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3 Strategies for Small Business App Development
(background image via Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of NY via Flickr)

By Nikki Kroushl on May 23, 2016

What can a small business do to create a valuable and engaging app without breaking the bank? On May 18th at the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Senior Technical Architect and mobile app developer William Mansfield answered that question. 

Any person developing or hiring a developer for an app should immediately be able to answer four questions. What are you giving? What are you getting? Who uses the app? Who cares? 

Having the answers to these questions are a foundation, but even an app that answers them well needs more to pave the way for success 

Mansfield offers a three-pronged approach for small businesses developing apps. 

1. “Copy first, innovate last.” 

While the business an app promotes may be innovative, the actual features and design of the app should not be—at least not at first. “People don’t want an app to be new and different,” Mansfield says, “they want to be able to use it.” Thus, app creators should focus on pulling design and functionality from existing apps that work well. 

If you see something you like in an existing app, make like an artist and steal it. If Google Chrome uses a tab format with curved edges, and other apps like it do the same, so should yours. Major app developers like Google have the time and money to invest in finding out what design elements work—so if Google is using an element, it’s probably for a reason. Innovate new features and designs only where absolutely necessary, or only after the app has already been established. 

2. “Hire a backseat driver.” 

In Mansfield’s analogy, the small business owner is the driver. Most small business owners are not developers, so they hire out the work. Although a business owner drives the car, she is 

driving down an unfamiliar road, and it is the responsibility of the hired developer—the backseat driver—to direct her. A business owner may have his own ideas for how an app should exist, but since he is not a developer, the business owner should let the developer—who knows apps, and therefore the “road” ahead—to direct. Too much interference from a business owner will only slow down or cause serious flaws in the app. 

Mansfield notes that, in software development and in any venture, a product requires a vital person or a vital process. For small businesses looking to develop an app, the only feasible option is to find a vital person, as a process requires too much capital and research. Find a vital person whom you trust to be the “backseat driver,” with whom you can build a relationship that will last for a long time to come—or at least for as long as you plan to have an app. 

Backseat Driver
(Robin Wallington via Flickr) 

3. “Expect change.” 

Some business owners charge into app development thinking that it is a one-time venture designed to create a single product. That isn’t true. Not only will an app change drastically from idea to implementation phases as the business owner and developer discover exactly what they want the app to do, but apps require maintenance. Design trends, operating systems, and user expectations change. 

Later versions of an app are the best place to implement the “innovation” from the first point. A great app changes with the times, and a great small business owner anticipates and changes with them. 

Finally, Mansfield offered these tips for the app development process:

  • Use to help lay out all the pages and processes of an app in order.
  • Use for inexpensive customizable designs (especially for web-accessible apps). 
  • Always release an app to both Android and iOS platforms (or prepare to lose half of your potential audience). 
  • The more people that are involved in an app’s development, the slower and more cumbersome it becomes. 

“I am not concerned with being great; I seek only to be worthy of greatness.” –Confucius 

You are not going to make the great app—greatness depends on what happens after you build the app.