We all have ideas. Some are better than others.
But sometimes you have an idea for an app that you just can't get out of your head. One sleepless night you decide to go ahead and build it!
Whenever someone has this "eureka" moment where they’re sure they've got the next, big, native mobile app idea that’s going to revolutionize the world as we know it, they’re instantly stopped by a huge obstacle: They don’t have a clue as to what their next step should be!
And that's why we decided to put together this guide:
We know, there are many hurdles to overcome in the app-creation process, so we'll go over all of them:
- Designing your app
- Developing your app
- Marketing your app
- Getting your app featured in the App Store
- Having your app finally make money
We'll show you our way to streamline this entire, lengthy process, so that you can save time and money and make your app dreams come true.
In this in-depth guide, we’ll give you a way that even those who aren't tech savvy can easily follow! It will take you from the initial concept of your app idea all the way to its design, development and marketing.
You can jump to any chapter from the handy menu here below:
Step 1 - Decide your app business model: Let's identify your target audience and if your idea can be profitable.
Step 2 - Put your idea on paper: Think about your user and the features they'll need, and later create a mockup with a prototyping tool.
Step 3 - Find a great developer: Tips that'll help you find that great partner.
Step 4 - Test the commercial viability: See if people will respond favorably to your prototype.
Step 5 - Get online and get featured: Getting your featured in Apple’s own marketplace will do wonders for your visibility!
Step 6 - Get angel funding: How to find somebody that will invest in you and in your business.
Step 7 - App Store Optimization: Climb rankings to improve your visibility.
Step 8 - Listen to your users: The best way to improve your app.
STEP 1: DECIDING ON THE BASICS OF YOUR APP BUSINESS MODEL
Coming up with an app idea and then going ahead and building it is definitely a cool process, but there’s also the detail-heavy, business-model side of things that you have to take care of. Put another way: Even if you have a great idea for an app, if you have no workable business model then your idea’s likely going to stay in your head or drawn on a napkin!
Since your app is a product that you want to market to generate continuous, long-term revenue for your company, you need to get a few things clear right from the beginning:
- The kind of app you want to build
- Who your target audience or consumer is
- If your target audience or consumer even wants your app
- If you’re going to build your app for iOS (I recommend iOS; more on that later) or Android
- How many people around the world do you want to appeal to (do you want to keep it local or go global)
So how do you go from an initial app idea all the way to design, development and finally debuting the app in the App Store? How do you follow those app dreams and succeed where others have failed?
Once you’re able to answer all of these questions with certainty, then you can move forward into the actual design and development phase. This is far better than wasting your time with what you think is a stellar mobile app idea, only to find out that not too many people on the planet feel the same way!
Market Research Part 1: Primary Research
The best way to find out who your audience is — and therefore what app you want to build — is market research. One of the most cost-effective ways of conducting marketing research is by asking your prospective customers what they think. There are numerous ways of doing this. Some examples include:
- Distributing surveys to your target audience (in person, by mail, etc.)
- Asking them directly on social media
- Conducting focus groups
- Informally inviting a few people within your target demographic to your office or to lunch, then asking them questions about your app idea directly
The great thing about this approach, which is called primary research, is that you’re relying on your own research. This is better than using the filter of second-hand reporting, such as reading about other studies done in your industry of interest.
Let’s say you have a great idea for an app for dentists that’ll make their professional lives easier: it will let their patients book their own appointments and cancellations in such a way that all the changes and updates automatically get synced to the dentist office’s system, all without dentists or receptionists getting involved. All the dentists and their staffs have to do is consult their schedules and rest assured that the updated info is 100% accurate.
Well, while you may completely believe that this is a slam-dunk of an app idea, some dentists may disagree. They may be satisfied with the old-school system of patients making and cancelling appointments with receptionists in person or over the phone.
That’s where primary research comes into the picture. It helps determine if your target audience even desires your app concept. This will also help you establish what sort of app to build.
This is the point where you’d distribute surveys to dentists in your community, or invite them to participate in focus groups. Concurrently, you can conduct research digitally by reaching out to them on social media.
You can refine your research more when you move on to the next phase, after you’ve gathered the initial feedback from your prospective target audience.
Market Research Part 2: Secondary Research
Okay, now that you’ve done primary research and heard firsthand from your target audience, it’s time to conduct secondary research. This is composed mainly of published and written reports about the industry you want to target with your app. Secondary research is easier to come by since it’s readily available on the web, and even from your local library.
The purpose of secondary research is to peruse this wealth of info to detect trends in your target industry, find out about your competitors, and analyze your target audience to really understand them. It also lets you tailor your app to their wants and needs with better accuracy.
In my dental practice example above, you’d want to look for data such as:
- Are dentists dissatisfied with their current, available scheduling systems?
- Are dentists losing money because of their current systems?
- Are patients complaining about the process of making appointments at their dentist, or are they switching dentists frequently because of bad service?
- Are there any companies currently making anything similar to what you envision with your app idea?
- How do dentists and their patients spend their time?
- Do some areas of the country have more dentists than others? If so, that would warrant concentrating your marketing efforts.
To help you find these answers efficiently and let you formulate a plan for the business model of your app, there are various tools available on the Internet.
Some come directly from the U.S. federal government, such as the latest U.S. Census Bureau’s Economic Census. This is a huge repository of industry information for statistical and analytical data in the industry you’re targeting. Use this resource to help you find stats about, for example, dentists’ adaption of technology in their offices and revenue data for dentists in different parts of the country (low numbers could mean patient dissatisfaction and a potential market for your app).
Source Business Insider
With that out of the way, you can now move on to discovering who your competitors are. You’ll want to know if there are any other companies out there that already have something similar to your app, or if there are other products that serve the same target audience you want to.
To do this you’ll have to consult sites like Dun & Bradstreet, a business-data company that provides very detailed information on a plethora of businesses across various industries all over the world. The info you uncover from searching its database can help you decide whether to move forward with your app or to modify it if you feel a competitor’s product offering is a bit too similar.
You can also use sites like this to find prospects. If your app’s intended audience is other businesses, you could peruse databases like Dun & Bradstreet’s.
Once you've gathered your statistical data and your info on your competitors, all that’s left is to identify where your customers are and how they live. In my above example that would be dentists, and there’s no better tool than the Esri Tapestry Segmentation for getting this information.
Esri will help you find your best markets based on identifying the characteristics of your target audience. You’ll also be able to find potentially underserved markets for your app!
Armed with all of this research data, you can now confidently move on to your app platform and whether to localize or not.
iOS or Android: Where Exactly Should You Focus?
When you’re fleshing out your great native mobile app idea, you’ll undoubtedly have to ask yourself if you’re going to design and develop for iOS or Android. At this point, if you don’t know anything else, you likely already know that iOS is Apple’s operating system, while Android is Google’s. How do you decide from here?
If you think designing for Google’s platform is the better choice because Google is the Internet and has SEO on its side, while Apple only has their line of iPads, iPhone and iMacs, you should probably reconsider.
Here's what you need to know: iOS apps will always be more profitable and get more exposure than Android apps. This is because iOS users spend more on apps, and Apple has streamlined the process of making it easy for designers and developers to create iOS apps. It’s just that simple. I even wrote a tutorial on getting your app featured in the App Store— it's very achievable with the right strategy.
If you’re an app designer or developer, you should definitely focus on iOS; it’s better for your profitability as well as for the efficiency of your development process. A recent Time Magazine article even declared that Apple has already won the App Wars!
Consider also that innovative app ideas are at home on iOS rather than Android. If you think your app is going to change the world, it'd definitely be better to first push it on iOS, and then if it's a hit there to push it onto Android.
Now that you know that iOS is the platform on which to design, you still have to decide the geographic location of the users to whom you want to appeal.
To Localize or Not to Localize
Localization is when you tailor an app to suit a particular country, region or continent’s sensibilities, whether through its design, language, user interface, user experience, marketing or all of the above. During your app’s initial idea phase you may think twice about localizing your app, and instead only choose to market it in the U.S. or your home country—but that’s a problem.
According to Entrepreneur, there are going to be 2 billion smartphone users all around the world this year. Translating that to marketing connotations, that’s a 2 billion-person market. If you fail to localize your app to the cultural and societal uniqueness of all of the world’s regions, then you’re going to lose out on all of this potential business.
Consider another worrisome stat that will apply to you if you want to keep your app’s appeal domestic: The U.S. only contributes 10% of the overall app market share. You’re missing out on the vast majority of customers for your app if you don’t localize! In particular, growth will come from Asia, with China and India leading the way in-app use and consumption.
STEP 2: START TO PUT THE IDEA DOWN ON PAPER, AND THEN USE PROTOTYPING TOOLS
Although you’ll eventually be using prototyping tools to make your first mockups of your app, it’s always a smart move to take great ideas out of your head and write them down to reduce your mental clutter. You’ll be able to think more creatively this way, so jot down your most essential ideas on a piece of paper, including anything from the design concept of your app and its wireframe sketches to who the customer base will be and how long you envision the process taking.
As you're doing this, think particularly closely about your users. Think about for whom you're designing your app and what their UX will be in-app.
The Prototyping Tool
Once you have all of this down, find yourself a powerful prototyping tool that’s going to make your design iterations and experimentation easier. Ideally, your prototyping tool should have the following characteristics:
- It lets you design mockups and wireframes easily and quickly
- It’s free, but can be upgraded if you need more power
- It lets you share your design iterations with your team and clients seamlessly
Some excellent prototyping tools that I recommend are Invision App, Fluid UI, Flinto, Marvel App and Pop App. But it has to be said that many of today’s prototyping tools are so user-friendly that it’s in your best interest to try out a few, or even several of them, to determine which is most intuitive to you and your workflow. Many of them are fast and straightforward to learn how to use, so you won’t be losing much time — even if you try out a few. The upside is that at the end of your "test drive", you’ll end up with the one that’s the exact best fit.
The Computer to Use
Since you’re designing for iOS, you won't be surprised to learn that you can really only use a Mac to efficiently create your app. Apple’s mobile operating system can really only be used with its own computers. Yes, there are certain exceptions, including this interesting article that details how you can technically develop an iOS app on a Windows PC, but the process itself is so unwieldy and complicated that it’s more of a waste of time than anything else.
This begs the question, what happens if you want to design an iOS app but you're stuck on Windows? If this is the case, you may want to abandon the iOS idea and just go with designing and developing an app for Android, in spite of its lackluster sales potential and clumsier development infrastructure. Android apps can be developed on Windows, Linux and even Macs.
As for actual computer speed, don’t think that you have to go out and buy yourself a brand new computer—Mac or otherwise—when you start designing and developing your app. Though a new computer will be faster, it’s not necessary to have the latest and fastest when you go to prototyping.
Remember that what's really important when it comes to speedy design iterations and wireframing for different devices is the prototyping tool that you choose.
Even if you're well-equipped with the tools you need to begin app design and development in earnest, you can always improve your tech knowledge to ensure that your app is the best it can be. If you know your tech knowledge is lackluster, the next section is especially for you!
STEP 3: FIND A GREAT DEVELOPMENT PARTNER
Okay, so you're a skilled designer and you already follow the big, three secrets of any killer app designer. You still have to find an effective development partner to build your app.
Even if you know how to write an app yourself, sometimes an opportunity to work with a stellar partner during your app-development phase comes along. If it does, then take the opportunity. If you have to go looking for the right developer yourself, it’s well worth it to have an experienced team supporting your process.
This is because even if you do have a great idea for an app, as well as the design skills to create an intelligent mockup, you may not have the back-end skills that great developer firms have. It’s smart to keep an open mind about working with a helpful partner.
How to Find That Great Partner
Any company can call itself an app developer, but there are some characteristics that make excellent partners truly stand out. In your hunt for the ideal partner, look for these qualities:
1) A stellar portfolio: Their portfolio should have attractive apps with highly usable interfaces, which is a sign of their user-experience design skills.
2) Authentic interest in your business: They should have worked with a plethora of different app entrepreneurs so that they’re able to provide additional creative input from all their work experience.
3) Client references: Development companies should unhesitatingly offer their client contact info, so you can double check what working with them will be like.
4) Not the cheapest: Your biggest concern shouldn't be saving money — it should be designing a magnificent app, and this will cost a bit more if you want to avoid having to fix problems.
5) A knack for strategic planning: They should start with a detailed product discovery, craft relevant user personas, look at the competitive environment, and from there create a roadmap to building that fantastic app.
6) Willing to collaborate: Working with a partner shouldn’t be a dictatorship or a one-way street: A great partner will always hold regular meetings with clients to promote insight, brainstorming and problem solving.
It’s important to note that you could always try coding your app yourself…but only if you’re sure the ROI is there.
Still, that’s a risky gamble, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Creating Mockups to Help Your Partner
You can make your developer-selection process more efficient by using the aforementioned prototyping tools. This will reduce confusion when you’re describing your app idea to prospective developers.
You can also make things a lot clearer and easier for whichever partner you end up choosing by getting a head start in the development process. By using simple prototyping tools that are widely available on the web — and which don’t require that you know how to code — you can design your own mockups to show to prospective partners. This gives them a solid idea of your app vision.
When you’ve found a great partner who understands your app idea vision, provides insightful input to make it better and can shepherd you through the development process, you’re ready to move on! Now that there’s a prototype in place and guidance from a developer, it’s time to really test out just how much demand your app has.
STEP 4: TEST YOUR APP'S COMMERCIAL VIABILITY
You’ve created your prototype by yourself at this stage, and you’ve found an amazing app-developer partner to build it for you and give you direction and insight throughout the process. That’s excellent! Even though you've already conducted some initial market research before you got to this stage, you still need to make sure that your app has a market you can sell it to.
Testing the new iteration of your prototype in the marketplace is an absolutely essential step. It doesn’t have to be the biggest, most authoritative test — just one that can help you identify whether there are people who respond favorably.
It’s perfectly okay if your prototype is just the barest concept of your app idea rather than a sophisticated version with all of the bells and whistles already added in. There's be no point to fully building your app before you get a reliable sense of your target audience’s interest.
Use a Landing Page
Something as simple as micro-testing by using a landing page to gauge your prototype’s popularity will not only give you a dependable read on whether or not there’s an actual market for your app, but will also save you wasted time and money on developing an app that may not be popular.
Just follow these three steps:
1) Set up a landing page to display and explain your app. This is where you describe your app’s unique selling proposition, its features, benefits and so on. Although you just have a prototype, copy what a landing page selling a real app would look like. Include actual call-to-action buttons with the phrase “Download from iTunes” or something like that.
2) Initiate the micro-test by sending traffic to the page by running a modest ad campaign. You can easily run an inexpensive test by using something like Google’s AdMob. Here’s your baseline: If you can approximately break even —even though you don't have a real, fully finished app — that’s a good indication that your idea would make a decent profit when you sell it for real.
3) Be sure to track your results on your landing page by using Google Analytics to track how many clicks you get on your call-to-action button. Run this experiment for several days to allow it enough time to provide you with significant data that you can analyze.
STEP 5: GET IT FEATURED ON THE APP STORE
If your landing-page experiment showed that — yes!!— there's a market for your app, then you and your partner can go and finish building it out in its entirety. Add all the features you want, and polish it so that it’s a real, finished product.
Once you're done, it’s time to begin promoting your app so that more people find out about it. After all, with your market research results in hand you know that it is likely to have appeal beyond those who clicked the call-to-action button on your landing page.
The biggest goal you should shoot for is to get your app featured in the App Store. Getting it featured in Apple’s own marketplace will do wonders for your visibility, sales and reputation. In short, it’s what every app designer and developer should be striving for.
I wrote a very in-depth article on getting your app featured in the App Store. Essentially, the process is lengthy and involved, but if you do everything right, it will pay off for your app exposure.
STEP 6: TRY TO GET ATTENTION FROM ANGEL INVESTORS AND WEALTHY BACKERS
Angel investors are wealthy people who fund startups and businesses in exchange for, usually, a bit of ownership equity. They really want to see your product or service succeed, so they’re investing in you and your brand more than for personal profit.
If you go this route and get an injection of funding, you’ll be giving up some ownership, so you have to weigh that against being able to be fully independent with the vision for your app. Even if you lose some say in its direction, if you can obtain funding to market your app and run its business, the tradeoff might be worth it.
If you want to approach angel investors — and there’s certainly no harm in trying — finding them in the first place is often a matter of perseverance, as they don’t advertise their services very openly. Here are good resources:
- Some angel investors actually band together and host showcase events where entrepreneurs can meet them in person. One such example is Funding Post. You’ll have to pay to attend, but it’s worth it to have this kind of all-in-one-place access. Just have your elevator pitch ready.
- Another good bet is the Angel Capital Association, which is a professional association that offers budding entrepreneurs an insider’s look into how angel investors think. Getting your hands on this valuable info can make the difference in being able to put together a successful pitch.
- Angel List is a directory of sorts that makes it easy for you to find angels in your region of the country. This is a valuable resource, as angels usually prefer investing in startups located in their local area.
Angels don't hand out their funding easily, so you’ll have to learn to deal with rejection pretty quickly. But it’s important to note that getting rejected repeatedly—even if you go through 10 angel rejections—doesn’t necessarily mean anything significant. Many angels aren’t trained to evaluate business ideas. They are simply successful and wealthy individuals who want to make their money work for them by finding a promising startup in which to invest.
STEP 7: PERFORM APP STORE OPTIMIZATION (If and When You’re Accepted Into the App Store)
Provided that your app is accepted into the App Store (which is the culmination of your “I have an idea for an app!” ambition), you'll still need to go a step further. App Store Optimization or ASO is the process of making your app more easily “discoverable” within Apple’s marketplace so that users find it and download it.
It’s all about getting your app visibility because it's competing with some 1.5 million other apps! Without ASO, the chances of getting your app discovered are between slim and none.
To do this well, you want to optimize for the specific keywords that you know your users are searching for: Think of this process almost like SEO for the App Store. When choosing keywords for which to rank, choose ones that are unique, still rank quite highly, and don’t have too much competition.
The keywords have to go into your app title or name since this is a major part of how your users will make a downloading decision. Studies show that apps with the keyword in their titles rank higher than those that don’t, so be sure to include the keyword!
Don’t neglect your app description and app icon. Both are vital in your ASO efforts. The description will help persuade on-the-fence customers to download your app, while the icon will help to sell it to them based on its vibrant colors and simple design. Your icon should immediately convey your app's purpose to customers. Featuring attractive and helpful screen shots of your app interface is a must as well.
A big component of ASO is promoting your app. This involves localization, which means making your app appealing to people in different parts of the world. This includes adapting your app’s language and sensibilities to various cultures.
Finally, to retain visibility in the App Store, maintain your ASO by constantly tweaking your keywords to ensure they’re still popular. Gently prodding your users to leave feedback and rate your app after they have a good experience is also recommended.
Learn more in our article about app store optimization.
STEP 8: YOUR APP IS NOW PUBLISHED, SO LISTEN TO YOUR USERS!
If you’ve diligently followed all of the previous steps and have succeeded in getting App Store approval, then hats off to you! You’ve really done well. Even so, you can’t rest on your laurels — you’ve got to take this success and ensure that it continues.
The best way to ensure this is to listen to your customers’ feedback. Reach out to them in-app with prompts to review and rate your app. Getting customer feedback this way ensures that you get reliable reviews and ratings since users will have just experienced your interface.
It’s not enough to only ask customers for reviews: Though hopefully many will be positive, there will also be negative ones. Look at negative reviews as a goldmine of information you can use to improve your app’s user experience. Your great idea for an app can get even better when your users tell you what improvements they think its interface and user experience needs.
On the other hand .... if your app idea didn’t work out and it didn’t get into the App Store, then that’s another story altogether. Don’t feel bad or ashamed just because what you thought was a brilliant native mobile app idea was what you consider a failure. If the evidence leads you to that conclusion, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Lots of successful entrepreneurs and people in general — whether in the app field or beyond — know that they should try again if their initial idea fails. They also know that failure and adversity are learning experiences that let them incorporate the lessons they've learned into their future endeavors.
If your app idea didn’t turn out as you wanted then go back to the drawing board. Sure, you’ll have to start from step one again and go down the list, but look on the bright side. You’ve been through it once, so it’ll be easier the next time around!
The popularity of mobile devices and tablets is making native mobile apps more popular and ubiquitous. This has also exposed more and more users to the comforting reality that apps are very helpful in our everyday lives and have already gone far beyond mere pleasure or curiosity.
While those who have a tech background will have a bit of an easier time making their way through the app-creation process, those without development experience can make a go of it too. After all, when you have a brilliant idea, it's the idea that is the foundation of the entire enterprise.
It’s one thing to have what you think is a smoking idea for an app. It’s another thing entirely to actually do the heavy lifting and turn that brilliant idea into something concrete and real that can earn you a lot of money.
By following these steps, you give yourself a better chance than ever at taking your app from an initial idea and turning it into a popular, money-making reality that people can download on the App Store!
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