It doesn't take the resources of a big corporation to publish a mobile app for iPhones and Android smartphones these days. And if you're thinking of offering an app for your small business, you're not alone.
Currently, 42 percent of small businesses in the U.S. have built a mobile app, found the business-to-business (B2B) research specialists at Clutch in a recent survey of 355 small business owners and managers. By the end of 2017, that figure is expected to rise to 67 percent as smaller enterprises look to extend their reach among the smartphone-toting masses.
"The percent of the US population with smartphones is continuing to rise," Ryan Stevens, research manager at Clutch, told Small Business Computing. "Due to this, apps are increasingly proving themselves as an ideal marketing channel for small businesses."
Growing Revenues, Pleasing Customers
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the most cited reason SMBs said they decided to build mobile apps is to increase sales (39 percent), followed by improving customers service (30 percent). Others turn to mobile apps as a competitive advantage in specific markets (22 percent) while for some organizations, their parent company suggested an app (10 percent).
However, Clutch's data suggests that priorities shift once SMBs publish an app. Among the businesses that had already built an app in 2016, improving customer service ranked above increasing sales (36 percent versus 34 percent).
"SMBs [small and midsized businesses] lacking apps are missing out on a key channel to engage customers, boost their brand recognition and distribute promotional information," added Stevens. "Apps for SMBs are now more affordable than ever with more features than ever. Given these factors, there aren't many scenarios where an app doesn't make sense for an SMB, particularly those that are consumer-facing."
Anatomy of a Mobile App
When considering which features to include in their mobile apps, SMBs gravitate toward those that stand a better chance of improving their return on investment (ROI).
They include social integration (20 percent), mobile payment support (19 percent) and personalization features (15 percent). Businesses are also seeking features that provide customer loyalty program functionality (13 percent) and location-based services (12 percent).
"Social media and mobile payment features are very easy to measure a return on investment, which is why I believe they were so valuable last year," said Andrew Gazdecki, CEO of Bizness Apps, an app-builder service for small businesses, in a statement. "SMBs can track how many new fans or followers are being created through their mobile app and track their spending from there."
Company size is a big determining factor in whether an SMB has a mobile app. Only 15 percent of businesses with fewer than 10 employees have an app, a figure that rises to 56 percent for businesses with 11 to 50 employees. Sixty-five percent of businesses with 51 to 500 workers have an app.
A small business leader's age is often a factor. Sixty-three percent of businesses with owners and managers between the ages of 18 to 24 have an app, compared to 25 percent in the 55 to 64 age bracket.
In terms of getting their apps built, 49 percent of SMBs use in-house staff and nearly the same number (47 percent) seek out a freelancer or consultant. Forty-three percent contract with a design or app development agency while 40 percent take app-builder software for a spin. According to Clutch's analysis, SMBs don't seem to favor one approach over the others. In fact, many businesses use a combination of internal and external resources get their apps built.