Many, many people have a great idea for a mobile application. Very, very few of them will actually do anything with it.
Only a handful will actually create their apps. Even fewer will bring the app to market and establish a sustainable business. It’s not because their app ideas are bad. It’s not because app development is some impenetrable thing only “tech people” understand. It’s not because the competition is unbeatable.
It’s because they lack an action plan.
If you have a genuinely useful, valuable app idea, you can build it. And you can sell it. You don’t need to be a professional software developer yourself. You don’t need massive financial backing.
You just need to know how apps are developed in the real world, and what the steps are.
The Creation Phase
Step 1: Identify the Problem
Every app (every product on Earth, really) needs to do one thing: it has to solve a problem. It’s not enough to simply say “I think it would be cool if there was an app that…” Why would it be cool? How would it make someone’s life easier, or better?
The very first step in app development has to be establishing what your app can do that no other app is currently doing. This where market research comes in. Whatever topic or industry your app will address, find the other apps in the same space. Whether it’s fitness, business, hobbies, etc., your first move should be to see what else is out there.
Head to the App Store (for iOS) and/or the Play Store (for Android), and search the key terms relevant to your app. Read the reviews for the most popular apps in your space, paying special attention to what those apps are missing.
Focus on 3-star reviews. 4 and 5-star reviews come from people whose problems are entirely solved. 1 and 2-star reviews tend to be emotionally driven, without much constructive information. But 3-star reviews will tell you exactly what you need to know — ie, what your app could do differently, and better, than existing apps.
Step 2: iOS or Android?
You don’t want to over-complicate things, wasting time and money trying to simultaneously develop Apple and Android versions of your app. Pick one, and stick with it. Once your app gains momentum and a critical mass of users, you can then create a version of it for the other platform.
Which you choose will depend on several variables, but one school of thought holds that you should always design for iOS first. The reason? Given the expense of Apple products, iOS users are generally more affluent, and therefore more likely to take a chance on new apps. The more budget-conscious Android users may balk at spending money on something that isn’t already well-established.
Step 3: Get Your MVP On
Once you’ve figured out what problem you can solve, it’s time to design your solution. You might be tempted to create the most incredible, awesome, comprehensive app ever in the whole history of software, but do not.
Instead, you have to build the Minimum Viable Product: something that does just enough to solve the problem. No more, no less.
No bells. No whistles. The first version of your app needs to be the most bare-bones, stripped-down iteration, because it’s not the final version — it’s proof of concept. Yes, one day you’ll make something bigger, better, more complex. But the MVP approach is essential for three reasons:
- The MVP allows you to test the premise of your app, and only the premise. You don’t want other variables tainting the results. The question you’re asking is: do people want an app that does [insert your app’s basic function]?
- The MVP costs you less money to create. You want to run a lean start-up, with as little financial risk as possible until you get your company off the ground.
- The MVP costs the customer less money to purchase. You want this thing in as many hands as possible. Most apps people are either free, or cost only a few dollars. Anything over 4 or 5 bucks is prohibitive.
Step 3: Find Your Team
Making your app a reality comes down to two main tasks: design and coding. With each, you have to decide whether to handle it yourself, or find professionals to handle it for you. Which you choose will depend on your own budget and skill set:
Option 1: DIY
Even if you don’t have a professional background in tech, you can learn to design and code an app yourself, as long as it’s a very simple MVP.
Naturally, this way is much, much cheaper. There are resources that can give you the training you may lack. In particular, I highly recommend Udemy’s Complete iOS App Development Course.
Option 2: Outsource
DIY is cheaper, but as they say, you get what you pay for.
To get the most out of your MVP, consider shelling out for a professional or two — and ideally, it’s two. While there are “full stack” developers out there who can design and code, they’re generally much stronger in one area than the other.
The best move is to find one design specialist, and pay them to create the best, most effective design for your app. Then, turn the designer’s work over to a coding specialist, who can make the design a reality.
Your solution, a designer’s vision, and a coder’s execution combined will create the best version of your app.
There’s no shortage of job boards and professional sites like LinkedIn to find the help you need. I recommend UpWork, where you can see extensive reviews and ratings for each candidate. Be sure also to interview potential hires. Above all, make sure your hires are good communicators, who can understand exactly what you’re asking for and produce it on the first try.
Step 4: Get the UI/UX Right
Whether you hire a designer, or design the app yourself, you’ve got to make sure it’s intuitive, easy to use, and enjoyable.
Nothing discourages use of an app like a complicated user interface. Even if your app’s functionality is incredible, an annoying user experience will sink it. Remember that with mobile apps in particular, you’re working with very limited screen space. That means less is definitely more when it comes to the design.
Once you have a clean, simple, well-designed MVP, it’s time to bring it to market.
The Marketing Phase
You’ve got your MVP. Now, it’s time to get it out there and get it downloaded by as many people as possible. If the creation phase turns an idea into a product, the marketing phase turns a product into a business.
Of course, you can’t just put your app on the App Store (for iOS) or Play Store (for Android) and hope for the best. People aren’t going to stumble across your app, and even if they do, they won’t have much reason to download it. You have to take an active role in marketing and selling your creation.
Step 1: Build a Website
No website, no business. You cannot — cannot — rely on the App/Play Store to connect customers with your app. You have to build an audience of your own, in your own little corner of the Internet. You need a digital storefront, a “shop,” even though you’re not selling a physical product.
Your website doesn’t need to be fancy, and it shouldn’t be complex. It needs 4 things:
- A Home Page: this should include nothing more than a simple, concise explanation of what your app does. Create a headline, a brief description, and perhaps a short demonstration video.
- An About Page: A simple, engaging, honest description of who you are, and why you created this app. Modern consumers like to see how the sausage is made, and who’s making it.
- A Blog: You need content. More on that below.
- Lead capture: An opt-in that allows you to collect email addresses from visitors to your website.
Step 2: Produce Content
No one has any reason to try your app until they trust you.
The only way to earn trust is to build credibility. And the only way to build credibility is to produce regular, valuable, quality content that actually engages and helps people. You have to build a relationship with an audience by producing blogs and other content that showcase your understanding of their needs.
Blogs in particular are the most vital kind of content. While videos, podcasts, and other content (especially webinars) can do wonders for your marketing, written content has the unique advantage of simultaneously boosting your credibility while also boosting your visibility through SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Step 3: Capture Leads
Once you’re producing great content that attracts visitors, you have to convert those visitors to leads. That means collecting their email addresses. Of course, you’ve got to offer them something in exchange for their contact information. Among the options:
- Content subscriptions: Ask visitors to sign up for updates whenever a new blog or other content is posted. Also, offer a weekly or monthly newsletter.
- Exclusive downloadables: pdf’s, e-books, infographics, or anything else you don’t offer on the site can be gated behind an email opt-in.
- Discounts and trials: offer coupon codes, free trials, or temporary upgrades.
Once you’ve got some contacts, you can really start marketing.
Step 4: Email Market
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: email is king. Email marketing is the most effective way to turn leads into customers. Design a smart, effective, action-based email marketing campaign and implement it. Your email contact list is worth as much to your business as the product itself — maybe more. So use it.
Step 5: Create Evangelists
Once you have people using your app, get them to do some of your marketing for you.
Offer incentives to get users to share your app with others. Offer discounts, credits, or upgrades in exchange for bringing new business, and watch your customers multiply. Be sure that the ability to share your app with others is included as an in-app feature. There is no more effective advertising than the word of someone you know personally!
For a fantastic in-depth explanation of this kind of viral marketing, read Ryan Holiday’s Growth Hacker Marketing.
As I said at the top of this post, so few people actually turn their app idea into a functioning business. I think the reason for that is simple: they can’t see a realistic path forward. But if you’ve done your market research, have a great concept, and are willing to execute a plan…what’s stopping you?
For more on testing the viability of your app idea, check out our free Idea Validation Course. Imagine, research, create, test, market, sell, tweak, and repeat. For a total investment of as little as $3000 to $5000 dollars, a solid app idea really can become a viable business.