How to create an app

Mobile is taking over desktop: number of mobile users and time spent on mobile are seeing constant growth.

Providing seamless, yet engaging experience on mobile is now more important than ever, and it gives a true competitive advantage to businesses that get it right.

A great mobile app can exponentially help your business in many ways. It can:

  • Increase your revenue by improving sales or introducing a new revenue stream
  • Build up engagement and community by providing a resource for your audience
  • Improve employee communication by being a core internal app for your business
  • Increase your brand awareness and enhancing your mobile marketing strategy

However, creating an app can be an intimidating experience. You may be discouraged by high potential costs, technical teams, complex project management, months of work, and many costly risks among the way.

If that sounds familiar, this guide is for you. By the end of it, you will be able to:

  • Define and research your app
  • Create and test your app’s layout and use cases
  • Choose your development path based on your resources
  • Build and test your app without a single dollar spent
  • Launch your first app in a matter of weeks with minimum cost

We’re breaking down every step, giving you all the resources you need, and explaining all your options.

Let’s go!

How To Build An App – Step 1: Set a Goal.

Step away from any form of technology and get out a pen and paper and define what it is you want to accomplish. The starting line in the app development word is a pen and paper, not complex coding and designing. Ask and answer the following questions:

  • What exactly do you want your app to do?
  • How are you going to make it appeal to users?
  • What problem is it going to solve?
  • How will it simplify life for people?
  • How will you market your app?

app building goals

You will not survive in any business if you don’t have well defined, clearly set goals!  A lack of vision will frustrate you and anyone who you employ to work for you.  Before you do anything, create a clear picture of what you want done!

How To Build An App – Step 4: Wireframe

In the technology world, a wireframe is a glorified story board.  Here is where you take your sketch and your design idea, and you give your idea a little more clarity and functionality.  This will become the foundation for your apps development, so it really is a crucial step.   There are stacks of wireframing websites that you can use to help you bring your sketches to digital life with functionality like click through and icons. The trick is finding one that you like and that is easy for you to use.

wireframing

Check out these wireframinig tools here:

How To Build An App – Step 5: Start Defining the Back End of Your App

We left off with your wireframe, so at this point in your app development, you have a storyboard of how you want your app to function.  Now it’s time to use that storyboard to start examine functionality.

Using your wireframe, you need to delineate your servers, APIs, and data diagrams.  There are some great do-it-yourself app builders that can provide you with the tools to easily do this.  Some of them even do if for you.  If you are unclear of what this technical jargon means, you should probably use a service that provides hosting and a means of collecting data about your app usage.

Regardless of what method you choose to use to develop your app, it is imperative that clear diagrams are created as they will serve as the directions for everyone working on your project.  Should you run across any technical difficulties, you should revise your wireframe to reflect any changes.

Check out these back end services:

  • https://www.parse.com/
  • http://www.applicasa.com/
  • http://www.kinvey.com/

How To Build An App – Step 8: Design the Look

Now its time to employ the designers to create your UI, user interface. The user interface is a very important part of your app because people are attracted to how things look and how easy they are to navigate.  Through the design process, you need to keep the feedback you got from your testers in mind, and you need to make sure the design and the navigation reflect the feedback you got. How to design your app?

If you’ve hired a graphic designer for your app, you will need to get high resolution skins, or visually appealing screens based on your wireframe, for your app.

If you are using a WYSIWYG editor, you need to pick your template and layout for your screens yourself.  I’ll stress again, keep that testing feedback in mind when developing the look of your app.  You are building for users, not for you!

app building designs

Check out these app design agencies:

How To Build An App – Step 11: Beta Testing

You’ve looked at your app through several different lenses, and you think you’ve managed to develop a smoothly functioning, aesthetically pleasing, problem solving app.  Now, you need to examine how your app is going to function in a live environment.

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Android makes this process simple, while iOS likes to keep things in a controlled environment.  There’s pros and cons to both approaches, but the bottom line is you need to jump through one last hoop.  You can simply upload your app file on any android device and test it in a live environment.  From here on out in your Android app development process, you can monitor your apps progress from your device.

iOS requires you use a platform called TestFlight to beta test your app. Apple is pretty thorough with its directions and instructions for using its beta test platform.  A great feature to this beta testing option is that you can invite testers to review your app before taking it live.  It’s yet another user lens through which you can view your app.

app testing build

How To Build An App – Step 12: Release Your App

You’ve made it to the finish line.  You’ve brought your idea to fruition, and the last step is to share it with the world.  Hopefully, you’ve gone on to solve a major problem.  If not, with any luck your app has some features that can simplify or bring enjoyment to someone’s life.  Regardless, you’ve accomplished something big.  Now it’s time to distribute it!

Android and iOS, again are very different with regard to marketing apps.  If you stick with this business, you will see a pattern emerge—Android is a little less strict.  Again, there are pros and cons to both approaches, but as an app entrepreneur, you will need to learn the rules for both.

You can simply add your app to the android store.  It will not be reviewed right away.  You will instantly be selling your app in the Google Play store. iOS, on the other hand, will review your app before it can go live.  While there is no set time frame for the Apple team to review your app and push it on the shelves, you can guestimate about a week of waiting.

app store

If you are anxious about getting your app onto the devices of users, you can also publish it in Pre-Apps.  This is a great opportunity to have your app viewed by people who like to have a first look at new ideas.  Keep in mind, these people are always reviewing up and coming ideas, so their feedback could be great for you.  They are familiar with #trendingapps, so I’d advise taking this extra step—if for nothing more than to learn more about the app world.

You need to remember that you still have to sell your app. Just because your app is in the store does not mean you are going to start making millions tomorrow.  Marketing is a must.  Sadly, marketing cannot just be added onto this guide as “Step 13”.  It’s got quite a few steps of its own.  So, now that you know how to make an app, I’d advise you to begin researching app marketing strategies so that you can change the world one app at a time!

Step 1: Define Your Objectives With a Mobile App

Your number one task is to define the reason you want to create an app to begin with. As you’ll see throughout this guide, each next step will rely on the combination of the previous ones.

Your app should create two effects in the overall picture:

  • An improvement for your audience, and
  • An improvement for your business.

First, let’s look at your audience. Whenever they interact with your business – both online or offline, regardless of the channel – they get to ask themselves: what’s in it for me? If they don’t see a benefit almost immediately, they will simply move on, and that’s true for your app, too.

An improvement for your business can mean many things, simply depending on your current situation. Some of the most common impacts a good mobile app can create for you are increased ROI, more returning customers, better productivity, reduced expenses, improved social proof, and a boost in brand awareness.

Now that we covered the basics, it’s time to go deeper. Remember, an app can have more than one purpose, and any of them can benefit your audience, you, or both.

So start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What areas of your business need improvement?
  • How can a mobile app impact that problem?
  • What is the potential result?

Other key areas include your market and competitor research, timeline, budget, and more, but we’ll focus on these factors later in this guide.

Now is the time to introduce you to our hypothetical business – Inspire Fitness – to tackle these questions and all the steps that follow as we progress through them, so we can help you envision your development with BuildFire for your own mobile app.

Inspire Fitness is a fitness and health center in San Francisco, and it has been running for 3 years now. It is attracting both new and existing clients, but because of a less than average retention rate, its growth has been stagnant for the past year.

Here, we want to tackle this business challenge and see what could a mobile app accomplish to tackle this problem – so let’s look at those questions again.

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What areas of our business need improvement?

Our center has a solid brand awareness and we gain new clients consistently, but we have an above-average churn rate. Some of our churned customers noted a difficulty to book their classes and personal trainers as one of the key reasons to leave, as it was only available on desktop and many of our clients are often on the go.

At the same time, we spend lots of time to run the logistics and basic communication with our clients, which consumes most of our team resources and efforts, making us inefficient and limiting our growth.

How can a mobile app impact these problems?

With a mobile app, we could automate many processes, such as classes overview, booking from mobile and important service updates, while enabling easy customer feedback and one-to-one chat.

What is the potential result?

On the customer side, we could increase overall client satisfaction and boost great social proof. And as a business benefit, we could see increased productivity and larger revenue.

Your answers to this step will be your core guidance throughout the rest of this process.

Step 2: Lay Out Your App Functionality & Features

Now that you know what you want to achieve with your app, it’s time to define your mobile app’s scope.

This is the time to get creative and write down all the functionalities and app features necessary to accomplish the solutions and results outlined in the previous step.

Some of the features may include:

  • eCommerce integrations
  • Contact us
  • Forms
  • YouTube or Vimeo integration
  • Chat
  • Push notifications
  • Social sharing

Write down any features that will bring value to your app, and make this your guidance throughout the full app development process.

For our Inspire Fitness mobile app, we want to have an appointment booking feature, events calendar, RSS reader, chat, customer feedback, team members directory of our trainers, and maps for directions.

Step 4: Create Your Wireframes & Use Cases

So far, you’ve defined your app’s objectives and mapped out its functionalities, including your market and competitor research insights. This is the time to give your app its first skeleton and piece these individual blocks together with wireframing.

Wireframing is a visual guide that will represent your app’s layout and the flow between the screen without the distractions of visual design and graphic elements. It is the bridge between your raw thoughts and a final product before any of the technical phases begin.

Your wireframing is driven by your use case(s) – the small, specific tasks your users can achieve with your app.

This is your unique chance to:

  • Understand your use cases and the thought processes behind them
  • Optimize the number and order of screens to reach each goal
  • Create multiple screen flows to find which one works best
  • Save hundreds of development hours later on

There are two ways to create wireframes: offline and online. If you prefer offline, you can simply use a pen and blank paper, or you can use templates like the ones from SneakPeekIt.

Online options include:

Choose your tool or template, and start sketching. You should have one wireframe for each use case, and it should represent the full screen flow a user will see from opening your app to achieving their goal.

Here is how one of our Inspire Fitness wireframes looks like using Mockflow:

As you can see, we covered the necessary steps to call the gym directly from the app.

Step 5: Test Your Wireframes

Now that you have your use cases and their visual representation, it’s time to test your app’s flow and user experience.

Testing will help you analyze your use cases, identify any friction points and question the ease of your mobile app processes. You will compare your screen flow with your user’s expectations and prevent any frustrations.

To test your wireframes and use cases, you should use a tool like Invision to make your wireframe interactive. Using Invision, you can connect screens and link actions to simulate the actual experience of your app.

It is really quick and easy to do this: you can register for a free account on Invision and create your project by simply clicking the ‘+’ sign and selecting ‘Create new prototype’. Once you name your prototype and select its type, you’ll be given two options: syncing with Sketch/Photoshop or adding image files from your computer.

You can now add images of individual screens from your wireframe. In each of these images, you can use the options at the bottom of the screen to link screens to one another. Once you’re finished, you can share your prototype using the ‘Share’ option at the top-right corner of the screen. And that’s it!

Use this to share the project with your colleagues or your customers to test the use cases and the intuitiveness of user’s journey, from opening the app to reaching the goal.

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You can also ask your testers to write down the answers to these questions:

  • After you’ve opened the app, is the access to the main menu obvious?
  • Can you easily identify all the tasks you can accomplish with the app?
  • Did you have to tap ‘Back’ for any of the tasks you wanted to achieve because the path wasn’t intuitive?
  • Were you looking for an option that wasn’t there?
  • Are there any options you found redundant?

Answers to these questions will inform your action items in the next step.

Step 9: Test Your Mobile App

Once development is done, your app is ready for the real-world testing! This step will ensure there are no bugs and the user experience is as intuitive as it was after you’ve created and tested your wireframes.

With custom development of an app, there may be upwards of ten rounds of testing. Let’s cover two different tests here: internal test and external test.

Internal testing involves yourself and your team to test the app as if your were the end user. The goal of internal testing is to identify bugs or any user experience issues – simply put, your app needs to work and flow just the way you planned.

External testing involves people who are not familiar with you or your mobile app. The core aim here is to pinpoint any user experience issues and unintuitive steps.

You can use some of these app testing tools to help you in this step:

  • UserTesting
  • Ubertesters
  • TestFairy

If you decided to build your app with BuildFire, you can preview and test your app completely free through our BuildFire Previewer app, quick and simple. It will allow you to:

  • Try the app in a realistic environment, just like it was downloaded on your phone from the app store
  • Interact with your app to see and feel the experience it provides
  • Test your app’s features and make sure the layout is intuitive
  • Implement any feedback and fine-tune the details

You can now refine your app to achieve the app goals you’ve set out in the beginning.

Step 10: Launch Your Mobile App

You’ve reached your final task – letting the world know about your brand new mobile app!

First, you will submit your app to your preferred app stores. For this, make sure you follow all the guidelines that each platform defines and to make the most out of your app store optimization.

Once you’re mobile app is live in the app stores, it’s time to get the eyeballs on it! There are many ways to promote your mobile app, but we want you to start with these ones so you can get your app in front of the right people – fast.

Email your customers

This is the priority: as soon as your app is live, make sure your customers are the first to know. It can be as simple as writing a short email to say that you’ve been working on improving their mobile experience and link to your app in app stores. You can also ask them to reply to your email with any questions or feedback. It’s that simple!

Update your website

This is crucial for any potential customers, as well as churned customers, as this will show them the value you’re providing for their mobile experience in case they become your customer.

You can publish a blog post about your new mobile app, or simply place a banner on frequently visited pages (or both!). Don’t hesitate to briefly mention the value and the impact this app will bring to your customers!

Promote on social media

Instead of simply posting the link to your app on social media, you can combine several different strategies for your app promotion on social media:

  • Post an update about your app on Facebook and Twitter and pin that post to the top of your profile. Ensure these updates convey the value of your app and contain a call to action.
  • If you are on Instagram, link to your app in your profile URL and mention it in your post captions.
  • Go to Twitter’s advanced search, and search for your business name mentions. If you are a local business, include your location, too. If your search returns recent enough results, see if you can join a conversation naturally and without sales talk. If any tweets mention your mobile experience or ask questions that your app is an answer to, you can mention your app in your replies.
  • Go to Followerwonk and select ‘Search Bios’ at the top. Enter your keyword and your location, and ideally set the minimum number of tweets to 1000 to avoid spammy accounts. On the right of your search fields, select ‘search Twitter bios only’, enter your location if appropriate, and do your search. Look through the profiles that show up in your results and see if you can organically join any ongoing conversations – this will help you raise your brand awareness!
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