How to create an app for your small business – and why you need one

Smartphones are becoming the most important device for a small business -- not because it can help you run your business, but because it gives you direct access to customers. 

Mobile apps are a great way to connect customers to your small business

Create a mobile app to promote your small business

Consider these facts:

  • 70 percent of U.S. consumers own a smartphone
  • 97 percent of those aged 18-24 look at their phone within three hours of waking up and look at their phone on average 74 times per day
  • 38 percent of smartphone owners never disconnect from their phone, and only 7 percent disconnect on vacation
  • 92 percent use their smartphones while shopping

These statistics show what you probably already knew -- smartphones are a daily part of most consumers’ lives. They also show that if you aren’t thinking about how to market to people with smartphones, you are missing opportunities to connect with your customers.

Benefits of an app for your business

Creating an app for your small business allows you to interact with customers in different ways. Here are some of the most common features:

  • Make reservations
  • Order food
  • One-touch dialing
  • Push notifications
  • Loyalty program tracking
  • Directions
  • Mobile shopping cart

An app might combine several of these functions depending on customer needs, and there are obviously many other options that can be added. A smartphone is essentially a small computer, and an app is a software program, so just about anything that can be done on a computer can be done in a simpler form on a phone.

However, don’t get carried away with all the possibilities and jam every possible option into your app. That will make it unwieldy and probably difficult to use. Instead, think about what one thing would benefit your customers the most and use that as the anchor and the main selling point to get people to download it. Adding two to three secondary functions is fine, but that’s probably as far as you should go. Keep it simple, focused and easy to use.

How to create an app for your small business

Once you know what you want in your app, you have to get it built.

The Internet is a wonderful land for do-it-yourselfers, and app building is no exception. A simple search will yield dozens of companies that provide services for you to build your own app, including

Depending on how complex your app is and what you want it to do, a DIY approach might work, if you have the time to invest in it. Also, make sure you fully understand all the fees involved. Some services might charge you a registration fee, a monthly fee or an annual fee -- make sure you know what you are getting into and what costs are involved before committing. An app that costs you $1,000 a year but only projects to return $500 a year in business is not a good investment.

Like an purchase, do your homework, read reviews and study the fine print.

If you don’t have the time or expertise to build an app for your small business yourself, hire a developer to do it for you, but the same due diligence applies. Here are questions to ask your developer.

  • How much will it cost? Is that a one-time fee or an ongoing expense?
  • How many apps have they built?
  • Have they built apps for companies like yours?
  • Have they worked with the features you want in your app before?
  • Will the app work on both iPhones and Android phones?
  • How long will it take until it is ready for launch?
  • How will people download the app? Where will it be available?

Aside from these questions, make sure you are comfortable with the provider and that they seem interested in your project. A bigger company may not be all that interested in your small project, which can affect the level of service you receive. Conversely, if a company is too small, they might have limited experience with what you want to accomplish, possibly adding to the time and cost of the project.

Apps are a great way to engage with customers, especially as more and more people become inseparable from their phones. Instead of trying to get their attention through social media or e-newsletters, why not contact them directly through an app? An app can help you build stronger connections with an increasingly mobile customer base.

Todd Shryock is the director of content for Emerge. If you have questions about whether your business could benefit from an app or what features you should include, contact him at

Emerge is an Avon Lake (Lorain County)-based provider of web, mobile and content solutions, and serves the communities of Avon, Avon Lake, Lorain, Elyria, Wellington, Grafton, Sheffield, Sheffield Lake and all of the Western Cleveland suburbs.

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