’re working with, it’s time to look into your development options. If you have properly gone through the guidelines in the previous section, this is what will enable you to choose what’s best for your exact situation and align your resources with your needs.
App development can generally be divided into these options:
- Native code from scratch
- Mobile app development platforms (MADP)
- DIY platforms
- SaaS platforms with full customizability
For the first two options, you will need to work directly with developers; available options boil down to app development agencies, freelance developers and/or in-house developers. The latter two options allow you to create your own app with minimum or no coding. Let’s look at some more details for each of the options.
Native code from scratch
Raw coding is the only option if you’re developing native apps. These projects are the most expensive ones and come with the highest risk, but when done right, the results are remarkable.
The risk some companies take here is outsourcing the development to cheaper offshore solutions. The savings in the development phase often result in high cost of bug fixes later on, and the project is overall more difficult to manage due to its complexity and barriers of such outsourcing.
If you’re choosing to code your app from scratch, make sure you’re working with highly experienced engineers and project managers!
Mobile app development platforms
Most of the solutions in the MADP category aren’t really platforms, but tools and libraries that help speed up the coding process for hybrid app development.
Most development companies using these tools won’t enter into the project without a budget of $100,000, and the time to market is usually between 9 and 12 months.
Another thing you need to factor in are additional custom feature costs, as well as the costs of services such as infrastructure and IT support as ongoing annual expenses during the life of your app!
Do-it-yourself platforms offer solid performance and a SaaS-based pricing, lots of out-of-the-box functionalities and single platform app building. With a DIY solution, you can create a good, simple app for a minimum cost, without the need for complex technical skills or custom code.
As you may expect, however, this comes with a limitation. These platforms consist of proprietary software within a closed system architecture. This means you are limited to the functionalities and features they provide, and you can’t develop on them. It’s a tradeoff that comes with such simplicity and low investment.
SaaS platforms with full customizability
SaaS platforms with customizability, like BuildFire, offer full scalability of mobile apps and reduce dependence on IT department and give control to you – the creative professional.
Looking at the options listed above – the wide gap between customizability of MADP and simplicity of DIY – this options is the best of both worlds. It bundles all the required services into a single platform and offers a massive suite of plugins and integrations. It also makes it easy to add functionalities, change layouts, and add graphics without any coding.
When you want to customize any of the features, the code is fully available for modifications. And the best thing of all? Whatever you build can be modified, updated and cloned within minutes, allowing for full scalability and control over content changes and required technical updates without having to rely on the IT support team.
Plan for multiple releases
You’ll probably aim to include every single feature you imagined immediately in your app’s first version. However, there are several reasons to avoid this and simplify the initial release:
- You may spend too much time on features that may not be equally important to your users
- The more complex your initial development, the bigger the chance for something to be delayed
- It is harder to estimate the cost of all additional features when the initial version of the app isn’t created yet
- Your users want your app as soon as possible!
Ultimately, it’s important you launch your app in the version that will allow your users to accomplish their goal. All the extra features and customizations may be something your users will want and appreciate, but you should think of their key goal first.
For example, let’s say your app allows your potential customers to complete their purchase from their phone. The overarching goal of this app is to increase sales on mobile and make the support for mobile users easier. Initially, you may have an option for the user to send you a message in the app and receive an answer within 24 hours. In an update 6 weeks after the app was launched, you introduce a live chat option. This means you still made support on mobile better with the first version, and you made it better in the next release.
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There are more benefits to regular app updates:
- They keep your app top of mind
- They show you’re committed to the app and build loyalty
- They offer a way to speak with your userbase through release notes
Successful apps release an update anywhere between one to four times a month. So make sure to launch your app as soon as possible and plan leverage updates to improve it and build a community of loyal users.
Define your go to market strategy
If your app is going to be available to the public (as opposed to being used internally), you will need a go to market strategy. You should involve any marketers, copywriters and PR specialists as early in the process as possible so they can align their deadlines with yours, as well as to help you nail down the wording, branding and overall approach to the look and feel of your app.
Lack of app definition, poor marketing plan and a weak launch strategy are what causes many apps to underperform. To avoid this, you will need to define the following as early as you can:
- Your app’s key selling point and its core message
- App store optimization
- Release date
- Monetization strategy (if there is one)
- List of industry-related press and bloggers
- Early access offers
- Press kit
- Marketing collateral
- List of product sites like Product Hunt, CrunchBase, etc.
Once you prepare all these, you should work backwards from your release date (both soft and hard launch, if you’ll have them), and ensure you have enough time for all the included activities. This may include:
- Preparing organic content such as blog posts, videos and social media teasers
- Copywriting and media creation for the app store listing
- Outreach to journalists and bloggers within your industry
- Copywriting for Product Hunt
- Copywriting for your email newsletter
Now it’s even clearer why writers and designers need to be involved early in the planning process – they can easily make sure all of the wording and visuals are aligned with each other, as well as with your existing brand and your app’s goal.
These six steps will get you fully prepared to create an app with the budget and timeframe you have, reach the ideal audience, and help you reach your business goals. Start building your app for free and be on your way to making your audience’s lives better!