Today, I’m going to teach you how to build an app in 9 easy steps.
There’s never been a better time to learn how to create and develop mobile apps. Over 80% of internet users own a smartphone and over 50% of web traffic now takes place on mobile devices.
Are you engaging well with your mobile audience?
Are you mobile sales keeping up with desktop?
Are your visitors happy with your mobile experience?
Most businesses today would answer “No” to these questions in 2017, and they have a massive gap in their mobile conversion and retention rates as a result.
If you are already running a business, creating an app helps you:
- Retain more customers
- Increase customer lifetime values
- Engage customers to increase referral business
- Increase mobile engagement
- Increase mobile conversion rates
- And a whole lot more…
Best of all, creating an app and reaping all these benefits doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, if you already know what you want, you can build an app in the next 5 minutes. Just click here to get started.
Step #1: Define Your Mobile App’s Objectives
The very first step to creating a mobile app is to determine what you want to achieve by having an app. Specifically, you’ll be defining the business objectives or goals you have with this mobile app.
It could be to retain existing customers or to provide a better mobile customer experience. Whatever the objective you want your mobile app to fulfill, write it down on a piece of paper.
To make it easy, you can just ask yourself these questions:
- What areas of your business need improvement?
- How will a mobile app aid in that improvement?
- What problems will a mobile app solve?
Here’s an example of what you might write down on your paper when answering these questions:
What areas of your business need improvement?
Our mobile customer retention needs a lot of help. Right now, our customer response through email is abysmal. It’s resulting in few of our customers coming back when they need our services again. Instead, they go to Google because we aren’t at the top of their mind.
How will a mobile app aid in that improvement?
A mobile app with communication capabilities would help us relay the message we send through email on mobile. In addition we could put a lot of our content that goes on our website on the app to keep customers coming back into the app regularly and keeping our brand at the top of their mind.
What problems will a mobile app solve?
If we can achieve even the same results as email with our mobile-heavy users, we will solve the dropoff in mobile customer retention and double our repeat business.
Step #2: Determine Functionality & Features
Now that you’ve defined your main problems, it’s time to layout what the app must do to solve those problems.
Think through this as if you had a “magic wand” and you could have any feature, functionality or use case in your app. Write down what that magic solution would look like.
Your goal in Step #2 is to determine what the ideal app would look like for you target market. Obviously, every feature comes with a price, and the final app probably won’t be as magical as this initial sketch, but don’t limit yourself at the beginning.
Envision your ideal app and then break down each feature into two categories:
Remember that your app’s purpose is to solve those key problems and meet those primary objectives you defined in Step #1. When implementing features later in the process, it can be easy to fall in love with certain supplemental features while forgetting the primary purpose of the app. That’s why it is so important to separate essential and supplemental features during this initial brainstorming phase. That way, when it comes time to cut out features and make priority calls on functionality, you already know exactly what can be cut and what needs to be prioritized.
Some important things to keep in mind during this phase are:
- Is your app paid or free
- Is it an app for internal processes or customer focused
- What type of features will it need to have in place to achieve your goals and how would those features work
Write all of that down in as much detail as possible, this will be your mobile app scope – what a developer could use to understand how everything should work at a 30,000 ft. view.
Here’s some additional questions you may want to go through before moving on.
Step #3: Conduct Competitor Research
It’s time to dive deeper. Now that we have an idea of what the app will do, it’s time to look at the competition.
For this step, don’t just look at local competition, look at businesses in the same market across your entire country or even around the world. Look at what they’re doing to achieve the goals you’ve set out and the features that contribute to that goal.
For example, if you had a goal of customer retention, you could look at Starbucks as an example. Their rewards program is all about retaining customers and keeping them engaged with everything that happens. They use a loyalty and rewards program to achieve a personal touch that keeps people coming back.
This is a prime example of both discount based marketing as well as gamification. Their use of “stars” as points to reward frequency works really well to increase their average customer lifetime value.
You’ll want to take notes on these example apps and how they work to solve the problem.
These notes will be used in the next step to map out your app.
Step #4: Sketch The Mobile App & Use Cases
With your app feature set mapped out and the functionality researched, it’s time to look at seeing how all these individual pieces connect together.
To do this we’ll want to sketch out each screen of the app to:
- ensure each use case makes sense in practice
- connect the dots from one feature to the next
- design the user experience that someone will go through based on their use case
We’ll use a concept called wireframing to achieve this. A wireframe is a skeleton version of your app using only lines and shapes. This gives us a functional representation of the app that can be walked through step by step.
You can do this offline on paper using something like SneakPeekIt, or you can use one of many wireframing tools and templates.
If you’re Adobe Suite savvy, here are some templates you can use for wireframing:
If you want to use a specialized tool, we recommend one of these:
You’ll eventually want to have a few documents like the below image for each of the use cases your app covers:
This will map out the flow users will take from opening your app to achieving one of the goals you’ve set out.
Step #5: Run Testing & Customer Development
If you want to learn how to build an app correctly, you have to learn how to test an app correctly.
You will want to test the use cases and individual screens you’ve wireframed to see if the experience is intuitive enough. This is also a form of customer development to make sure you’re solving the right problem in the right way.
For this you’ll want to separate the screens and use a tool like Invision to make the wireframe interactive. In Invision you’ll connect one screen to the other to simulate the user experience someone would go through in your app.
You can then send the Invision link to customers or other people who will be able to test the use case and see how intuitive your use case flow is. You’ll want them to start from opening the app to achieving the particular goal your after.
Along the way you can ask for feedback about what that tester would improve or what didn’t make sense. This phase is about understanding if everything is laid out correctly and acts according to how the majority of people think.
During the testing process you’ll inevitably get feedback on the app. What you’re looking for here is feedback around navigation, if buttons and prompts were logical and if it was easy or hard to get to the end goal.
Based on this feedback, you might have to take a step back and go back to the wireframing step. If it sounds like the app is intuitive and easy to use, than you’re ready to move to step seven.
Step #6: Choose a Language or Platform
By now you have your app use cases defined, functionality mapped out and you have a working wireframe of your app.
The next step is to choose a programming language to code your app or a mobile app building platform to create your app. If you’re choice is to create your app through an app building platform like BuildFire, you can move on to the next step (and save tens of thousands of dollars).
But if you’ve decided to code your app, than you’ll need to choose a programming language to build your app on.
In the realm of mobile apps, there’s two ways you can go:
Native App Development
In this case you’d build a separate app from scratch for whatever mobile operating system you wish to launch an app for. If you wanted to have an app go on the Apple App Store and on the Google Play Store, you’d have to build two apps from the bottom up.
The alternative to this is using a framework for cross platform development.
Mobile App Frameworks
These frameworks are hybrid frameworks that allow you to build an app once and deploy it across multiple platforms.
For example, PhoneGap is a popular framework that allows the single app you build to be compiled and distributed to iOS, Android and Windows phones through the respective app stores.
Some of the most popular hybrid mobile app frameworks include:
And there are many, many others to choose from.
Based on the budget you might have available to build an app, here are our recommendations:
Build using a mobile app building platform like BuildFire, or just have it done for you with something like our Pro Services offering.
$10,000 – $50,000
Use a mobile app framework to build your app. Realistically it will take a few months of a designer’s time to design the UI and a few months of a developer’s time to build. The timeline will likely be about 6 months between design and development
With a budget beyond $50,000 and a time budget of over 6 months, you’ll be able to have developers built a native Android and iOS app from scratch. If you have the budget and the time, this is a great option, however, expect things to go beyond the timeline set out and in most cases beyond budget.
Step #7: Design The App’s User Interface (UI)
If you’ve chosen to build the app with a developer through either a framework or from scratch, you now need to design the mobile app’s UI.
There are a lot of factors that go into UI development, and a million and one different options to consider. Diving into design can be one of the most enjoyable parts of building an app, however, it’s important to prioritize an intuitive interface over the latest and flashiest trends.
There are three primary categories that make up app design:
- Visual design
Let’s take a closer look at each category.
1. Visual Design
Your app’s visual design is what the user sees when they look at the screen at any given point while using the app.
These design elements can be created from scratch or you can take advantage of free and premium collections of UI elements created for this very purpose. The elements above are part of a UI collection featured in this list.
If you are investing a significant amount of money in developing your app, it’s a good idea to hire a designer as well instead of pulling from template collections. Behance and Dribbble are two great places to find designers. You can search for “mobile UI” on either site, find some designs you like and then contact that designer to see if they can design your app.
The next significant category in your UI design is navigation. How do users get from screen A to screen B or from one feature to the next? How do they physically interact with the app?
There are two primary differences between a desktop and mobile experience:
- Screen size
- Touch screen technology
Every smartphone has a touchscreen, and as such, the navigation should be designed to utilize the upsides of small touch screens while negating the downsides. The trick is to utilize the touchscreen technology while keeping the user experience intuitive.
Here are just a few of the possibilities:
The more you can integrate gestures over simple buttons, the more you can take advantage of mobile touch screens. At the same time, it’s important to include directions in a non-intrusive way that ensures mobile users understand how to navigate through your app.
The final piece to consider in your UI equation is how your app integrates with anything outside the app itself.
For example, can it be connected to a VR headset and used for VR?
Can it be used in conjunction with augmented reality?
Can it be integrated with some other device or app?
While this isn’t applicable to all mobile apps, it’s something important to consider and evaluate before you enter the design stage.
Step #8: Run Internal & External Testing
During your app building process you’ll get to a point where you think the app is ready. This is when testing comes into play. Whether you’ve built your app using a mobile app builder or using a developer to customer code it – testing is a crucial step in the app creation process.
In most cases, there are two rounds of testing with any mobile app. When you are custom developing an app, you may have upwards of 10 rounds of testing. But mainly we’ll be looking at what we call an internal test and an external test.
Internal testing is when yourself and your team test the app as if you were the end user. Sometimes this can be automated or done with the help of software. The goal of this round of testing is to identify bugs, see if there are any user experience issues and ensure things work like you’ve designed them.
External testing is where you bring in people that are not familiar with you to test the app and give feedback. The feedback could be bug related, but mostly it’s about the user experience and determining just how intuitive everything is.
Some app testing tools and services that can help:
The goal of using these tools is to help in refining the app to achieve the goals you’ve set out.
For example, if it’s hard for someone to navigate to the rewards section of your app and get registered, than it’s likely many others down the road will avoid registering for your rewards program because it’s hard to use.
Step #9: Launch Your Mobile App
You’ve finally made it!
You now have a well-designed app created, tested and ready to launch. It’s time to plan your launch strategy and launch that app.
In most cases, mobile apps are built with the focus on existing customers, so part of launching your app is getting it in front of existing customers.
There are a few easy ways to do that:
Put a Banner On Your Site
This is quite an easy one to do, simply find an area of your site most of your existing customers would frequent – like a blog – and put a banner there announcing your mobile app.
Here’s a great example:
Email Your List
Emailing your customer list is one of the easiest ways to get your app in front of them. A simple email announcing that the app is now live with links to download it is all you need.
If you don’t want to send an email just for the app, you can also add a link to the app to your email signature so every email reminds people to download that app.
Post It To Social Media
Another easy way to get it in front of a few eyeballs is to post a link to download your app to social media. You can do this regularly to capture new customers without annoying them.
When you’ve launched your mobile app completely, you can check out our MASSIVE guide on promoting your mobile app for free here.
Review: How To Build An App
I hope you’ve found this guide to building an app useful.
As you can see, learning how to build an app really isn’t that complicated. Where it gets the trickiest, the most expensive, and the most time consuming is during the actual development of the app, but fortunately, you can most likely skip that step altogether by using BuildFire’s app building platform.
In review, I’ve include the full 9 steps below, including links to additional resources on each section:
- Step #1: Define Your Mobile App’s Objectives
- Step #2: Determine Functionality & Features
- Step #3: Conduct Competitor Research
- Step #4: Sketch The Mobile App & Use Cases
- Step #5: Run Testing & Customer Development
- Step #6: Choose a Language or Platform
- Step #7: Design The App’s User Interface (UI)
- Step #8: Run Internal & External Testing
- Step #9: Launch Your Mobile App
Feel like we missed a step or have a question about any of the steps? Leave a comment below!