Having an app in 2020 is kind of like having a website in 2010: the majority of customers expect businesses to offer one, and for the experience of using it to give them significant value. 

While smartphones have changed considerably over the past few years, the one constant has been the use of apps as a primary mechanism to facilitate all kinds of processes. This not only includes playing games and checking up on your social media feeds, but the way we interact with companies of every kind. 

This is true not only for consumer-facing firms that offer apps to book a service or shop for products, but also business-to-business (B2B) brands that want to ease procurement or offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) functionality to their corporate clients. 

Even though they are seemingly everywhere, however, the path to creating an app from idea to app store can sometimes seem shrouded in mystery. 

Unless they have a programming background, for instance, many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) may not be sure what kind of resources they’ll need to deliver on the promise of a particular app. 

SMBs are already busy enough with their day-to-day operations, so an app that requires them to divert resources or make sizable investments may make the whole project seem unfeasible.

At the same time, entrepreneurs may worry that not offering an app will put them at a competitive disadvantage. They might also have done research at the outset that indicates their idea is viable and that the app would be popular among their customers. 

If you’ve reached this point, use these steps as a guide to map out the remainder of the journey, so you can execute on a mobile app strategy and begin enjoying the payoff. 

1. Repurpose your approach to creating a business plan

When you first launched your company, you probably created a business plan that included sections on the target market, marketing strategies, a financial forecast and more. 

Your mobile app plan should have something similar, where you think carefully about your go-to-market tactics, your expected return on investment and how you’ll measure it. 

You may also want to look at all the potential features and functions you’ll want your app to have over time and, if necessary, segment them into what will be available at launch versus what you’ll add on afterwards. 

2. Test drive apps from competitors and best-in-class businesses

You may be the first in your industry or sector to launch a mobile app, but the odds are against it.

In fact, your motivation to create your own app might be in part a response to what you’ve already seen or heard from competitors. While the design and approach of your app might be quite different, you should become as expert as possible in what’s already out there for your target customers. Download your rivals’ apps and note both the good and the bad as you define your own app requirements. 

Don’t limit yourself there, though. You may be working in the retail sector but there could be apps in hospitality, finance or other markets that offer ideas you could apply. 

Are you a B2B company? Look at the apps of B2C companies too, because your corporate clients are consumers in the other half of their lives, and personal apps may inform their preferences. 

3. Explore the possibilities of low-code development 

There are all kinds of freelance app developers and studios that can help create an app for you, but that’s not the only option. 

Low-code development frameworks and tools recognize that the best apps often come from those outside of IT. That’s why they have components that are more drag-and-drop to let those business professionals create an app on their own. Salesforce Lightning is a great example of this, and has already spawned countless apps for myriad businesses. 

Even if you think your app will require more sophisticated developers later on, a low-code approach might be a good way to test the waters with the first version of your app so you can learn and optimize later on. 

4. Recruit some beta customers (and turn them into advocates!)

Naturally you’ll want to plan enough time for testing and quality assurance as your app comes to completion, but you’ll do an even better job if you seek feedback outside your own company. 

Look to customers who have been with you from the beginning, or those who might have suggested or inspired the mobile app you’re developing. Give them early access and position it as a sort of VIP perk. Make it easy for them to evaluate the functionality and to point out any problems. Track all the feedback and assign action items.

Then, before announcing the final app, let those beta customers see that you made improvements based on what they said. They might be willing to offer testimonials that encourage others to install it. 

5. Consider the nuances of your distribution channels. 

A consumer app may get published on the App Store or Google Play, but in each case there may be specific guidelines or rules you have to follow to get it approved. Look into this early on and fold the requirements into your planning process. If you’re creating a B2B app, on the other hand, you might want to explore marketplaces such as the Salesforce AppExchange

App stores and marketplaces aren’t the only areas where your audience might learn about your app, however. Think about the landing pages you might need to create on your website, a blog post you could write to talk about the rationale behind it, an announcement in your newsletter and posts for your social media channels. Even your email signature might be a good place to include a download link. 

Launching a mobile app is a lot like launching a business. There may be only baby steps at first, but with the right planning you might be surprised at how quickly you’ll be off and running with an app all your customers will want on their smartphones.