Smartphone applications for small businesses

A Blackberry phone on a notebookSmartphones — and the many applications they offer — can change the way small businesses operate for the better. You can even create your own apps.

If you are a small business, it is easy to feel behind the curve in technology terms when you want to create high impact customer engagement for minimal cost and effort. The new generation of smartphones, however, offers innovative ways to connect with customers and leapfrog your competitors for little cost and little effort

Sound too good to be true? Read on.

The value of phone apps

The advent of smartphones like the Apple iPhone, the Nokia Lumia and Microsoft's Windows phone and the rise of tablet devices give businesses the opportunity to engage in a new kind of mobile marketing, based around useful applications (also known as ‘apps’). This is marketing that shuns heavy sales messages in favour of actually being helpful to customers while engaging them in what you do.

A good example of this would be a simple budget calculator created by an accountancy firm.

It is really simple to create apps. All you need are some ideas on how you want to engage your customers, a modest budget and the help of a good technology partner who can help make your idea a reality.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. What does your business do? What is your main trade?
  2. What do your customers want? What do they tell you they want from you that you don’t currently offer?
  3. What budget could you spare and how would you let people know about the application to promote it?

There are some great examples of applications that are relevant to small businesses. For example, the Inner fence Visa payment app helps small firms pay via credit card in an instant. This proved to be so popular, it has made it into the TV advert for Apple iPhone.

Or take the spirit level application. This is a great example of an app that a small firm — such as a builder or surveyor — could have come up with.

Future apps

There is so much potential for small businesses to develop their own apps. A landscape garden firm could have a garden planning app that featured a calendar of what to plant when, drag and drop garden redesign feature and a guide to plants that work together. Or a hairdresser could have an app where you can upload your photo and choose a new hairstyle. This could also work at an opticians.

A church could develop an app that reminded churchgoers when services and group activities were taking place as well as providing a pocket bible or an audio hymn book. A guitar store could launch a tuner, backing track or an application to enable the phone to be a mini amplifier.

Who could help me develop an app?

I had the pleasure of working with Roy Forsdick at Coolgorilla to create lastminute.com audio translation books on the iPhone for a very small cost and they went on to have over 1.5m downloads on iTunes and via the iPhone.

A quick search online will turn up lots of companies that can help you. If possible, seek recommendations and look at examples of previous work. Look for a company that can create apps for both iPhone and Android. Most importantly you need a company that understands your vision and what you are aiming to achieve.

For me, the company name did not matter or how big a company it was. It was the idea, distribution channel and connecting what we did with what customers would want, all rolled into a neat bestselling application.

Good luck and be brave, it could pay massive dividends for you.

Find out how one company created its own app in our case study:

Find further guides and advice in the Resources box, right.

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