Every year for my USA TODAY column, I do an annual Top 10 Trends in Small Business column. This past year, it seemed that Facebook was a shoo-in for the No. 1 spot. After all, The Social Network was one of the top movies of the year, Facebook topped the 500 million user mark and the site was valued at more than $50 billion. Facebook seemed like the obvious winner.
Except it wasn’t. It came in at No. 2 for 2011, actually. What could have topped Facebook as a trend that is changing small business more than any other?
Indeed, the only thing hotter and more buzz-worthy than Facebook is the popularity and ubiquity of smartphone apps. People are using apps every day, all day long – not only to have some fun and kill some time (death to pigs by Angry Birds I tell you, death!) – but also to effectively run their businesses.
The smart small business owner can capitalize on this trend in two different ways. First, you can, and should, find and use those apps that make running your business simpler and more profitable. Second, you should strongly consider creating and offering your own app to your customers.
Let’s take a look at both of those options:
The reason it is smart to have the foresight to integrate business and efficiency apps into your work day is because it’s where social media is headed. You are on your smartphone far more than you ever used to be, right? Well, the same is true for your staff, vendors and customers. Mobile devices and smartphones are where the eyeballs are and, as such, it is where you need to be too. It is how people are gathering information these days.
Of course, I can’t tell you which specific apps would work best in your business. There simply are too many available, doing many different things for businesses that it is impossible to say which ones you need and would like. However, you can figure out fairly quickly which ones you should check out by
- Doing a Google search
- Reading industry magazines, websites and blogs
- Getting recommendations from writers and bloggers you like (personally, I enjoy and use recommendations from SmallBizTrends, CNET and SmallBizTechnology)
The important thing is to find apps that fit your business needs and try them out. Undoubtedly you will find some amazing tools out there that will help you run your business more easily, efficiently and effectively.
The second way to take advantage of this trend is by developing an app of your own. Essentially, there are two approaches you can take: pay a developer to create a custom application, or create a mobile version of your website.
The first method – creating a real app – looks like this:
1. Have a good idea: Your app idea should be based on fulfilling an unmet need or desire that exists in the market.
2. Analyze the idea: Who is going to use it? Why would they want it? Will they pay for it?
3. Hire a developer/designer/programmer: Expect to pay roughly $10,000 and expect it to take at least a month for the app to be ready. To help get started on creating an app, check out Craigslist, Guru.com and Elance.
4. Submit your app to the app store(s): Since this is a fairly technical process, this is something your developer should help with.
5. Market your app: Just as you must market your business, you must market your app. Look into creating a press release or announcing it on your website and other company collateral.
Finally, the last option, creating an app version of your website, is easy and cheap.
There are plenty of web-based services you can use to create a simple app that mimics your website, for instance SwebApps. With this type of service, you just point, click, drag and create an app. It’s easy.
Your app could include the following:
- Content, blogs, podcasts, etc.
- Products from your store — allowing anyone to make purchases through the app
- Maps and contact info
- YouTube, Facebook and Twitter buttons
Whether you outsource your app development, or create one in-house, offering a mobile application is just one more way to stay in front of your customers.
But whichever approach you choose, it’s probably time to hop on the app bus, Gus.
About Steve Strauss
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.