Mobile is taking over desktop: 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:
- Increase your revenue by improving sales or introducing a new revenue stream
- Build up engagement and community by providing a resource for your audience
- Improve employee communication by being a core internal app for your business
- Increase your brand awareness and enhancing your mobile marketing strategy
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:
- Define and research your app
- Create and test your app’s layout and use cases
- Choose your development path based on your resources
- Build and test your app without a single dollar spent
- Launch your first app in a matter of weeks with minimum cost
We’re breaking down every step, giving you all the resources you need, and explaining all your options.
Step 1: Define Your Objectives With a Mobile App
Your number one task is to define the reason you want to create an app to begin with. As you’ll see throughout this guide, each next step will rely on the combination of the previous ones.
Your app should create two effects in the overall picture:
- An improvement for your audience, and
- An improvement for your business.
First, let’s look at your audience. 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:
- What areas of your business need improvement?
- How can a mobile app impact that problem?
- What is the potential result?
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 – Inspire Fitness – 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.
Inspire Fitness 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 a 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.
Your answers to this step will be your core guidance throughout the rest of this process.
Step 2: Lay Out Your App Functionality & Features
Now that you know what you want to achieve with your app, it’s time to define your mobile app’s scope.
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:
- eCommerce integrations
- Contact us
- YouTube or Vimeo integration
- Push notifications
- Social sharing
Write down any features that will bring value to your app, and make this your guidance throughout the full app development process.
For our Inspire Fitness 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.
Step 3: Research Your Competitors
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.
We’ve also discovered that many fitness centers don’t offer an option for direct booking through the app, so this was an opportunity for Inspire Fitness to stand out.
Step 4: Create Your Wireframes & Use Cases
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:
- Understand your use cases and the thought processes behind them
- Optimize the number and order of screens to reach each goal
- Create multiple screen flows to find which one works best
- Save hundreds of development hours later on
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.
Here is how one of our Inspire Fitness wireframes looks like using Mockflow:
As you can see, we covered the necessary steps to call the gym directly from the app.
Step 5: Test Your Wireframes
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:
- After you’ve opened the app, is the access to the main menu obvious?
- Can you easily identify all the tasks you can accomplish with the app?
- Did you have to tap ‘Back’ for any of the tasks you wanted to achieve because the path wasn’t intuitive?
- Were you looking for an option that wasn’t there?
- Are there any options you found redundant?
Answers to these questions will inform your action items in the next step.
Step 6: Revise & Test
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 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!
Step 7: Choose a Development Path
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:
- Choosing a programming language to code your app
- Using a mobile app building platform to create your app, like BuildFire
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.
Coding your app
In the case of coding your app, you can choose one of the two further paths:
- Native app development. In this case, you’re building your app from scratch for the operating system you chose. If you want your app both on Apple App Store and Google Play Store, you’ll need to build two separate apps from the ground up.
- Mobile app framework. This path allows you to build a hybrid app that can be deployed on multiple platforms. Simply said, you can distribute the same code base across different operating systems. Some framework options include Ionic, Framework 7 and PhoneGap.
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.
Using a mobile app building platform
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 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 the 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!
Step 8: Build Your Mobile App
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 Inspire Fitness 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:
Choosing your 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 chat (Smooch app), updates (RSS reader), directions, calendar of classes (events feed), and customer feedback. All these were available through the simple ‘Add Plugin Instance’ button.
Home screen & branding
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, we removed any images from the ‘Image Carousel’ section and decided 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 Inspire Fitness 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!
Booking the classes
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!
Meet our team
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 the 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 linked our Messenger with the chat option in the app with Smooch API, added an RSS feed for new posts and updates, and created an interactive map and the ability to call or email us from the app.
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 couple of hours, ready for testing, and all of it with no costly risks – at all!
Step 9: Test Your Mobile App
Once development is done, your app is ready for the 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 external test.
Internal testing involves yourself and your team to test the app as if your 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:
- Try the app in a realistic environment, just like it was downloaded on your phone from the app store
- Interact with your app to see and feel the experience it provides
- Test your app’s features and make sure the layout is intuitive
- Implement any feedback and fine-tune the details
You can now refine your app to achieve the app goals you’ve set out in the beginning.
Step 10: Launch Your Mobile App
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 you’re 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:
- Post an update about your app on Facebook and Twitter and pin that post to the top of your profile. Ensure these updates convey the value of your app and contain a call to action.
- If you are on Instagram, link to your app in your profile URL and mention it in your post captions.
- Go to Twitter’s advanced search, and search for your business name mentions. If you are a local business, include your location, too. If your search returns recent enough results, see if you can join a conversation naturally and without sales talk. If any tweets mention your mobile experience or ask questions that your app is an answer to, you can mention your app in your replies.
- Go to Followerwonk and select ‘Search Bios’ at the top. Enter your keyword and your location, and ideally set the minimum number of tweets to 1000 to avoid spammy accounts. On the right of your search fields, select ‘search Twitter bios only’, enter your location if appropriate, and do your search. Look through the profiles that show up in your results and see if you can organically join any ongoing conversations – this will help you raise your brand awareness!
Ready to get started on your app?
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 the matter of days – try our builder for free today!