Mobile has already taken over desktop usage in the past few years, and mobile usage continues to climb.
Not only with regards to the number of mobile users but also in time spent on mobile phones vs desktop computers and laptops. To top that off over 80% of internet users own a smartphone.
How many of your customers are you engaging on mobile?
Do you have a mobile app in place to connect your business to your customers 24/7/365?
If your answer is no, you’re leaving a massive gap in your customer retention and engagement. A gap that your competitors will happily fill.
The days when you could get by with a desktop only website are a thing of the past, now it’s all about responsive design and mobile websites. With the same momentum mobile apps have become a necessity for customer care and retention after the sale. It’s a rapidly growing channel that you can easily take advantage of.
That’s exactly what I want to show you today. I want to show you the 9 easy steps you can take to create a mobile app for your business to:
- Retain more customers
- Increase customer lifetime values
- Engage customers to increase referral business
- and so much more!
Let’s dive in!
Step One: Define Your Objectives With A Mobile App
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 customer experience during service. 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 do you envision a mobile app impacting that problem?
- What is the potential result?
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 customer retention could use some work, 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 top of mind.
How do you envision a mobile app impacting that problem?
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.
What is the potential result?
If we can achieve even the same results as email, but to a different segment of our customers for service, we’d double our repeat business.
Step Two: Lay Out Your App 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 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.
Some key things you’ll want to layout here 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 Three: 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.
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 Four: 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 Five: Testing & Customer Development
With the use cases mapped out based on the problems you’ll be solving, it’s testing time!
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.
Step Six: Revise & Test
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 Seven: 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 – move to the next step.
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 Seven And A Half: Design
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.
Here’s an example of what your mobile UI designs might look like when they’re ready:
To help inspire you, here’s 20 well designed mobile user interfaces.
During this phase you’ll be designing each screen of the mobile app and the elements that may be present in the app (like graphs or sliders).
It’s recommended to use a designer for this stage, especially if you’ll be spending a tens of thousands of dollars on a developer. 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.
Step Eight: Mobile App 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 Nine: 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.
Feel like we missed a step or have a question about any of the steps? Leave a comment below!