No Ifs, Ands or Buts: 10 Things Small Businesses Must Do To Succeed With Their Free Apps

Many small businesses have recently learned about the world of Web apps (applications) and are beginning to incorporate apps into their marketing efforts. However, what you may not know is that building a great app takes some know-how. Thousands of small businesses have built apps on our platform – these apps  have been effective in engaging customers and creating new revenue streams.

Below is the list of 10 factors that have made the difference between apps that engage customers and those that don’t:

1. Usability — Put your “customer hat” on. Build an app that your customers will actually want or find useful. It can be anything, depending on your product or service. Tripit helps people manage their travel plans with their app. The easy-to-use Facebook app lets users update status and add photos directly in the browser window without going to the site. E-Junkie makes e-commerce easy by providing a “buy now” button, shopping carts and more. Just make sure that it’s useful… that is what will keep customers coming back to your app.

10 Things Small Businesses Must Do To Succeed With Their Free Apps

2. Speed — Think fast. Customers want immediate responses. One of the main reasons that native iPhone apps are so popular is because the response is instantaneous. Make sure your app can load quickly and if not, entertain the users with images or information in the duration.

3. Ease of use — So easy a caveman could do it! Geico got that right and as Arun Gupta from WakeMate put it: “The ease of use of your website needs to be at least inversely proportional to the amount of value you are adding. If your service is providing marginal benefit, then it had better be extremely easy to use. Conversely, if you are providing something the user cannot live without, you can get away with making them jump through some hoops.” If your app is not easy to use and requires a steep learning curve, users will quickly lose interest and move on. Make sure the value of your app can be experienced with as few clicks as possible.

3. Modern and Sleek — Get with the times. If your business has the best application in the world with outdated graphics, customers will think it’s old or tired. Check out similar apps in your industry and compare. For example, notice how many iPhone apps change their icon, just a bit, when they release a new version. The updated icon gives users a feeling that they’re getting something shiny and new, even if the new version is just some minor bug fixes.

4. Surprises — Exceed expectations. The first time I received a voicemail in my Google Voice account I was happy to see that the message was also transcribed so that I could read it by email. Google over-delivered by taking a standard service beyond initial expectations. This approach creates a positive overall experience with your brand and provides customers with the sense that your business is really considering their needs.

5. Notifications — Don’t you forget about me. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an email, a Chrome extension that displays a badge or an iPhone app with push notifications — your app should reach out to customers and remind them about the cool stuff going on with your business. Quora, for example, lets users “follow” a question and pings them when somebody adds an answer. The Groupon Browser App notifies users when a new deal is available in their area. These notifications ensure that potential customers don’t miss out on great deals or your latest offerings. The key is to use the right mechanism and determine the proper frequency to make the notifications valuable, not intrusive.

7. Fun — Let me entertain you. Flickr is a great example of making photo-sharing fun and adventurous. MailChimp puts a fun spin on the boring business of email. Adding even a bit of whimsy to your app can improve the overall experience. Fun can be generated in many ways — from the “voice” of your application (the text and tone used throughout the app), to holiday cartoons, hidden items, amusing colors or anything that adds an element of surprise to the experience.

8. Great service — The customer is king. Over 10 years ago, Dell executive Jerry Gregoire proclaimed, “The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.” Most small business owners know that all too well. Pause to consider how great service impacts your own experiences with a brand. Providing outstanding customer service produces top-notch impressions, builds loyalty, encourages positive word of mouth and drives users back to your app. Zappos has made this part of their company DNA, with great success.

9. Feedback — Tell me what you think. Listen to your customers and heed their feedback. Don’t release the latest version of your app until you’ve taken the time to collect feedback. Today’s Web makes it simple to release updates. Once you have more resources, you can even use A/B testing to optimize and customize certain experiences. Some of the tools you can use to “listen” are Google Alerts, and TweetDeck. Consider adding a comment feature to your app that allows users to make suggestions.

10. Monetization — Don’t break the bank. You need to make a living, so if your app is costing you money, you won’t be able to keep providing great customer service. There are lots of established and emerging models for generating revenue that can work for your small business. Consider a freemium subscription model (like Flickr’s model), advertising, donations, SMS, market intelligence, affiliate marketing, selling virtual goods/currency, or any idea you think will work for your customers.


Adam Boyden Adam Boyden, President of Conduit, is responsible for marketing, business development and U.S. Operations. Conduit is a company that enables publishers to distribute their content directly and through its global network of publishers.

7 Reactions
  1. And remember that all 10 points aren’t equally weighted. If I can’t figure out WIIFM it won’t matter how fast, sleek or surprising your app is.

  2. There’s a similar theme here that occurs with SEO practices. When you talk about “putting the customer’s hat on” it reminds me of Google’s effort to identify user-friendly sites with content that users really want and enjoy. Sounds like, the better you make it for the customer in every way imaginable, the better the app will be for business.

  3. Great point by Robert. Among the other things mentioned above, people wants apps that help solve problems as quickly as possible – that is why they use mobile apps. It quickly organizes information from the web, or your company, and helps solve a problem and provide value. Companies (large or small) should never create apps just to have apps.

    Here are some questions we recommend business owners ask themselves before making an app.

    -What problem or challenge does your business product/service solve?
    -Who exactly is your target customer? Do you have a laser focused view on their demographics, wants, needs, internet and mobile usage habits, etc?
    -How can an app help you solve their challenge faster, quicker, cheaper, more conveniently, etc?
    -What are the benefits of creating a mobile app in your space (access to more users, competitive differentiation, etc.)?
    -How does the app integrate into your overall sales process? Where does it integrate?
    -How do you project this app impact your top line?


    Ryan Mettee
    VP Biz Development

  4. Great article! Do you have any examples of such apps that have been deployed by small businesses? Thanks.

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