Phones with appsThe phrase “there’s an app for that” has become a part of our everyday speech. We saw recently that there’s even one that helped stressed-out heads of state unwind (with the revelation that our own Prime Minister is hooked on playing Fruit Ninja on his iPad).

There are more than 1 million apps available; those on Apple’s app store alone are downloaded over 1 billion times each month. It’s no wonder that more companies are asking themselves whether they need an app?

You may be encouraged to develop one because an app is a brilliant branding exercise for your business. But I think there’s more for a small business owner to consider than simply asking: “Do I want to promote my brand in this way simply because it’s cool?”

The average cost of creating a basic app is around £10,000. The more bells and whistles you want to add to it the more expensive your app will be. Few small firms can afford to spend that sort of money without knowing exactly how it will benefit their top line. Here’s a list of issues I think you should consider before deciding whether developing an app is right for your business:

•  Why are you creating it? Do you want to generate more awareness of your business? Or do you want to create a tool that people will find valuable? You must have a clear idea what purpose the app will serve for your business.

•  Can you afford it? The wise punter’s saying is: “Never bet with money that you can’t afford to lose”. It’s the same if you’re the head of an business, particularly in these tough times. If you dropped £10k or more on an app and had nothing to show from it, would that hurt your business?

•  Is your idea original? There are already a million apps out there, so if you don’t bring anything new to the party then you’re likely to just get lost in the crowd.

•  Does it have a shelf life? Most apps probably get used a couple of times before users delete them and download another one. You have to develop an app that will stay in users’ minds for it to be any use to your business.

•  Do your target customers use apps? If the people you want to reach don’t use smartphones or tablets then there’s no point in spending loads of money on an app. You’d be better off using more traditional forms of marketing.

•  How can the app boost your sales? How are you going to convert users of your app into users of your products or services? Remember this is a marketing tool after all, so there’s little point in developing an app, no matter how pretty or useful it is, unless it actually makes your users think of your business and want to do business with you.

Have you seen an app which you have found really helpful developed by a smaller player?

Let us know what they are by leaving a comment below.