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. There are over 2.2 million apps in the Apple app store and 2.8 million which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. 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?

Building an app using code

If you've decided to build an app, the first thing you need to do is to learn how to write computer programming and do it fast, right?

Actually, wrong - very wrong. Despite the many adverts 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 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. It's a bit like building a unique car engine from scratch - it won't happen overnight.

The fastest way to solve these inevitable 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.

Understand your limitations

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 with those who do who can bring your idea to life.

Using a mobile app developer

As a small business, you may consider developers too expensive to employ. But that's not necessarily true. There are armies of freelancers app developers out there, all looking for their next big (or small) project. To create your mobile app, you simply 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. You can also ask your business contacts for recommendations. Your local further education establishment may also have students on the look out for a project to complete as part of their course.

There are loads of developers out there. Some charge strict hourly rates while others will negotiate a deal for the right app. Using a freelancer will also be much cheaper than employing a full-time staff developer. Finding the right freelancer will also give you a lot of flexibility.

Working with your app developer

Once you've found a developer you feel you can work with, you can get on and actually build the mobile app. Doing this is all about communication; you need to be able to clearly articulate your vision and what you want the app to deliver and your developer needs to keep you updated on progress, challenges, costs and limitations.

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 how best to deliver your vision.

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.

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