In the not so distant past, the question used to be whether your small businesses could benefit from a website. Now whenever a small business owner asks that question, the answer is a resounding yes. Whether you are selling hand-painted mailboxes or online accounting services, you should most definitely have an online presence in the form of a website.

Now, instead of wondering if they should have a website, more small business owners are asking whether their small business could benefit from a mobile app, and if so, how they go about turning that idea into a reality.

In this post, we’ll help you to figure out if you should look into developing an app for your business, and what your options are when it comes to building it. Follow along to see if it’s time for you to see if you can benefit from the 4.6 billion mobile users around the world.

Could Your Small Business Benefit From a Mobile App?

Before you start digging too deeply into the details of what you want your app to do, you need to figure out if having one is going to benefit your business and help you to reach your customers. To do this, you need to ask yourself a few questions from a marketing savvy and entrepreneurial standpoint:

Who needs a mobile app?

Before you decide to go ahead with an app, you should make sure that it will actually do some good for your business. Do you think your users would benefit from a mobile app, and would they use it? Do you already have an online presence where your users can find and interact with you?

The purpose of a mobile app is to reach your users on a platform that they are already using. If you feel like your customers aren’t the type to either own smartphones or frequent the app store, then an app might not be the right choice for you. But if you already interact with your customers online, and you have a clear vision of who would use your app and why, it might be enough to get you started.

To really determine if your business needs an app, spend time talking to your customers and doing market research. Depending on the type you need, apps can be quite costly, and should be considered carefully, as with any other major business investment.

What kind of app should you have?

The type of app you decide to have depends on what your business is. In some cases, like Amazon or Spotify, your mobile app should be a twin to your desktop site. In others, you may want a similar, but noticeably different version between desktop and mobile, like Microsoft Office.

The most important things to consider when pinpointing what type of app you should have are ease of use and design. You want your users to be able to navigate quickly and efficiently to whatever the goal of the app is while enjoying a sleek and visually pleasing design.

This means that if the desktop version of your site or application is too complicated, you might need to simplify it and trim it down to work well on mobile. Or, if your site is fairly simple and straightforward, maybe you just need to make your website mobile-friendly instead of building an entire app.

Make sure to do some research on how users typically navigate through apps similar to what you have in mind and look at a lot of examples—both good and bad. Some apps that do really well in terms of user experience are Instagram, Slack, and Dropbox.

When should you go ahead with an app?

As a small business owner, you should approach an app like you would any other marketing initiative. This means that it’s on you and your team to do user testing, research competitors’ apps, and talk to your customers to help you to determine if it will have a positive return on investment.

You shouldn’t go ahead with an app unless you have proven interest from your market and you know exactly what you are looking for.

Where should I put my app?

The majority of smartphone users either prefer iOS or Android. By sorting through the analytics on your existing site, you should be able to see where your users are coming from. While it’s generally best to make your app available to both sets of users, it might be difficult to do all at once since programming languages and app guidelines can vary between the two operating systems.

As such, where you launch your app depends on how it is being developed, what your resources consist of, and how much time you have to put into it.

Why should I have a mobile app for my business?

The short answer to that question is to increase your sales. Since 80% of smartphone owners use their devices to browse the web, you might be missing out on a whole new group of customers by sticking to desktop. Many businesses that create quality mobile apps see their numbers go up.

Again, research is essential in discerning whether or not you should invest in an app and what it can do for your business. While some businesses have an obvious choice for a mobile version, such as a clothing site, others aren’t as straightforward.

What Are My Development Options?

If you’ve decided that, yes, an app is the right step for your business, you still have to figure out how you are going to build one. You have a few different options when it comes to the development of a mobile app, and which you go with depends on what you are looking for and how much you have to spend.

  • Build it yourself. If you are a developer, you might be able to build your own app. This is the most wallet-friendly option, but it requires a lot of time and dedication on your part, as well as potentially learning a new programming language or two.
  • Hire in-house. If you are an employer and you expect your app to become a big part of your business, it might be time to start building a development team internally. Think about not only the initial work involved, but the maintenance and upkeep of an app as well. Plus, if you get a skilled dev, chances are they will be able to help out with other programming tasks as well.
  • Enlist an offshore company. Many businesses enlist offshore help because of the affordability. If you do decide to take this route, make sure to look into a number of different companies and get references and samples. Go with a business that has experience with the type of app that you have envisioned.
  • Call in a local agency. Most marketing firms either offer development themselves or have freelancers on call for this type of thing. If you have the resources and would prefer to hand it off to professionals while still being able to oversee the project, this option might be best for you.

Bringing an App to Life

Mobile apps can provide a lot of benefits to a business, from offering them the opportunity to reach new customers and users, to giving them a new platform for expanding their products and services.

Whether developing an app is the right move for your business really depends on where you want your business to go in the future. With a clear path to follow, and the right team to make it happen, bringing your business to mobile might be exactly what you need to continue healthy, long-term growth.

Are you considering an app for your business?

Posted by Brittany Foster

Brittany is a writer, editor, and content manager interested in law, marketing, and technology. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2014.