Beginner's guide to building an app

Shopping basket on a keyboard with apps in it

These days there's a mobile app for just about everything and businesses of all sizes are benefiting from the booming mobile app economy in the UK.

So, how do you get a piece of that action? How do you create an app to help your customers? And how do you turn that great idea into a money-spinner?

Mobile apps: it all starts with code

If you've decided to build an app, the first thing you need to do is to learn how to program a computer and do so quickly as possible, right?

Actually, wrong - very wrong. Despite the many adverts you see that say you can create an app with no programming skills, or learn to program apps in 21 days, the truth is that gaining the skills to write a really good app takes a long time.

Even when you develop those skills you'll eventually hit the classic programming wall: how do you fix the bugs that inevitably appear in your apps?

The creation of every app - and indeed all software - is based on figuring out how to make it work one computer bit at a time. It's a bit like building a unique car engine from scratch - it won't happen overnight.

The fastest way to solve these problems is to have experience. But if you don't write apps all the time then you'll never have enough experience to really make your app shine.

You're an expert... but not in mobile apps

So, it's unlikely you have the experience and knowledge to build a really great app. But that's ok, because you don't actually need it!

 Although you're not an expert in building apps, you're already an expert in something just as important: you know what your great idea is, or you know what your business needs. You just need to put that expertise to good use.

Here's a good example. American photographer Lisa Bettany knew what would make a great photography app. So, she co-created Camera+ on the iPhone, and the app has been a great success.

You don't need your own programming skills. You need to form a team.

Working with mobile app developers

Traditionally, smaller businesses have considered developers too expensive to employ. But that's changing. There are armies of freelancers out there, all looking for their next big (or small) project. To create your mobile app, you need to find someone you can work with on terms you're both happy with.

You can find developers through sites like Upwork, PeoplePerHour and Envato. It's also a good idea to use Google to search online for developers in your area – and ask your business contacts for recommendations.

There are loads of developers out there! Some charge strict hourly rates while others will negotiate deals for the right app. Using a freelancer won't cost you as much as a full-time staff developer, and finding the right freelancer will give you a lot of flexibility.

Working with your developer

Once you've found a developer you can work with and you know what you want, you can get on and actually build the mobile app. Doing this is all about communication; your developer needs to keep you updated and you need to be very clear about your needs.

The best way to get things done quickly and efficiently is to be very honest with your developer and to listen to their advice. You are the expert on the idea behind your app, but they're the expert on delivering it.

Between these two fields of expertise there may be a need for some compromise (it's essentially a balancing act). Don't be alarmed by this it's completely normal. At times it may be hard to keep the faith, but so long as the end result works, everything will be fine and you'll have an app you can be truly proud of.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.