How to Create Your Own App with No Programming Knowledge

You don’t have to be a programming wizard to create your own app.

There are plenty of resources and tools to help you, and it doesn’t mean handing over your entire project to a third-party designer.

You can still have a great amount of input to make sure the outcome is exactly what you hoped for.

Here at MobiLoud we’ve put together our best tips for those looking to build an app with no previous programming experience.

Do Your Research

Like with any new project, building an app starts with doing your research.

From laying out your goals and choosing your mobile platform to understanding the market and monetisation options, here are a few questions you should ask yourself before going ahead with the design and development of your app:

Who’s the competition?

Before you do anything else, check the market for existing, similar mobile apps.

Don’t be put off if somebody has already done something similar – remember, there are a lot of apps out there.

iTunes apps

This exercise isn’t to know whether your idea is completely unique, but to learn what works well and what doesn’t.

How can you do it better? Where are your competitors letting their customers down? What can you offer to the market?

If your mobile app is an extension of an existing service (like an online magazine or news website, for example), competition doesn’t really matter. What you offer is original content for a specific audience that knows and trusts your brand.

Want to skip the research and go straight into converting a site into an app?

Who’s your target audience?

Because of the lack of face-to-face sales opportunities in app marketing, knowing your target audience is key for success.

However, doing this right isn’t always easy.

There are many ways you can identify your target audience. The four most popular methods are:

  • Focus groups
  • Surveys
  • Market research data
  • Audience personas

We would recommend starting with creating your audience persona.

Audience (or marketing) personas are simply building different profiles of the kinds of people who are likely to be interested in your app: are they business professionals? How old are they? Are they male or female?

Buffer marketing persona example
Meet Rachael: one of Buffer’s audience personas

You can make it as detailed or as broad as you want. But, of course, the more detailed you make it, the clearer your target audience will be.

After you’ve built your personas, you can then begin to branch out into the real world; using focus groups, surveys and hard data to analyse your audience.

For more tips on creating marketing personas, check out this post.

What’s your budget?

Your budget will depend on a number of things, and is likely to change considerably throughout your app’s lifecycle.

However, the biggest budget game-changers are:

  • What mobile platform you use (Native, Hybrid or Web?)
  • In-built or outsourced development?
  • Level of functionality within the app
  • Marketing/monetisation method

It’s a good idea to consider each of these parameters before setting your budget.

What’s your deadline?

Like any other business venture, there always has to be workable goals and deadlines.

If you have a strict deadline to abide to (maybe you want to launch in time for a certain holiday period or big event), then you may need to make some decisions that will help reduce the timescale.

The following are the main factors that affect mobile app development time:

Mobile platform

There are certain platforms that are easier and quicker to build than others.

For example, the Hybrid platform is often used by companies who want their app available to users as quickly (and as cost-effectively) as possible.

Check out this post to see which mobile platform is right for your app.

Level of functionality

You might choose to leave some functionalities on the “nice to have” list if it’s essential you get the app out on time.

Resources

How many developers can you afford to have working on the app? Usually, the more developers you have, the quicker the app is built.

Third party integrations

Connecting your app to other services takes time. Developers have to learn the third party’s APIs and implement them correctly.

Publishing to the App Stores

This is somewhat out of your control. Different App Stores can take longer than others to approve your app for release.

Of course, it can also be rejected; meaning you have to go back, improve your app, and resubmit.

A devastating blow to your deadline.

The best way to avoid delays is to read the specifications of each App Store very carefully to make sure your app is abiding by the rules.

If time is of the essence, check out our Mobiloud Canvas solution.

What mobile platform will you use?

mobile app platforms-apple-android-windows

Will you build for iOS, Android or Windows? Will your app be Hybrid, Web or Native?

It’s important to decide which platform you’ll use early in your research stage, as it plays a big part in your budget, timescale, and what kind of functionalities you’ll be able to have in your app.

We explain Web, Hybrid and Native apps in detail here.

How will you monetise your app?

Are your profits going to come from selling the app, advertising, in-app purchases, subscriptions, or some other source?

iOS in-app purchase screen

The overwhelming majority of apps use one of the following four methods: paid downloads, advertisements, in-app purchases and native advertising.

You may also choose to define success differently, such as increased brand awareness, or number of mobile app users accessing your content.

For a detailed explanation of the four monetisation methods and tips on how to implement them into your app, check out this post.

Designing Your App

1. Rough Sketch

The first step of designing your app is putting down your ideas on paper.

Here, you are laying down the foundations of your main features and the general look and feel of your interface.

Now don’t worry if you’re not an artist: this is simply an exercise to help you and your team understand where the app is headed.

It really can be as simple as this:

Mobile app design rough sketch
Source: flipboard.com

Your rough sketch will also be a great point of reference for the next step: wire-framing.

2. Wire-framing

If you’re building a mobile app from scratch, with original functionality specific to your service, then our recommendation is to create a ‘wireframe’ (a mockup or prototype).

A wireframe is where your “rough sketch” ideas come together into a clearer, more detailed, picture.

Creating a wireframe is now easy thanks to the many prototyping tools/apps out there. POP, Balsamiq and HotGloo are just a few of the popular ones.

Create your own app using HotGloo prototyping tool
HotGloo prototyping tool lets you drag and drop graphics

Once you have your wireframe, you can then find app developers and approach them for quotes based on your designs.

A user interface designer can take your input and improve it, add to it and finally design a real, detailed UI.

Need some more wire-framing inspo? Check out these awesome tips for wireframing an app from our friends at Speckyboy.

3. Storyboarding

Example of mobile app storyboarding

Whilst you create your wireframes, don’t forget to plan out your storyboard too.

The idea of a storyboard is to visually show the developer how each screen will flow from one to the next, and how your users will navigate through your app.

For example, this is particularly useful for on-boarding screens: users will navigate from splash screen, to sign-up screen to home screen etc.

You’ll be able to use the same tools you used to make your wireframes to create a storyboard too.

*Tip: once your prototype is complete, it’s a good idea to test it out on as many people as you can. Get your friends and family to play around with it, and take notes on how UX/UI could be improved.

Specify Your Requirements

Once your app design is complete, the next step is to write down your requirements for the developer.

A great way to do this is to describe, in the simplest way, the problem you’re trying to solve with your mobile app.

Create user stories

To do this, the approach we prefer, especially for agile development, is creating a set of “user stories”.

User stories are a bit like creating audience personas: you take the perspective of your users and describe the actions they’ll be able to perform in your app.

In fact, you should use the personas you created in the research stage to help you build your user stories.

User stories template

Try to focus on each individual task they want or need, rather than how they will perform it.

Describe the problem, not the solution.

The classic marketing approach is to think of the role, the goal and the benefit for your user. Easy!

Requirement document

Once you’ve completed your user stories, you can put everything together in a more detailed requirement document.

With a quick search you can find many great guides online on writing user stories and requirements.

Requirement document for app developers
Example requirement document from Moms With Apps

You’re now ready to start building your app!

Developing Your App

When it comes to getting your mobile app built, you have a number of options.

At this point it’s good to go back to some of the questions you asked yourself during the research stage:

What’s my budget?

What’s my deadline?

What kind of app do I need?

Depending on your answers to these questions, your approach to development will be different.

However, you can usually split it up into two key approaches: custom development and DIY app-builders.

Custom development

If you’re building a mobile app with original and unique functionality, then your only option is custom development.

But be warned: this option can be lengthy and harsh on the wallet.

For this type of work, you can can either partner with a design studio or hire freelancers:

App design studios

Design studios may seem like the best way to get a top-end app developed, but you can expect to pay a top-end price too.

Anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 is quite normal .

If you’re going native, roughly multiply the cost for every platform you want to cover.

Freelancers

Freelance developers can be found on sites like Upwork.com, peopleperhour.com and LinkedIn.

Look for experience in iOS SDK, Objective C, Cocoa for iPhone/iPad and Java/Android SDK for Android development.

You can expect to pay between $30 and $60 an hour for a good developer.

Upwork screenshot- freelance platform
Upwork has freelance developers working for $30-$60 an hour

*Tip: you really get what you pay for on these sites, so consider going for the mid-high range developers if your budget allows.

On the higher end of both skill and cost, you can find quality developers on the Crew freelance marketplace, which screens developers and agencies before letting them onto the platform.

Crew screenshot- freelance developer hiring platform
Crew screens all developers on their platform

DIY app-builders

If you’re a small business with common requirements for your mobile app, then you can look into using an existing mobile app platform or mobile app-builder service.

This is a quicker and more cost-effective solution.

DIY app-builder services have been around for a while, and are an economical alternative to hiring an agency.

This type of solution can be a good fit for a small business that only needs functionality like coupons, product catalogs, reservations for restaurants, or similar.

Want to turn your website into an app with zero development work on your end? Check out our Canvas and News solution.

Test Your App (over and over again)

It’s a good idea to test your app repeatedly during development- not just once the app is completed.

This way, you can communicate changes to your developer as he’s working on the app; saving you time, money and a lot of hassle in the long run.

On Android, you can install your app file on any computer/mobile device and test it in a live environment.

Invision screenshot-mobile app prototyping platform
Invision is a prototyping platform that allows you to test and track your developer’s work

Apple is slightly different. For iOS testing you’ll need to download a platform such as Invision or TestFlight. Both very easy tools to use.

Prepare for Launch

You’ve developed your shiny new app.

You’ve tested agin and again for bugs.

Could it be? Yes! You’re ready to launch!

Here are a few things you should do to make sure launching your new app goes as smoothly as possible:

Check App Store regulations

Each App Store has different submission rules.

To avoid rejection and delays, make sure you do your homework by reading Google and Apple’s app submission guidelines.

Check out our post on why your app could be rejected by Apple.

Write an awesome App Store description

Your potential user likes the sound of your app. He/she opens up the page.

But will they tap ‘download’?

Your App Store description is your chance to convince the user that this is the app they were looking for.

Don’t miss that chance.

Airbnb App Store description

Write a description that is both compelling and informative, and make sure you include your chosen keywords at least five times for maximum visibility.

Find out more about how to write a great App Store description here.

Make the most of your screenshots

Just like your description, screenshots help to sell your app.

So make them count! Use high quality screenshots that really show off what your app can do.

Screenshots don’t have to be just images either.

Many apps now integrate description and copy into their images to capture their target audience’s attention.

twitter App Store screenshots
Twitter screenshots incude text

Wrapping Up

We hope this post provides a brief introduction to how to create your own app, even without any programming knowledge or skills.

You’ll find there are many options out there to cut down time and cost, especially if you’re willing to rely on the support of an agency or an app-builder service.

The main things to remember are: set out your deadline and budget parameters, know your audience, and research your marketplace thoroughly before finding your developer.

Now you know how to get your app out there, the next step will be to know how to market your mobile app.

 

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Pietro Saccomani

Pietro is the founder of MobiLoud, where he helps site owners grow their audience on mobile with their own mobile apps.