November 6, 2015
By John Hughes
Small businesses used to be easy to run. You set up shop, you placed an advert in your local newspaper, and you waited for business to come your way, and that was it. Unfortunately, the advent of the Internet changed everything and small business owners had to start to work that much harder to keep their place on the high street. First, to be taken seriously, every small business needed a website. Small business owners had to become familiar with the world of web hosting and website design, and once their websites were up and running they had to become familiar with terms like SEO, the differences between Online and Offline Marketing, and get to grips with issues like Social Media. In fact, in many respects, small businesses suddenly had to operate like a multinational company – but with far fewer resources!
While some small businesses decided all this was only for the big boys and decided against adopting the Internet, others got on with the job and prospered. Things were rosy for a while – the website brought in business, as did the social media. But then the world changed all over again when the Internet went mobile - the paradigm shift left many dazed. Small businesses once again stood at the foot of a steep learning curve. Whereas once the discussion was about websites and social networks, now the discussion was Mobile Apps.
As it was with the Internet in general, Mobile Apps are currently often seen as a luxury only big players can afford. Now though, perhaps the discussion has moved towards why a business cannot afford NOT to have a Mobile App. First, the facts – figures vary but the bottom line is this: somewhere around the middle of 2014, more people began accessing the Internet via mobile devices than they did using PCs. This is a huge change, and the gap between mobile and PC usage will continue to widen – its never going back! Probably as a result of these figures, there has been an explosion as far as Mobile App adoption is concerned.
I am sure everyone uses at least one app on a weekly, if not daily basis. Banking apps have become a way of life with people who find online banking natural and extremely convenient. But with many people using apps provided by huge corporations, it is easy for small businesses to think Mobile Apps are purely the domain of the big players – this is simply not the case. As adoption has increased the price of creating sophisticated Mobile Apps has shrunk. As a result, small businesses recognize that Mobile Apps represent an opportunity and an advantage over their competition.
So why should a small business consider building a Mobile App? Here are a few reasons:
1. The ‘Wow’ Factor
As we said above, many people feel that having a Mobile App is the domain of the big boys – the big industry players with lots of resources. If that is the case, wouldn’t having a Mobile App to some extent put your business in their league? That has to be good for your image!
2. The ‘Solid’ Factor
When was the last time you did business with a company that DIDN’T have a website? To some extent a website has become as ubiquitous as a name card – as it might appear odd if a businessman didn’t have a name card, a business without a website might also appear odd. Companies with websites appear more ‘solid’ than companies without websites, and as the move towards Mobile Apps gains pace, the way people feel about websites might soon be the way they feel about Mobile Apps – if a company doesn’t have a Mobile App, something is wrong.
3. Customer Experience
If your business has a website that customers have to interact with in any fashion (to book a ticket, make a reservation, etc.), then you have to realize that people are on the move, and no matter how well organized your website is, an app that can simplify any of your website’s functions is going to be beneficial for your customers. The Web Hosting industry is an excellent example of this. Web hosting customers use control panels to control their accounts and manage their websites. Although these control panels are often responsive and are formatted for mobile devices, a well-built app can make life significantly easier for web hosting customers. Even if an app does not provide the full capability of a control panel, it can provide easier access to some of the more frequently used web hosting functions (for example, rebooting a server). As it is with web hosts, some potential customers might choose to use one business over another simply on the ease of use of their Mobile App. It’s worth thinking about – making life easy for your customers can only be a good thing.
Very few apps are forced on users. Whereas a mobile user might feel peeved at receiving a marketing call from a company, or receiving a marketing SMS or email, as they chose to load a business’ app, they might not feel so surprised if that business contacts them with promotions and special deals. Mobile Apps offer another line of marketing, one that users are probably going to be more comfortable with.
Apps are (usually) free. People download them onto mobile phones at their own discretion. Obviously this is an opportunity to promote your brand – your app sits on a customer’s mobile device and if it looks good (and behaves as it should!), it can reflect well on your company’s image.
6. Keeping Your Business In Mind
Simply put, a mobile device’s screen now represents real estate and an advertising opportunity. A number of studies suggest that mobile phone users access Facebook an average of 14 times a day. With your company’s app taking up space on the same screen, that’s 14 times a day they might be reminded of your business. Surely that has got to be a good thing!
7. Customer Feedback
A good Mobile App does not need to be a one-way street. Mobile Apps give customers the opportunity to contact companies. Perhaps they have a complaint, perhaps they have praise. Alternatively, they simply might have questions. The interaction available through Mobile Apps gives companies the opportunity to refine services and address issues before they become problems. For instance, if a company finds that customers are continually asking about a particular issue (how to reboot a server, for instance), a Mobile App can offer FAQs that guide people to immediate solutions for their problems. This obviously has the added impact of taking pressure off your Customer Support team.
8. Customer Loyalty
There is no need these days for customers to carry cards and collect stickers - whatever type of service you offer, a Mobile App can help you to track usage and to encourage customer loyalty. When a free Mobile App gives a user the opportunity for a free cup of coffee, they are going to come back to your business!
Obviously, there are numerous issues to consider as far as implementing a well thought out Mobile App is concerned. Cost is an obvious factor. But the issues above are really only scratching the surface as far as the benefits of Mobile Apps for small businesses are concerned. Many believe wholeheartedly they are the way forward for small businesses, as I do. It is the natural next step beyond a website.