Mobile applications have exploded in popularity and although the list to choose from keeps expanding, the latest trend is to make your own. One telltale: the growth of small businesses that help businesses build their mobile applications. They're all too happy to explain why.
“Apps are becoming an essential part of the mobile experience,” said Michael Schneider, CEO of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Mobile Roadie, which offers an online, do-it-yourself mobile application platform. “It you have customers, you could use an app. It isn’t enough to have just a website or Facebook fan page anymore. An app gives customers the sense that a business has credibility.”
Since Mobile Roadie’s launch in March 2009, big name entertainers such as Madonna and Taylor Swift have created their own applications using the company’s online interface and while the company started off in the music business, it has expanded rapidly.
“We now have author apps, comedian and restaurant apps, even the Wynn Las Vegas has an app,” Schneider said. Prices range from $499 to $29 per month for hosting and other services.
While big name celebrities and large-scale enterprises have bought into the rise of applications, small businesses aren’t far behind.
In August 2009, after a few years of development, San Antonio, Texas-based SwebApps was launched for small business owners.
Similar to Mobile Roadie, SwebApps offers an online, self-service platform for application development starting at $399 and $29 per month.
“For the do-it-yourselfer, we have 16 different features clients can choose from to build an app based on their needs,” said Magaly Chocano, CEO of SwebApps, adding that the company’s revenues have grown 700 percent since its launch.
Chocano said it is important to consider three things when conceptualizing a small business application.
“First, make sure to think of the longevity of the app on people’s phones,” she said. “Whatever you come up with, it needs to have the value of people coming back to it.”
2. Staying Power
“Make your customers think that if they didn’t download it, they would be missing something,” Chocano said.
“Think outside the box,” she said. “Make it about your customer. Allow them to create functionalities that couldn’t be done within your website.”
After building the application online, SwebApps submits it to the iTunes store and then it's ready for use, Chocano said.
“If I am a small business owner, I may promote the app through my website or Facebook page and add a link to the iTunes store for my customers to download it,” she said.
In addition to offering a do-it-yourself platform, SwebApps also consults with businesses interested in creating highly customized applications. One such client is LifeShield Security, a Yardley, Penn.-based home security company.
“We’d had a website for a while, but it wasn’t sexy, it was pretty basic,” said Louis Stilp, COO and founder of LifeShield Security. “We wanted an application that would give our customers remote access to the LifeShield in their home. We knew what we wanted, but hired SwebApps to write the software and make a good-looking interface.
“Now, when you log in to our app, you can arm and disarm your system, check what sensors are currently open—if a customer has motion sensors on windows and doors —receive alerts when someone walks in the door or opens a window, and even see the history as far back as 90 days. Our customers can also take photos from their surveillance cameras and email them.”
LifeSheild’s app is currently in the iTunes approval process and according to Stilp, will be available for customers to download in a few weeks.
Why are mobile applications so important to small businesses?
“It is about keeping customers engaged,” Stilp said. “You want your customers to be around for a long time. It is hard to find new customers and easier to keep them engaged. That is what this app does for us.”
According to Andrew Gazdecki, CEO of Chico, Calif.-based Bizness Apps, which offers a do-it-yourself platform for small business owners for $39 per month, mobile applications allow 24/7 connectivity with customers.
“When someone downloads your iPhone app, you are with him or her all the time,” he said. “It is about building that connection. When someone agrees to download your iPhone app, they are agreeing to become a loyal customer.”
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Katie Morell is a freelance writer based in Chicago, specializing in small business concerns.