Here at Your-Web-Guys we meet a lot of small business owners or their surrogates. Most of them have little to no knowledge of the geek world where the internet resides and that is exactly why we exist. We help small businesses make sense of the online world and by doing so, help them to thrive in it. I have noticed for quite some time now that many people ask for mobile apps for their small businesses. This is not something most small businesses need to spend money on, so...
Let me say here and now that without much question, your small business does not need a mobile app.
Most small businesses think they need an app when they really only need a mobile website. As a matter of fact, many people use the terms synonymously. "But why do i hear so much about apps and how small businesses need to have an app etc..." you might say? Before i answer that question, lets first define terms...
An app for a mobile device is actually software with a buzzword for a name. It is downloaded and installed on an individuals device just like microsoft office or photoshop is on your computer. It then has access to, depending on the permissions it is allowed, various functionality on that device. For instance, the app could access the camera or do things with the wifi or blue tooth signal... it could even read your email or listen to and record your phone calls. Anything that your phone/mobile device can do an app can use as part of its programming.
A mobile website is simply your website and its content arranged to be easily viewed on a mobile device. This can be done through a dedicated mobile version of your website or through the new responsive webdesign technology that is available. A mobile optimized website is no longer an option in the online marketing world. Too many of your potential customers are using their mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets to view your company. If your website does not look good on those devices then your company does not look good period.
I did say "without much question". So what would the question be?
With all that being said, many small businesses use apps as an additional marketing outlet. They look at it just like they do their search engine rankings and their social media presence. Even though their app does nothing with the device itself, as an app is designed to do, different companies use the apps they own to push content to the people who have installed it. This is not an altogether bad idea, but it can be used too much. If your app becomes obnoxious folks will uninstall it, just as they would unsubscribe to an email newsletter that is sent too often or is bereft of good content. However, the odds of someone finding, downloading, and installing (and not un-installing after a few notifications) your app is not normally worth the expense of having one created. So making sure you are going to get a good ROI is imperative.
The other question that you need to ask yourself before paying for a potentially useless mobile app is; does your company need access to the device features. For instance, Bank of America has an app and they need one. This app enables them to verify identity, increase security, and have access to the camera for the new deposit function that they rolled out a bit ago.
On the other hand, Facebook has an app that actually is not 100% necessary. It does not access much of the phones features... it can integrate with the contact list and email, but for the most part it is just an extension of the facebook website itself. However, their app is extremely robust which makes it appealing to use on a handheld device and therefore worth the investment they made in creating it. The app has value. Would an app that only pushes specials out to potentially annoyed clients be much of a value to them?
So it all comes down to if the app you pay for is better to use than your mobile website (which you should still have even if you do decide to create an app) or if you need access to the device directly that it has been installed on. If the answer to those questions is no then you do not need a mobile app... you need a mobile website.