Tech Talk: Is Your Small Business Ready For A Mobile App?

December 14, 2012  |  

As a small business in America in 2012, the potential for growth in revenue and brand awareness is increasing due to the deluge of interactive business tools like mobile applications. For example, we recently covered, the new Around the Way app, which directs users to black-owned businesses in their area. “For any small business listed, the app could be literally sending customers through the door,” we noted.

Small businesses that jump onto the mobile app bandwagon also hope to take advantage of the different ways that technology allows customers to interact with them and their products, from scanning product barcodes in stores to receiving more information to offering discounts and coupons on a consumer’s favorite products. This increasingly effective way to interact with businesses also increases the pressure for small businesses to create their own applications. But before you begin to step out into the complex world of mobile app creation, consider the implications of the process.

“For the most part, creating an app is not cheap, and it’s also not easy,” Jared Hendler, digital media strategist and executive creative director at PR firm MWW Group, says. In his role at MWW, Hendler oversees the company’s digital marketing/social media group and visual branding practice.

“The biggest disadvantages of small businesses looking to create a mobile app are the costs and maintenance of the app itself. You have to keep up with the updates of each operating system,” he says. Small businesses would have to manage the upkeep of an app within each of the leading mobile OS systems, Apple, Android and the latest OS to the mobile market, Windows 8.

“When you’re creating an app, you have to create for all these different screen sizes and make sure it’s going to work on all these different devices, whether it’s Nokia or Samsung or HTC. It’s challenging,” he adds.

Another aspect a small business owner must note before tackling the mobile app process is the time that must be considered to create and maintain a full mobile application.

“The challenge with small business owners is that they wear many hats: they put in long hours, they are the marketing person and the accountant, they’re doing inventory, they are doing a lot of different things, and they’ve got to allocate a specific amount of time doing digital and social,” Hendler says.

Sian Morson, founder/CEO of Kollective Mobile and Chief Technology Officer of Around The Way App, believes that small business owners could handle the major project of creating an app, with the right knowledge to do so, or a team of those who do.

“App development is big business, and lucrative too. I’ve heard stories of small businesses owners getting burned by people who promise to deliver apps and never do, or deliver badly developed app or quite simply apps that don’t work. If a small business owner is planning to develop a company app, learn as much as possible as you can so that you can speak the language. Or find someone who does.”

Morson also comments on the costs associated with app creation, which could sometimes be too good to be true for quality development.

“It really depends on your needs and your budget. But always make sure you’re getting quality work.  I would say that cost is mostly driven by functionality. If a price sounds too good to be true, as with anything else, it probably is.  Apps these days, range from $5,000 and up depending on who is doing the work.”

A small business owner must also be able to put in the work of marketing themselves. One example of this is Janine Hausif, CEO of recently launched app, Around The Way, which helps consumers find local black-owned small businesses.

“The old adage ‘If you build it, they will come’ is dead and gone in today’s tech-savvy world,” Hausif says. “Now it’s ‘If you build it, you need to tell people about it or they’ll never know you exist.’ Small businesses need to create a solid, consistent brand to gain and retain consumers.”

Between the time allocated for creating and maintaining a business app to the cost associated, a mobile app for a small business might be a major undertaking and more of a disadvantage to a business that isn’t based in technology itself.

“If a small business is insistent on creating an app, those businesses that are in technology or selling services through web or social media or for development sites are the businesses that might benefit from an app,” Hendler suggests.

Although creating an app might be out of the realm for your small business, there are many options to explore when looking to interact with consumers via mobile, beginning with creating visibility of your business.

“Small businesses can find other alternatives to becoming mobile, like getting involved with apps like FourSquare and making sure your businesses are linked and listed, where consumers can check-in to the business,” Hendler advises. “Make sure your business is listed on all of the [mobile] maps and make sure you’re connected in using mobile payment options, like PayPal or Square, which is a great option for a small business.”

Sian Morson agrees.

“I don’t think that a mobile app is a necessity for all small businesses. Before small businesses owners think about creating a specific mobile app, I believe that they should explore other mobile options like local search and a mobile-optimized website. Local search is exploding right now, and the majority of people on mobile devices who conduct a local search take action. That means they will either call, or check a store’s location to see how close or far they are from it. For a small business owner, that’s gold. ”

Utilizing other mobile apps that are designed for the visibility of smaller businesses locally could also increase your visibility to consumers in the mobile world.

“Apps like Scoutmob, which empowers small businesses to offer local deals and apps like Cardagin, which a business can create loyalty programs without having to create your own infrastructure [in the mobile app world], are also great for smaller businesses. Go where the eyeballs are.”

If you are looking for something a little closer to your own platform, creating a mobile website that works on various mediums is also a great way to gain mobile exposure.

“A small business would be much better off having a mobile version of their website instead and doing something with responsive design, so their website is responsive to whatever platform is needed, whether it is a tablet or mobile phone,” Hendler recommends.

Creating experiences in the mobile realm for your consumers could begin with just more visibility, one little step closer to bigger consumer brand awareness.

“Entering the mobile space will be necessary in the very near future. Find out where you fit in that space. Prepare for it. Plan around it. Make it happen or else your existing and potential customers will lose interest,” Hausif advises small business owners.

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