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Mobile is taking over desktop: the number of mobile users and time spent on mobile are seeing constant growth.
Providing seamless, yet engaging experience on mobile is now more important than ever, and it gives a true competitive advantage to businesses that get it right.
A great mobile app can exponentially help your business in many ways. It can:
However, creating an app can be an intimidating experience. You may be discouraged by high potential costs, technical teams, complex project management, months of work, and many costly risks among the way.
If that sounds familiar, this guide is for you. By the end of it, you will be able to:
Before you start figuring out how to create an app, you need to first define the reason why you want to create that app in the first place. Without this clarity, your planning will be convoluted, which means your end result will most likely reflect that as well
Your app should satisfy two goals:
First, let’s look at your audience (aka potential users). Whenever they interact with your business – both online or offline, regardless of the channel – they get to ask themselves: what’s in it for me? If they don’t see a benefit almost immediately, they will simply move on, and that’s true for your app, too.
An improvement for your business can mean many things, simply depending on your current situation. Some of the most common impacts a good mobile app can create for you are increased ROI, more returning customers, better productivity, reduced expenses, improved social proof, and a boost in brand awareness.
Now that we covered the basics, it’s time to go deeper. Remember, an app can have more than one purpose, and any of them can benefit your audience, you, or both.
So start by asking yourself these questions:
Other key areas include your market and competitor research, timeline, budget, and more, but we’ll focus on these factors later in this guide.
Now is the time to introduce you to our hypothetical business – Workout+ – to tackle these questions and all the steps that follow as we progress through them, so we can help you envision your development with BuildFire for your own mobile app.
Workout+ is a fitness and health center in San Francisco, and it has been running for 3 years now. It is attracting both new and existing clients, but because of a less than average retention rate, its growth has been stagnant for the past year.
Here, we want to tackle this business challenge and see what could a mobile app accomplish to tackle this problem – so let’s look at those questions again.
What areas of our business need improvement?
Our center has solid brand awareness and we gain new clients consistently, but we have an above-average churn rate. Some of our churned customers noted a difficulty to book their classes and personal trainers as one of the key reasons to leave, as it was only available on desktop and many of our clients are often on the go.
At the same time, we spend lots of time to run the logistics and basic communication with our clients, which consumes most of our team resources and efforts, making us inefficient and limiting our growth.
How can a mobile app impact these problems?
With a mobile app, we could automate many processes, such as classes overview, booking from mobile and important service updates, while enabling easy customer feedback and one-to-one chat.
What is the potential result?
On the customer side, we could increase overall client satisfaction and boost great social proof. And as a business benefit, we could see increased productivity and larger revenue.
Now that you know what you want to achieve with your app, it’s time to define your mobile app’s scope (the part where you figure out how to create an app).
This is the time to get creative and write down all the functionalities and app features necessary to accomplish the solutions and results outlined in the previous step.
Some of the features may include:
Write down any features that will bring value to your app, and make this your guidance throughout the full app development process.
For our Workout+ mobile app, we want to have an appointment booking feature, events calendar, RSS reader, chat, customer feedback, team members directory of our trainers, and maps for directions.
Now you know what you want your app to do, and it’s time to look at what your successful competitors are already doing to lead their customers to similar goals.
This is also the time to not just focus on your local competition, but also look at the companies in the same market around the country or even around the world. This will spark new ideas and point at existing gaps in the market.
Look at their features, app layout and functionalities and take notes of anything that stands out to you or anything that you feel is missing.
From our competitor research in the fitness center and gym industry, we came across an idea for a loyalty/rewards feature for our app. This is something our fitness center never offered and this was a great time to start.
So far, you’ve defined your app’s objectives and mapped out its functionalities, including your market and competitor research insights. This is the time to give your app its first skeleton and piece these individual blocks together with wireframing.
Wireframing is a visual guide that will represent your app’s layout and the flow between the screen without the distractions of visual design and graphic elements. It is the bridge between your raw thoughts and a final product before any of the technical phases begin.
Your wireframing is driven by your use case(s) – the small, specific tasks your users can achieve with your app.
This is your unique chance to:
There are two ways to create wireframes: offline and online. If you prefer offline, you can simply use a pen and blank paper, or you can use templates like the ones from SneakPeekIt.
Online options include:
Choose your tool or template, and start sketching. You should have one wireframe for each use case, and it should represent the full screen flow a user will see from opening your app to achieving their goal.
You’ll eventually want to have a few documents like the below image for each of the use cases your app covers:
Now that you have your use cases and their visual representation, it’s time to test your app’s flow and user experience.
Testing will help you analyze your use cases, identify any friction points and question the ease of your mobile app processes. You will compare your screen flow with your user’s expectations and prevent any frustrations.
To test your wireframes and use cases, you should use a tool like Invision to make your wireframe interactive. Using Invision, you can connect screens and link actions to simulate the actual experience of your app.
It is really quick and easy to do this: you can register for a free account on Invision and create your project by simply clicking the ‘+’ sign and selecting ‘Create new prototype’. Once you name your prototype and select its type, you’ll be given two options: syncing with Sketch/Photoshop or adding image files from your computer.
You can now add images of individual screens from your wireframe. In each of these images, you can use the options at the bottom of the screen to link screens to one another. Once you’re finished, you can share your prototype using the ‘Share’ option at the top-right corner of the screen. And that’s it!
Use this to share the project with your colleagues or your customers to test the use cases and the intuitiveness of user’s journey, from opening the app to reaching the goal.
You can also ask your testers to write down the answers to these questions:
Answers to these questions will inform your action items in the next step.
After you gather all your feedback, you need to group it by similarities. If a few people told you there are redundant options in your app, group these together. If some of them said they had to return to the previous screen often, list all the reasons why.
When you sort all the feedback accordingly, build your task list of revisions and updates you need to make to your wireframe. Then, implement these changes and make your wireframe ready for testing again to ensure all friction points have been removed.
Test once again, and once you’re happy with the feedback you’re getting, you’re ready to move on to the next big step!
Your app’s use cases and functionalities are now mapped out, and it’s time to actually build it!
In this step, you’ll have to choose your development path. It boils down to two core options:
This decision will largely depend on your budget timeline – here are our recommendations:
Build your app using a mobile app building platform like BuildFire, or use something like our Pro Services to work with developers who will hand-craft your app. This is also an incredibly cost-effective option when it comes to long-term ongoing maintenance costs, keeping them under $100 per month.
$10,000 – $50,000
If your timeline allows it, use a mobile app framework to build your app. It can take about six months for the design and development to be completed.
With this budget and more than six months time, you can afford to build native iOS and Android apps from scratch, and it’s a brilliant option in case your resources allow for it. If you choose this option, allow for extra time and budget requirements throughout the project, as well as high maintenance costs.
Let’s look at each of these options in more detail.
In the case of coding your app, you can choose one of the two further paths:
Native app will provide you with the most robust and reliable performance, but it’s costly and demanding to develop. Keep in mind you may need to work with two separate developer teams to cover both platforms. You also cannot streamline any updates because of two separate code bases, and each custom feature may add weeks and months to your deployment and updates.
Hybrid apps, however, have a feel of a native app, but they are developed as a single code base that is deployable on both iOS and Android. While their performance can lag compared to native, this gap is getting smaller and it’s only truly applicable at the gaming level.
Developing hybrid apps through a mobile app framework may take significant time to develop, and as with native apps, any extra and custom features may add more delay to your launch and strain to your budget. It’s important to account for these delays and costs early in your project.
When you choose to go with a mobile app building platform, instead of developing from scratch, you are given the freedom to create your mobile app’s look and feel and instantly see any changes you make without having to change any code – all within minutes.
All the features you need can be built in immediately using plugins, rather than waiting for them to be coded over several months. With BuildFire, you can choose any plugins from 3rd party developers, BuildFire’s plugins, or your own custom plugins. You can be sure your app will look and function exactly the way you imagined without months of developer work and expensive changes!
This option doesn’t require a large upfront cost or development expertise. It also doesn’t cost thousands of dollars a month to maintain them. In fact, with BuildFire, you can get any updates live in a matter of minutes, all from a single dashboard and immediately visible on both Apple and Android devices.
Remember: the simplest of information-based apps will cost a minimum of $25,000 when sourced by a small app agency, but with a platform like BuildFire, you can create, publish, and utilize the exact same app for under $100 per month!
When you make your decision, it’s time to move onto the next step – app building!
If you’ve decided to code your mobile app from scratch or through a mobile app framework, this is the time to start your ongoing work with developers and designers. You’ll collaborate with them to bring your ideas and wireframes to life, closely monitoring every step to ensure consistency between your vision and the end product.
In case you’ve chosen a mobile app building platform, this is where the fun begins!
We’ll walk you through a process of creating the first version of the Workout+ app in less than a day with BuildFire’s mobile app builder. We want to show you just how easily you can bring your app idea to reality.
When starting the process, our first step was choosing a template. Even though there were several that seemed appropriate, we went with the Salon template as it immediately displayed most features we needed, such as booking, staff and loyalty features.
After filling in some basic information about the app, the builder loads.
We started off with this screen:
Also, this was our starting set of plugins:
Next, we wanted to ensure we’ve added all the plugins we need to ensure all of our features are built in, and remove any that we didn’t need.
So we removed the shop option, styles, and coupon plugin, and added plugins for updates (RSS reader), directions, calendar of classes (events feed), and customer feedback. All these were available through the simple ‘Add Plugin Instance’ button.
Next, we wanted to remove the existing branding and images and add our name and appropriate images. This was all done in the ‘Home’ folder, accessible through the ‘Home Plugin’ option in the left sidebar.
Options on this screen allowed us to make these changes:
Here, you can remove any images from the ‘Image Carousel’ section and decide to replace this with a background image, which we did through the ‘Design’ tab. We didn’t need to look far for this image – it was in the stock library already, and we simply added the Workout+ header using the text field.
We also changed the color palette through the ‘Appearance’ tab in the left sidebar.
We then went on to edit each individual plugin to enable all the features we wanted. Each of them was accessible and configured directly from this home screen. Here is how it went!
We used the existing Calendly plugin from this theme. The setup was as easy as adding a Calendly link and naming the calendar. There is also always a link to register for the account you need in any given plugin, so it’s easy to get up and running.
We also renamed this section and added a different image as a plugin image that will show up on the starting screen. This is configurable at the top of each plugin’s settings screen. We decided to go with icons, but you can go with whatever suits your branding!
For this, we also used a plugin that was already in this theme – the People plugin.
Again, using the ‘Content’ section for headers, text and staff information, and the ‘Design’ tab for background and layout, we were able to insert necessary information in a matter of minutes.
We followed this same structure for each of the features/plugins that we added to our home screen. As you’ll see below we added an RSS feed for new blogs posts and updates and created an interactive map and the ability to call or email us from the app.
Interactive map and contact section:
And finally, in the ‘Design’ tab of the home screen, we played around to see what layout of the icons and their labels works best. We decided to keep the labels as they made it crystal clear as to what each option is for!
And there you have it – our first operational version of the app was ready in the matter of a couple of hours, ready for testing, and all of it with no costly risks – at all!
Once development is done, your app is ready for real-world testing! This step will ensure there are no bugs and the user experience is as intuitive as it was after you’ve created and tested your wireframes.
With custom development of an app, there may be upwards of ten rounds of testing. Let’s cover two different tests here: internal test and the external test.
Internal testing involves yourself and your team to test the app as if you were the end user. The goal of internal testing is to identify bugs or any user experience issues – simply put, your app needs to work and flow just the way you planned.
External testing involves people who are not familiar with you or your mobile app. The core aim here is to pinpoint any user experience issues and unintuitive steps.
You can use some of these app testing tools to help you in this step:
If you decided to build your app with BuildFire, you can preview and test your app completely free through our BuildFire Previewer app, quick and simple. It will allow you to:
You’ve reached your final task – letting the world know about your brand new mobile app!
First, you will submit your app to your preferred app stores. For this, make sure you follow all the guidelines that each platform defines and to make the most out of your app store optimization.
Once your mobile app is live in the app stores, it’s time to get the eyeballs on it! There are many ways to promote your mobile app, but we want you to start with these ones so you can get your app in front of the right people – fast.
Email your customers
This is the priority: as soon as your app is live, make sure your customers are the first to know. It can be as simple as writing a short email to say that you’ve been working on improving their mobile experience and link to your app in app stores. You can also ask them to reply to your email with any questions or feedback. It’s that simple!
Update your website
This is crucial for any potential customers, as well as churned customers, as this will show them the value you’re providing for their mobile experience in case they become your customer.
You can publish a blog post about your new mobile app, or simply place a banner on frequently visited pages (or both!). Don’t hesitate to briefly mention the value and the impact this app will bring to your customers!
Promote on social media
Instead of simply posting the link to your app on social media, you can combine several different strategies for your app promotion on social media:
We’re on a mission to make mobile apps available to all businesses and set them free from thousands of dollars in development and maintenance costs.
Improving and growing your business through mobile experience shouldn’t be expensive, time-consuming and intimidating. It shouldn’t take away from your resources to do what you love the most, and it should easily provide value that you, your customers and your employees can enjoy in the long run.
With our mobile app building platform, you can have a mobile app ready for your audience in a matter of days – try our builder for free today!