apps for small businesses

Off-the-Shelf Apps – A Way for SMEs to Go Mobile?

  • 10th June 2016
  • Guidance
  • 4 mins

Even the most myopic of small-to-medium enterprise owners can no longer ignore the fact that their customers have gone mobile when it comes to their online needs. This article from Smart Insights paints a very clear picture of the emergence of mobile devices as the primary way for the majority of people to access the web.

SME owners simply cannot afford to ignore this new reality, in which the website they had developed five years ago is as obsolete as sending out a blimp with the name of your company printed on the side. Mobile-friendly websites have long ago become a must, but if an SME owner really wants to make their business stand out, they will seriously consider developing a mobile app.

Why an App?

It is possible to write a book on why SME owners should consider developing an app for their business, but we will try to keep it short here. An app is a fantastic way to promote one’s business as its presence on customers’ devices is something of a perpetual advertisement, even if it is not used that often. It is also a fantastic way to gain insights from one’s customers, as well as provide them with enhanced service. Above everything else, however, an app makes your SME a company that does not fear the future.

The Big Obstacle

Traditionally, the biggest obstacle for SME owners when it comes to developing an app has been cost. Unless the SME’s app is not the focal point of their operation, i.e. the thing that makes them money, most such enterprises do not have the know-how to develop an app which means they have to approach someone else to do it for them.

The most common way to have an app developed has usually been approaching a company that specializes in app development, telling them what you need and having them develop an app for you. Unfortunately, this is not an affordable proposition. In any way.

The costs of having an app developed will depend on a number of factors such as the platforms that you need supported (Android, iOS, Windows), whether it is going to be static or dynamic, what features it will boast (eCommerce support, geofencing) and more. In any case, an app will set you back at least a few thousand pounds, while the more elaborate ones will require an investment in the range of a few hundred thousand.

The Affordable Option

It did not take too long for certain developers to notice this particular segment of the market – SME owners who wanted to launch an app but could not afford to have it developed from scratch. Soon, app building websites and companies started springing up, offering a new way to get in the mobile app game for the frugal SME owner.

These websites provide a much cheaper way to get an app for one’s business, by using numerous templates that can be modified to suit different businesses. The actual apps are often provided for free, but the SME owner is required to pay a monthly fee in order to “keep it running”. In most cases, these monthly fees will be anywhere between £25 and £50.

This is an expense that even the most budgetary constrained SMEs can afford.

The Inevitable Limitations

The inevitable reality of these off-the-shelf apps is that they will come with certain limitations. They were not developed from scratch and therefore they cannot be completely unique, even though app makers are doing more and more to improve the customization capabilities of their platforms. SME owners are given the chance to pick the features they want included in their apps but they cannot ask the developer to come up with new ones for them.

To be perfectly honest, these limitations are something to be expected when one considers the difference in price. Moreover, off-the-shelf app makers are constantly improving the ways they do business. For instance, Bizness Apps, an app maker that has been around since 2010, currently allows SME owners to scan their website for content and visual identity in order to better synchronize their new app with their existing website.

The number of these services is on the rise and even big players like Microsoft are getting in on it. The future will only make this type of app more popular as customization becomes better and as apps developed in this way become more unique.

Bottom Line

Off-the-shelf mobile apps are definitely not to be ignored by SME owners. They offer much of the functionality of the custom-developed business apps at prices that are more realistic for such companies. They do come with certain limitations, but if one knows how to work around them and tame their expectations, these apps can be the perfect way to foray into the world of mobile.

GUEST AUTHOR

James D. Burbank Editor-In-Chief, BizzmarkBlog

James D. Burbank has more than a decade of experience in the trade show industry. Over the last few years, he's been trying to keep tabs on the world of online marketing and online business in general. He is the editor-in-chief at BizzMarkBlog.