Does your small business need a mobile app to stay competitive?

If you listen to the growing chorus of small-business owners, going mobile is becoming a necessity

By Christopher Null, PC World |  IT Management, mobile apps

Or consider the app developed by MyMovingReviews, a website that rates and reviews moving companies. The companys My Move app, which helps consumers plan and execute a move, took $24,000 and five months of hard work, says manager Martin Panayotov. The company used an eastern European software outfit to build an iOS-only app, which the company initially sold for $2 a pop. Now the app is free, and last year My Move was ported to Android, a much cheaper prospect since the legwork had already been done. Still, for My Move, its an iOS world: The iPhone app greatly outperforms the Android one, no matter that Apple holds about 20% of the smartphone market, says Panayotov.

At the far end of the spectrum youll find Brightleaf, which spent an estimated $300,000 to build a mobile app and a back-end system for its customers (attorneys) to use when drafting forms and documents for their clients. Its a complex system, but Brightleaf offers it to customers for free. We give the mobile stuff away & but we make our money when lawyers want to use the full, paid version of Brightleaf to modify, customize, and publish their own forms, says Luke OBrien, the companys VP of strategy.

If your mobile ambitions are a bit more basic, several DIY app-building services are available, such as JamPots TheAppBuilder. These services take much of the hassle out of app development by letting business owners create apps through a variety of what-you-see-is-what-you-get templates, and the results can be surprisingly slick. Cost varies depending on the service; most charge one-time creation fees, and many impose monthly maintenance fees. Youll also be on the hook for the developer-registration fees for whatever platforms your app resides on. Google charges a one-time $25 fee, whereas Apple and Microsoft require a yearly $99 developer subscription.

Such services arent cheap, but theyre often less expensive than hiring a dedicated developer. Just pay attention to the recurring monthly fees and determine whether it might make more fiscal sense to pay the up-front premium for a developer, to avoid being bled by repeat charges over the long haul. If you have a truly unique app in mind, you'll almost certainly have to hire a professional.

Whats the payoff?

Small-business owners have never been much for analyzing return on investment, and the world of mobile apps is no different. It should come as no surprise that unless youre selling goods or trying to make money by selling the app directly, measuring ROI is difficult.

Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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