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A Beginner's Guide to Starting and Marketing an App

A Beginner's Guide to Starting and Marketing an App
Image credit: Carl Wiens

Building a mobile app for the first time? You no doubt have many questions: Is it worthwhile? Does it make sense? How will people know about it?

Having helped build more than a hundred apps from categories ranging from social networking, utility, entertainment and lifestyle, I get asked a lot of questions by entrepreneurs and businesses on the entire process of building and marketing apps.

Here are the most common ones to help you first-timers build a successful app:

I have many app ideas. Which one should I pursue?
Most successful entrepreneurs have built their business through multiple ideas. So don't limit yourself to a single app idea.

Apps are like releasing a hit music single. You never know which single will make it for you. So give each app four to six months after the launch and if you do not see a growing user base, move to the next idea.

I have an app idea, but where do I start?
Start by putting your idea down on paper as clearly as possible. Look for prototyping tools on the Internet and create a detailed, screen-by-screen mock-up/wireframe of your app. Once you’re clear about your requirements, look for a company that can design and develop it for you.

How do I know whether the customer wants my app?
Get to the market fast with a prototype. Don’t wait to create a complete app with all the features. Build only with the core proposition of the app and see if the customer is ready to buy. Once they do, you will get a lot of important feedback from your paying customers.

Should I build a mobile website or a native app?
There are close to a million apps each on iOS and Android app stores, and you’re competing against the best to be seen and engaged with. Mobile websites don’t offer any experience, nor do they add any value to the customer. Apps are to mobile what website is to a desktop. Don’t mix the two.

Should we build the app in-house or outsource?
Some of the most popular products today were outsourced in their initial days, including Alibaba, Fab.com, Digg, Skype.

When creating the first instance of your product, keep the costs low and go with an outsourced provider that understands your requirements best. The most important thing for you at this moment is to get your product in the hands of the customer. Fast. Once you see a real demand for your product and continue to see traction, you can then take over the development and maintenance in-house.

How do I submit an app to the Apple App Store or Android Market?
Create a developer account with Apple and Google by registering through their website and paying the annual app store fees of $99 for Apple and $25 for Google. The actual process of uploading to the app stores should be done by your developers.

Should I offer my application as free and then figure out how to make money later?
There’s a one-in-a-million chance (or probably less) that you could be the next Facebook or Twitter. The choice is yours.

If you want to build a business, have a clear monetization strategy right from the get go.

I’ve built my app. Now what?
Products don’t get sold on their own. You need to take them out of your four walls and place them onto a retailer’s shelves. Then you have to tell people where to find them.

You need to do the same with your app. While app-store optimization can help you a great deal in your ability to be discovered, it is not enough to get significant traction for your app to make it a sustainable business. You need to market your app to get visibility.

How do I market my app?
The best form of publicity for your application, as for any business, is third-party endorsements. Reviews from tech bloggers, press coverage and word of mouth should be the preferred avenues. It is important to keep these sustained if you begin to see traction.

Also, pay keen attention to reviews posted by the users of your application and work doubly hard to reverse any negative reviews.

Should I create a cross-platform app?
Cross-platform apps seldom offer rich experience to users. There is a reason why there are different coding languages for different platforms, which have their own software development kits (SDKs). Such apps are often riddled with bugs and fail to offer consistent experience across platforms.

How much does it cost to develop an app?
It’s like asking what it costs to buy a house or a car. The answer depends on many factors. Development costs can range anywhere between $3,000 to $100,000 or more depending on the complexity and overall features involved.

What if my app does not work?
Most app ideas, just as business ideas, are crap. Successful people make terrible decisions all the time but they also get back up with fresh learning from their failures and try something else. Move onto the next app idea if the current one does not get you results.

If you have more questions about building an app or have an experience to share, post it in the comments below.  

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder of Arkenea LLC, a company committed to helping entrepreneurs and businesses build, market and monetize their mobile apps, with offices in San Jose and Pune. Email Rahul to discuss your app idea.

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