Creating an app is the perfect way to start engaging your website visitors on their mobile devices, helping you grow your mobile traffic and enabling users to spend more time on your pages thanks to an improved mobile UX.
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 app developer.
You can still have a great amount of input to make sure the outcome is exactly what you hoped for.
We’ve put together our best tips for those looking to create an app from scratch 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 mobile app:
Who is 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, with many doing similar things to each other.
This research exercise isn’t meant to find out whether your idea is completely unique, but to learn what works well and what doesn’t.
If there are apps that are already relatively successful (or not) you should ask yourself the following questions:
- How can you do it better?
- Where are your competitors letting their customers down?
- What can you offer to the market?
If the mobile app you create is an extension of an existing service that you operate (like an online magazine or news website, for example), competition shouldn’t matter. What you offer is original content for a specific audience that already knows and trusts your brand.
Who’s your target audience?
Because of the lack of face-to-face sales opportunities in mobile app marketing, knowing your target audience is key for success.
However, doing this right isn’t easy.
There are many ways you can identify your target audience. The four most popular methods are:
- Focus groups
- 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?
You can make your personas as detailed or as broad as you want. Keep in mind that the more detailed you make it, the clearer your target audience will be, which could save you time in the future.
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. Social media makes it extremely easy to start this research process. You have the opportunity to tap into different Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, or use LinkedIn search filters to find your personas there, who you can then reach out to
For more tips on creating personas, check out this post on HubSpot.
What is your budget?
Your budget will depend on a number of things, and is likely to change considerably throughout your app’s life cycle.
However, the biggest budget game-changers are:
- What mobile platform you use (Native, Hybrid or Web?)
- In-house or outsourced development?
- Level of functionality within the app
- Marketing/monetization method
It’s a good idea to consider each of these parameters before setting your budget.
What is your deadline?
Like any other business venture, there always has to be workable goals and deadlines for creating a mobile app.
If you have a strict deadline to abide by (maybe you want your app 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:
1. Mobile platform
There are certain platforms that are easier and quicker to use to create an app from scratch 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.
2. 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.
How many developers can you afford to have working on your app? Usually, the more developers you have, the quicker the app is built – but this can increase the cost quickly and significantly.
4. Third party integrations
Connecting your app to other services takes time. Developers have to learn the third party’s APIs and implement them correctly. If third parties update their APIs you may need to take time reconfiguring your connection with them to ensure that functionality stays the same.
5. 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.
Having your app rejected by either the Google Play App Store or iOS App Store will be a devastating blow to your deadline, and the best way to avoid delays is to read the specifications of each App Store very carefully to create your app in a way that abides by the rules.
What mobile platform will you use?
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.
It’s common to create apps for Android & iOS rather than Windows, as collectively they own over 99% of the mobile app market share. There is no overlap between the mobile app platforms, meaning that if you are creating an app for Android, it won’t run on iOS, and vice versa. You will need different apps for each platform.
We explain Web, Hybrid and Native apps in this detailed post.
How will you monetize your app?
Mobile apps can be a good way to create another revenue stream for your business. There are several different ways that you can do this.
The overwhelming majority of apps use one of the following four methods to monetize: Paid Downloads, Advertisements, In-App Purchases, and Native Advertising.
You may also choose to define success differently than monetization. Many companies create free mobile apps with a key goal being increased brand awareness, or the number of mobile users accessing content through their mobile app.
Designing Your App
1. Rough Sketch
The first step of creating an app is putting down your ideas on paper.
Your rough sketch will enable you to lay down the foundations of your main features and the general look and feel of your app interface.
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. Your design is likely to change over time, and we would recommend not getting too attached to your first sketches (no matter how good they are)!
It really can be as simple as this:
Your rough sketch will also be a great point of reference for the next step: 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 of your app. Try to think of all the different elements or features that your mobile app will have in it so you can make the wire-frame as detailed as possible.
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 existing design and improve it, add to it and finally design a real, detailed UI. This should be almost an exact replica of how you envision your app’s final design to be. Certain elements of the app may change during development to ensure functionality, but having an accurate wireframe will help you, and the developer.
Need some more wire-framing inspiration? Check out these awesome tips for wireframing an app from our friends at Speckyboy.
When you create your wireframes, don’t forget to plan out your storyboard too.
A storyboard is designed to visually show the developer how each screen within your app will flow from one to the next, and how your users will navigate through your app.
For example, this is particularly useful for onboarding screens: users will navigate from splash screen to sign-up screen to home screen, and so on. A comprehensive storyboard will not only help your app developer get a clear picture of what they will need to create, but could show you any parts of the design that you are missing, or didn’t initially consider.
You’ll be able to use the same tools you used to make your wireframes to create a storyboard.
*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! It’s better to discover any problems with your design earlier on than after your app has already been created!
Specify Your Development Requirements
Once your app design is complete, the next step is to write down your requirements for the developer before they create it.
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 accurately build your user stories.
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!
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 requirement document templates that can be a useful starting point. Remember, your app will be unique so you shouldn’t follow templates too closely, as they will have been created with a different app in mind.
If you’ve made it this far, 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 is my budget?
When is 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 app development, and DIY app-builders.
Custom App 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 either partner with a design studio, or hire app development freelancers:
App Design Studios
Design studios may seem like the best way to get a top-end app developed, but you should expect to pay a top-end price too.
Anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 is a normal price to pay.
If you’re going native, roughly multiply the cost for every platform you want to cover.
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 app developer. If you’re paying much less than that, you may not see high-quality results.
*Tip: you really get what you pay for on these sites, so consider going for the mid-high range developers if your budget allows – you will be thankful for a mobile app that works correctly and doesn’t need to be fixed after your initial contract is already over.
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.
If you’re a small business with relatively 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 faster and more cost-effective solution to create a mobile app than going down the custom app development route.
DIY app maker and 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 catalogues, reservations for restaurants, or similar.
Many app builders won’t require you to have much previous coding or technical knowledge in order to get started either.
Website to Mobile App Conversion Solutions
You may have a website with more functionality than DIY app builders allow you to incorporate into your mobile app.
In this case, services that will convert your website to a mobile app, such as MobiLoud, could be for you.
This will allow you to replicate your website contents into a native mobile app, with no coding knowledge required. Our experienced team will build, publish, and maintain the app for you!
Your mobile app will maintain all of its existing functionality, including payment support if you have an eCommerce website. MobiLoud also handles the app publishing process for you, saving time, and effort on your part!
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 they are 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. This makes testing extremely simple, and something you can start doing almost immediately.
Apple is slightly different in this regard.
For iOS, you will need to download a platform such as Invision or TestFlight if you want to test your app. They are both very easy tools to use and we recommend taking the time to download and use them.
Prepare for Launch
You’ve developed your shiny new app.
You’ve tested again and again for bugs.
Could this be the moment?
Your mobile app is 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. There are many different reasons why an app could be rejected. We’ve compiled the main reasons into a post that can help you navigate the iOS App Store regulations. You can read it here: 16 Reasons 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 the ‘Download’ button?
Your App Store description is one of your first chances to convince someone that this is the app they were looking for.
Don’t miss that chance!
Write a description that is compelling, informative, and relevant. Ideally you should make sure you include your chosen keywords at least five times for maximum visibility on the App Store.
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 and sell a potential customer or user on the in-app experience.
Screenshots don’t just have to be images either.
Many apps now integrate description and copy into their images to capture their target audience’s attention, for example:
We hope this post provides a brief introduction to how you can get started creating your own app, even without any programming language 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. The more planning you do, the high quality result you are likely to have.
Now you know how to get your app out there, the next step will be to know how to market your mobile app.
Update: we’ve just released our Mobile App Strategy Handbook with our latest content and research on how to build, launch and promote your app. Click here to request your copy now and receive all 139 pages in a neat PDF eBook.