Are you thinking about building a mobile app for your business, service or because you're starting out on your entrepreneur journey?
If you are, you should read through this blog post as it will provide you with exceptional insight into the world of apps and how you can get started building your mobile app.
With the rise of smartphones in recent years, there has been a surge in popularity among users to use apps. COVID has forced many businesses, some of which would never have considered apps before this shift in behaviour, to take action.
To break down this growth even further, according to data published by Statista, mobile app revenues worldwide were 365 billion US Dollars in 2019, and are predicted to reach 935 billion US Dollars in 2023. That's a huge growth, especially when you consider it was 97 billion US Dollars in 2014.
What that doesn't account for is the revenue generated through appointment bookings, amongst other things, where payments happen offline.
As such, if you wanted to get in to the app stores, there is no better time than now.
Validation of your idea
I'm going to share something which might shock or offend you. Your idea isn't worth much. It's not worth anything.
What counts is execution. Execution of the strategy, design, build and marketing of your app to sell it. If you can't solve those things, your app is dead.
But, that doesn't mean you should give up on your idea, far from it. Yet, please don't consider it the most crucial part of the journey.
If you're reading this article, you've got an idea already you want to explore. If that's the case, we recommend you assess your idea for two parts:
We use this to determine can this thing we want to build even take place. Is it possible to do what we want to do?
Sometimes, the thing we want to build is so complex it will either be so expensive it's not possible, or the technology isn't ready yet.
To help you with this, you have a couple of options.
1. Look for examples of the problem you're aiming to solve. Does the solution already exist? If so, can you implement it better?
2. Speak to knowledgeable people. You can try posting on Reddit, in Facebook Groups or on LinkedIn. You could even speak to people in a technology meet up group.
Let's assume your idea is feasible. But is it viable?
To that, we mean, can I achieve my end goal for a cost in which I can afford, and, will it likely make a return on that investment in the future?
We're looking to find out in the shortest and cheapest way possible if that idea has viability in the market place.
To find out rough costs, speak to a mobile app developer or agency to gain the likely costs involved. You can also talk with potential clients or users to see how much they'd likely pay for a solution.
You want to look to validate the viability of the idea before you spend large sums of money on it.
I like to conduct an XYZ experiment that details how you can develop a small experiment to validate your hypothesis.
Validation of your mobile app
In the same way, you went about validating your idea; you need to validate your approach to solving that problem with a mobile app.
What you shouldn't do is launch an unvalidated app into the market.
We've spoken to countless people who've done this and made some big mistakes.
You don't need to make this part complicated but follow this order.
Create a user flow
A user flow is a sequence of how a user will go from discovering your app right through to using it.
It shows what the order of events you'll take through the app is.
I find it a valuable process for ironing out any confusion in the process with a client and streamlining it. If it's confusing on the user flow, it will be confusing for real.
This is what a user flow looks like.
Across the top, we've got our user personas. These are people who will use our mobile app or service. Underneath, we place the groupings or categories of events, such as "Provide basis information. This is a task that the user is trying to complete, and it might be made up of a series of tasks.
Those tasks are the items below the categories. They provide more insight into the job the user is trying to complete.
Once you've created your user flow, pretend you're a user going through the app. Does the sequence feel right? Have you missed anything or made it confusing?
A great question to ask yourself is, "What can I remove from this?". An exercise we do with clients to teach them this method details getting to work in the morning.
On a typical day, you might have 15-20 steps in your flow. Wake up. Go to the toilet. Have a shower, etc.
But if you've only got 15 minutes to get to work and you'll be late. What can you remove from that process? It could be as simple as get up. Go to work.
Use this approach to define your minimum user flow and focus on this.
Design an app prototype
At this stage, we like to design a mobile app prototype. This is a visual representation of the screens in your app.
You want to go through your user flow, create each screen and then put that into something your user can navigate.
You can use tools such as Figma, or Adobe XD or create your prototype. We've even seen prototypes created in Powerpoint and Keynote. The tool itself doesn't matter.
If you're not good at design, you could work with a freelancer or agency here to put together your prototype for you based on the user flow.
If you have some design skills, you can use pre-built designs and mockups to create your app. It doesn't need to be custom.
The idea here is to get something convincing enough that anyone you're showing it to might consider it a real app.
With your prototype, you're going to want to user test this with real users. I say real, because please don't choose your friends.
If you choose your mates, they'll likely tell you that your idea is excellent to avoid hurting your feelings. Whatever you do, don't pick your Mum.
You want to find five real users that meet your target demographic. If you're building an app for dentists, find five dentists.
We reward our user tests with something like an Amazon voucher for taking the time to help us.
If you're struggling to find user testers, you can use platforms such as LinkedIn or use Facebook ads to target a specific niche or job title.
Once you've found the five users you want to test with, use a platform such as Google Meet or Zoom to speak with them; you're going to ask them open-ended questions about what they think about your app.
Asking the right questions can be challenging, so we'd recommend learning more about the topic. This video is a good start.
Keep all the feedback in a document or spreadsheet. Write down all the positives and negatives because you'll need them next.
Iterate based on the results
Once you've completed your user testing, you'll have a good idea of how your audience received your mobile app.
Without user testing, you have no idea how the market will position, use or place your app in their minds. Now, you do.
I heard a great analogy before your user testing; you are stood in a dark room with the lights turned off, holding a dart. In that room on one of the four walls is a dartboard, but you have no idea where it is because it's dark.
While you might be questioning some of your life choices to end up in a dark room alone with thing single dart, hear us out.
You're instructed to take aim and throw your dart. After you've taken your shot, the lights turn on, and you can see the dartboard for the first time.
After five seconds, the lights go off, and you're given another dart and asked to throw the dart again.
During this phase, you have a far greater chance of at least getting roughly in the right area. If you're like me at darts, hitting the right wall might be a good start!
It's unlikely you'll hit the board, but at least you're now heading in the right direction.
Launching a new app or product is a bit like that.
When you start, it's all based on assumption and feeling.
User testing shines the light on where you've got things right, but also where you've made mistakes and gives you a chance to improve.
Now is your chance to iterate your product based on the feedback and repeat your user testing.
Build the app
You're now at a point where you could start building your mobile app! You've come a long way.
But now, you're faced with confusing terms and different technologies which you may not have come across before.
You can break this phase down into two parts; the technology and the team building the app.
We're fortunate that there are a few different ways to create mobile apps, and they all have their pros and cons.
Native apps are considered the gold standard. They are written in the native programming languages for their operating system. Swift for iOS and Java / Kotlin for Android.
The positives are you'll get access to the latest features and be as close to the operating system as possible. This increases quality and reduces the likelihood of defects.
The downsides are you have to hire two app developers or work with an agency who can produce both versions for iOS and Android. This will often take longer and increase the price.
We're now in a position where cross-platform technologies are almost as good as native. Platforms such as React and Flutter produce native code but from a single compiled codebase.
This means that the person building the app writes the code once, but it produces both the iOS and Android versions.
The benefits of this approach are you'll be saving time.
The downsides are that you're relying on third parties to bridge these gaps into the latest native features. This can be slower and more time-consuming.
If your app relies on highly integrated features, such as Bluetooth, we'd always recommend going for Native. If you're building something simple, a cross platform app might be the best way to go.
The vast majority of apps we build tend to include some backend system or service to power them.
You might hear these referred to as "APIs". They are vehicles on which data flows to and from your app.
Some apps work entirely on the phone without any backend. But if you're storing data, having users sign in, you'll need some API setup for this.
Just know that if you're moving data around, you will probably need to ask about APIs. We won't cover them in-depth here because that's an entire topic on its own.
Your choices for the team you decide to work with impact two crucial factors in building an app. Time and cost. We have two articles that go in-depth into this for you to read later.
We'll summarise here so you can read the rest of the article.
Do it yourself
Believe it or not, there are options to build an app yourself. People are often put off here because they've heard about programming and code and think it's complex.
The truth is, it can be. But now, we have low-code and no-code platforms, making it easier for individuals and businesses to build apps. They remove the need to learn code and make it much easier by utilising drag and drop type interfaces with data connections.
Will they work for every app? No. For the more complex apps and projects, they won't have the native features required. And often, the quality of these apps isn't great.
However, if you're building an internal tool for your business, these platforms could be perfect for you.
Hire a freelancer
There are lots of great mobile app freelancers out there. You'll find lots of app developers on platforms such as PeoplePerHour, Upwork and the like. You'll also find lots on Google.
Hiring a freelancer to build your app is a good idea because they are often experienced and understand the process without charging large overheads.
But - you can be caught out.
It's straightforward now to look like an expert without actually being one. You can present great-looking visuals that you've never built.
You have to ensure that you have the proper contracts and references in place to ensure they can do what they say.
You should check how long they've been in business, what apps they've built and look for appropriate insurance.
If you've launched mobile apps before, hiring a freelancer is an excellent way to go. But if this is your first time, it can be a steep learning curve. You'll want them to fill the gap of your knowledge, but they're only going to be interested in building the app. They may not have any interest in the strategy, design or long-term success of your idea.
Hire an agency
A mobile app development agency is often the safest but most expensive way to get your app built. It's not uncommon for prices to reach £50,000 to £100,000 for some complex apps, which often puts them out of reach for individuals using their own money.
But, the right agency with a mix of strategy, design, development and marketing skills could be the right choice to get your project off the ground.
Just like the freelancers, look at their previous experience and quality of work. Look for recommendations from people you know who've experienced their work.
It's also possible to work with multiple agencies. You'll find some that specialise in certain parts of the process. You'll find agencies that focus only on, say the User Experience part of the process and don't touch development. Doing this will mean more work for you finding the right app agencies, but you might find higher quality experts have niched down.
You might have heard the expression "jack of all trades, master of none". Sometimes, you want the master.
But whoever you choose, whether it be DIY, freelancer or agency, there will be someone who can help you get started with your mobile app.
You're now ready to go live! How exciting.
It's hard for us to admit because we love designing and building stuff, but the positioning, marketing and sales process for your app is the most critical part. It would help if you were working on it from day 1.
You can no longer "build it, and they will come". Trust me; they won't. You need to put more effort into the marketing of the app than anything else.
To be truthful, this isn't an area we focus on, so I'm not going to tell you what to do. You should find professionals that can help you get the launch and marketing of your app right.
Analytics is often something that gets missed. Everyone is so excited to launch this thing that you'll forget about measuring what your users are doing.
Don't do this.
Plan your metrics from day 1.
You want to be tracking what your users are doing within your app. You want to know your daily active users. You want to know how many times a day they complete your main activity.
The reason this is important is because later when you make changes, you want to know they've worked—or not worked. But without these stats, you'll never know.
How we can help
We're an experienced mobile app development agency focusing on Native iOS and Android applications.
If you'd like any help scoping out your project, developing your apps or require some advice, get in touch, and we'll be delighted to help you.