My small business clients often ask me to quote the development of a mobile app for their business. More often than not, I talk them out of it before I even attempt a quote. Why?

Simply put, most small businesses don't understand the complexities and costs involved in custom software projects. It makes sense, the apps you use everyday are usually elegantly simple. All of the heavy lifting is hidden from view because that's what makes it a great piece of software. The problem is that it's far easier to create something complicated than it is to create something simple and useful - it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to make something that complex look that easy.

Price resistance is difficult enough with simple things like how much a good small business website costs, but mobile apps are a completely different animal, and it's important that small business owners understand the real costs and issues involved with these projects so you can make an informed decision about whether or not it's something that can add value to your organization.

My first question to my clients when they ask about mobile app development is "What problem will this solve for your business or customers that is not currently being solved by your existing infrastructure or processes?" Most of the time, this is where the conversation ends. I've seen too many small businesses waste their resources investing in things like mobile apps or social media without truly understanding why they're doing it first. This is a huge mistake. When the solution precedes the problem, you need to take a step back.

As a small or medium-sized business, your resources - mainly time and money - are your most precious assets. You can't afford to take big risks with either without first having a very good reason for doing so. So if you're wondering if a mobile app is right for your business, step one is to work the problem. Decide if the app really solves a problem. If not, stop here.

The next step is to decide if that problem is one that really needs to be solved. As an entrepreneur or business owner, problems are the norm. There's always something that needs to be fixed, tweaked, improved. Always a complaint or issue that needs to be dealt with. Always an employee that needs help with something. It's your job to prioritize those issues to determine which ones need to be solved first, and which ones have to wait. If this problem doesn't sit at the top of that list, move on to something that is in greater need of your time, money, or attention.

If you have decided you have a problem that needs solving, the next step is to determine if a mobile app is really the right vehicle to offer the solution you need. Just because you potentially could solve your problem with a mobile app, doesn't mean it's the best way to do it. The right partner will help you identify if a mobile app is the right way to go, or if there's another solution that works better for your specific circumstances.

Mobile apps come with a lot of challenges. Mobile apps are expensive, they're time-consuming and costly to maintain and support, installations are difficult (and sometimes expensive) to acquire, and once you have, repeated use is even more difficult to encourage.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you shouldn't consider a mobile app for your business, just that you need to understand the what you're getting yourself into when deciding if it's the best option for you and your business. Often there is a much simpler solution to your problem that you just might not be seeing. If not, pick the right developer and get moving!

Chris Searles is President of Searles Media and specializes in helping small businesses maximize their available resources to market themselves effectively using a wide variety of media. Visit Website

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