If you run an online business, you probably know you need a mobile app. As Prof. Scott Shane wrote in Entrepreneur last year, “having a web presence alone is no longer sufficient.” People rely on their smartphones more every day, doing everything from ordering their coffee to paying their bills from their mobile devices. As our lives converge in the palms of our hands, consumers expect the brands with which they interact to offer seamless, easy-to-use mobile experiences.
But business owners can get skittish around the idea of building an app. They’re not sure where to begin or how much it will cost, so they end up delaying this important decision. The good news is, building and launching an app is affordable no matter what your budget. Costs vary significantly based on the type of app you want and how you approach it, but options exist for businesses at every level. If you’re willing to be flexible and creative, you can get an app up in very short order. Let’s take a look at how:
1. Hire a developer
Hiring a developer to build your app is the most straightforward approach. A seasoned professional will know which components the app needs, how to integrate your goals into the functionality, and how to create a great user experience. However, this option can be costly, especially if your app needs to include a range of complex processes.
One option is to work with a freelance designer or studio. Upwork estimates that a contract app developer working from a major city, such as Sydney, Australia, could charge up to $140 per hour. But those in second- and third-tier locations may be willing to work for $40-50 per hour. The latter still adds up to a significant sum, especially considering that even a simple app can take up to 170 hours to build, but there are ways to keep costs manageable. Allowing your developer to incorporate existing code from other platforms into yours will cut down on the time and work — and therefore costs — that go into the app. To get an idea of how much an app will cost, check out this handy calculator from BusinessApps.
As your business grows and your app users demand more features, you can contract your developer to revise it based on those changing needs. Depending on the size of your company, you may opt to hire a full-time developer or development team to focus exclusively on the app.
But if you’re in the early stages of your business, avoid hiring a full-time app developer right out of the gate. Salaries for these positions average $84,000, and you may need that capital for investing in other areas of the company. While a dedicated app developer would undoubtedly benefit the organization, contracting a freelancer or studio to complete the first iteration will allow you to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP) to your users without blowing your entire runway.
2. Learn to code and build it yourself
If hiring a developer isn’t within your budget, you can learn to code and build the app yourself. There are many online courses that teach app development for Android and iOS. Udemy occasionally discounts development courses to as low as $10, although they’re typically closer to $200. Treehouse offers three pricing tiers, beginning at $25 a month, and users have access to a range of coding tracks through the platform, including Android and iOS development. Entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping their businesses and have limited resources can get started with freeCodeCamp, which, as its name suggests, doesn’t require any payments.
While many coding courses are designed to be beginner-friendly, DIY Genius recommends taking a basic computer science course before diving into app development. Foundational knowledge of computer science will help you grasp and apply development concepts that much faster.
Of course, learning takes time — and that’s a cost you may not be able to afford. If you already have a background in programming, you may be able to learn quickly enough that building the app yourself won’t be a roadblock to execution. But if you’re starting from scratch and want to get your app into the world as soon as possible, you may want to consider option three.
3. Use a DIY app-builder
DIY app builders are like hybrids of options one and two. You benefit from professional developers’ expertise while getting to add your unique spin on the app — at a fraction of the time and money.
A variety of options currently exist (including my own company, AppInstitute), each with its own features. Some offer a menu of choices you can include in your app, while others simply integrate your content and feeds into their templates. Our platform allows you to choose from a list of templates and then drag and drop features to create the brand experience you envision, making it extremely user-friendly for non-developers.
Costs for DIY app-builders range depending on the service level. Some simply charge monthly hosting fees, while others use subscription-based or profit-sharing models. Many companies, like ours, offer tiered pricing so you can choose your service based on your budget and needs. For instance, our drag-and-drop option is free but we offer custom development packages as well. Regardless of the pricing structure, however, you are all but guaranteed to pay less using a DIY app-builder than you are hiring a developer.
No matter what stage your business is in right now, you need a mobile app. Fortunately, you can also afford one. Like so many other aspects of running an online company, app development is not a one-and-done component. You can start with a simple app to meet customers’ mobile demands and then upgrade the experience as your offerings, and resources, grow. The most important thing is to get started and take your company mobile today.