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Apps for small businesses: app-building on a budget

3 minute read

Rachel Ingram
smartphone

With mobile browsing having officially overtaken desktop, it makes sense for your business to be able to reach customers on the device they use most. While a mobile-friendly website is essential, another way to connect with your customers (or potential customers) is via an app. In today’s post, I’m exploring the benefits of apps and how to create one on a budget.

What’s an app?

An app is a kind of computer programme that users download to their smartphones. As any smartphone user knows, whatever you want to do, “there’s an app for that”.

Apps come with a host of features that websites don’t have, such as push notifications, geo-location features or access to the camera. Users can download your app using the app store for their particular kind of device, such as the Apple App Store or Android’s Google Play.

What could your business app do?

Although your app could be another way for customers to buy products from you or book your services, it doesn’t have to be serving this purpose directly. It could just be helping people with something relevant to what you do – a form of content marketing that raises brand awareness – or providing something useful for existing customers, such as a loyalty programme.

To give you some inspiration, here are three great examples:

  • Bents Garden Centre – in its own words, “Our App showcases everything ‘Bents’ at the touch of a button! You can discover all the latest events taking place in store, and plan your visit using our handy store guide. It also shows all of our dining destinations, along with sample menus.”
  • Riverford Organic – not exactly a small business, but a good example of an app that makes it easier for customers to place and manage their orders.
  • Wahaca – this independent chain of Mexican restaurants has an app that, among other things, allows customers to pay their bill: “When you’re ready to leave and would like your bill, avoid that awkward waiter wave, use the Wahaca QuickPay app to pay your bill from your table, and grab 10 Free Minutes”.

For a small business, the goal isn’t to make money from users buying your app (it should ideally be free) or even from advertising revenue, but to gain competitive advantage, raise brand awareness and ultimately to increase sales, whether directly or indirectly.

The idea is to provide something useful that gets people engaging with your business, but it’s important to be clear about what your goals are rather than just creating an app for the sake of it. How will your app help make your business more successful?

How to create an app

Creating a mobile app can be costly and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. If budget were no issue, you could hire a mobile app development agency, freelance app developer or even someone in-house to develop your app for you.

According to this survey, “Almost half of small businesses (46%) rely on in-house staff to help with their mobile app, while 41% use a freelancer or consultant.” But that’s not always possible for a small business with limited funds.

Fortunately, however, you can also create an app more simply and cost-effectively by using an off-the-shelf solution. A host of app-building platforms are making apps far more viable for small businesses, and they don’t even require any knowledge of coding, as they typically offer templates and drag-and-drop features to help you create an app that meets your needs. Some of these app builders include:

It’s also worth Googling off-the-shelf app solutions for your niche, as this will uncover more specialist app-building options such as this restaurant app builder.

Of course, as with any off-the-shelf solution, you may find that the apps these kinds of builders can create aren’t sophisticated enough for what you want your app to do. In this case you’ll need something custom-built, which will be costlier; take a look at this directory of top UK mobile developers or search Google for local app development agencies or developers to find companies near you.

Finally, as with DIY app builders, it’s also worth searching for app development companies that specialise in your niche, such as this one aimed at sports venues and teams and this one aimed at restaurant and takeaway businesses.

Hopefully, I’ve shown you that app creation needn’t be a complex or costly affair, and you can now start thinking about how an app could boost your business. You’ll also find lots more advice on all things mobile here.

Rachel Ingram is a freelance copywriter with a background in digital marketing. She's written copy for clients ranging from the United Nations World Food Programme to The North Face, and particularly enjoys working with lifestyle and travel brands. In her spare time, she volunteers for Guide Dogs and flies light aircraft and helicopters.

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