Mobile Apps
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Mobile Apps

Q: Hey Steve — I have a great idea for a mobile app — preferably for the iPhone, but maybe for Blackberrys and other smart phones. Is it expensive to create one? How would I do it? — Terry

A:  Being a recent convert to the iPhone after years on a Blackberry, I get why you would want to create an app for your business: It creates buzz, builds a brand, and can be another profit center.

Essentially, there are three sorts of apps you could create: A game app (hearts for instance), a utility (i.e., an app that lists movie times) or a business app (a mini-version of your website — like the USA TODAY app).

While the first two are not cheap, I am happy to report that the third one can be quick, easy and inexpensive, so let's start there.

Typically, creating an app is not unlike starting a small business — you have to come up with a great idea and then be able to execute on that idea by having enough money and hiring the right team (in this case, software designers).

But recently I spoke with Magaly Chocano, CEO and founder of Sweb Apps, a company that has figured a unique, creative way to allow folks to create a mobile app using a simple drag-and-drop interface, and at a fraction of the cost of hiring an expensive designer.

How inexpensive? How does $200 to $400 sound? I thought you might like that.

Here's how it works: Go to the Sweb Apps site and you will then go to a page with a virtual iPhone. Then you pick how many buttons you want your app to have — 4, 6, or 8, and decide if you want a custom look or would rather use a preset template. Then all you will do is drag over the parts of your site that you want on the app. It could be

  • Content, blogs, and podcasts, etc.
  • Your store — allowing anyone to purchase products through the app
  • Maps and contact info
  • YouTube, Facebook and Twitter buttons
  • Plenty more

When you are done, simply check out and Sweb Apps will post your new app on iTunes. It is a very easy way to create an app, allowing you another way to stay in front of your customers. Highly recommended.

Now, on the other hand, if what you want is an app that is more than a mini-version of your site, then the steps would be these:

1. Have a good idea: As with any business venture, you don't want to sink a lot of time and money into a mediocre idea. Your app idea has to be something that people need or want and serves a market need.

There are hundreds of thousands of apps out there. You'd better have a good idea.

2. Analyze the idea: Who is going to use it? Why would they want it? Will they pay for it? What should it look like? What would be on the first screen? What would be on subsequent screens? This analysis will help when you get to the next step, namely

3. Hire a developer/designer/programmer: Of course you want someone with experience designing mobile apps. Expect to pay plus or minus $10,000 and expect it to take at least a month. Check out Craigslist, Guru.com, and eLance.

4. Submit the app to iTunes: this is something your developer should help with as it actually is a fairly technical process.

5. Market your app: Again, it helps to think of your app like a business. Just as you must market your business, so must you market your app. Get people in your industry interested in it — give it to them even. Get industry writers to write about it. Have a Facebook connection be part of the app so people can share it through social media.

Is this a great time to be in business or what? There are so many cool tools available. Who woulda thunk that, a dozen years ago when we named this column, "Ask an Expert," that expertise would someday need to extend to how to create a software program to grow your business on a phone that doubles as a Web browser?

Today's tip: At the airport not long ago I saw Magic Johnson's business book 32 Ways to be a Champion in Business (Magic was No. 32). I was intrigued for two reasons: First, no one loved those Laker teams more than me (but no longer!) and second, and more importantly, Magic has become an entrepreneur and I was interested in his what he had learned.

First, what this book is not: It is not some celebrity cashing in and offering pabulum. This is an excellent, substantive, interesting, well-written, engaging book. Whether it's his lessons from his successes (like teaming with Starbucks) or failures (a sporting goods store that failed) Magic truly has learned what it takes to be a great entrepreneur. The stories are interesting and the lessons are very relevant. Steve says check it out.

© 2010 Steven D. Strauss, www.MrAllBiz.com