When social media broke big, the peer pressure to go all-in was astounding. Businesses routinely created Facebook and Twitter accounts, bombarded them with content, and then wondered why followers dwindled off or they couldn’t break 100 “Likes”. With mobile apps, the peer pressure is just as staggering, but the financial stakes are much higher. So, before you invest in the development of an app for your business, ask these critical questions first:
1. Are your customers demanding it?
As a business owner or manager, you're probably familiar with unrealistic client demands. From calls for expensive changes to a product to bizarre and costly service requests, there seems to be no end to passionate, odd suggestions by people who feel like they're working toward the better good. If a tiny group bands together to request an app for your product or service, and they represent .00001% of your client base, it might not be something worth pursuing. However, if your clients, independent of each other, are posting in forums, hitting you up on Twitter, or filling up your email suggestions inbox with requests for an app, it's time to take things seriously.
2. Do your closest competitors have one?
Unless you're the only company creating something extremely magical, ultra-rare and totally proprietary, you know exactly who your competitors are. Your rivals might be smaller companies that are growing quickly, larger companies with better name recognition, or peer businesses with a similar number of customers (or estimated sales). There may be a $200 million company with global recognition that produces a similar product to yours, but adding them to the equation will only skew the results. Be realistic. Find out which of your true competitors have apps, which ones have mobile Websites, and explore either (or both) options.
3. Is your company suffering by comparison?
If a rival company develops their own app and it becomes popular, you'll probably see the signs when you balance the books. However, if a rival company develops an app and a major review site does a side-by-side comparison, and your company ends up the loser, it's an entirely different scenario. Remember: many new customers use reviews, blog posts, social media and other online comparisons to pick the company they're going to buy from next. If word spreads quickly that you're “the company that makes what I like but doesn't have an app”, a total evaluation is in order.
4. Will it lighten the load for your employees?
Before the days of ubiquitous ATMs, patrons had to go inside a bank, fill out a slip of paper, stand in line, and then wait for another human being to process a transaction. While this quaint little scenario had its social merits, at the end of the day it was a time waster for both people involved. A solid business app not only saves customers time, it saves your employees time. If you've ever wished you could automate something and give you or your staff more time to work on bigger, better things, it makes perfect sense to think seriously about having someone develop your app.
5. Will a mobile site work instead?
For many businesses, only two scenarios make sense: having a website and having a website AND an app. But there's one more option that may deliver the best of both worlds, and possibly cost less as well: a mobile website. With a mobile website, clients can do everything from order products to access info from their mobile phone, tablet or other device. Because a mobile site is optimized for handheld devices, customers instantly get most (if not all) of the conveniences and functions of your website, without you having to commit to a long app development cycle. There are so many reasons, from convenience to cost-saving, that apps make sense for businesses, whether they are small, living room-based operations or larger companies working out of vast warehouses. But before you commit to a developer, a design or a timeframe, use your answers to the questions above as your compass.
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Brian is a life-long software developer who loves to help others succeed. A frequent source for media outlets, such as BBC, Entrepreneur and Bloomberg, Brian also frequently speaks at universities, conferences and the like. His new book, "Unravelling the Internet of Things" will be available soon on Amazon.com.