Mobile technologies are expanding rapidly and changing the ways in which consumers and businesses interact with each other and with the world at large. However, some small and medium-sized businesses have been slow to acknowledge this trend and to find ways to leverage it to their advantage. In a survey earlier this year by Endurance International Group, 78 percent of small-business respondents said their businesses did not yet have a mobile solution or app, even though 71 percent felt that having one would have a positive impact on their business. They were right about the latter point, as mobile apps have demonstrated ability to improve customer loyalty, boost sales and profits, energize marketing, and help in the recruitment and retention of valued employees.
Businesses in the survey cited multiple reasons for not adopting mobile apps. Twenty-three percent said they were too busy running their business and couldn’t find the time to maintain a mobile app; 22 percent thought it was just too expensive to develop one; and 5 percent were worried about the security risks. But the most common concern was simply a lack of knowledge about how to build a mobile app, cited by fully half the respondents not currently using one.
The good news is that you don’t have to know anything about building mobile apps in order to take advantage of the benefits they offer. A mobile app is simply a type of application software designed to run on small, wireless computing devices, such as smartphones and tablets, rather than on desktop or laptop computers. Mobile apps often are just customized versions of software applications you already use. And just as you don’t need to know how to create a software application for your office computer in order to benefit from using it, the same holds true for mobile apps.
With mobile apps, as with most purchases, off-the-shelf is almost always faster, cheaper, and more convenient than custom-made. There is a huge number of ready-to-go mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows platforms available, many of them free or reasonably priced. Some common business areas with lots of mobile app choices include:
• Communication. Smartphones come with apps for instant messaging and email right out of the box, but there is a wide selection of other apps that can improve the business communication function of mobile devices. Examples include Addappt, which lets your business contacts update their contact information in your address book, and Fuze, a high-definition video conferencing app that works across different platforms.
• Time management. Mynd is designed to make sure you are never late for a meeting, and it can be synced to your LinkedIn account; TripIt consolidates all your travel plans into a single itinerary, regardless of which websites you used to book different trips.
• Payment. Square is a mobile payment app that uses a small, portable card reader to let businesses conduct transactions in remote locations or on the go.Other mobile apps, such as Expensify, can make it easier to keep track of your expenses on business trips. You can link your credit or debit card to the app to populate expense reports automatically.
• Organization. One of the most popular mobile apps for syncing notes across mobile and desktop devices is Evernote. The free version comes with 2 GB of cloud storage a month to upload and organize notes.
Some businesses might benefit from a mobile app not currently available in an off-the-shelf configuration. As long as you identify a specific business need a mobile app can fill, the benefits it will return, and a way to measure those benefits, building one can make sense. There are many do-it-yourself app-building products available that require little or no technical expertise, such as Salesforce1 Platform, BuildFire, Como, and Appy Pie. If you need more help, resources range from individual consultants to full-service digital agencies. Plan on budgeting a minimum of about $14,000 for a custom-built mobile app, suggests Tehsin Bhayani, co-founder and CEO of Serind Labs, but costs can be significantly higher, depending on factors such as the app’s complexity and the number of platforms on which it will run.