Small Business Ideas: 4 Steps for Going Mobile

by Elisabeth Suzio on November 5, 2011

Do you want to design a mobile application for your small business but don’t know where to begin?

Check out this recent post to learn more about why you should consider investing in a mobile app for your small business.  Apps make important information from your website more easily accessible for portable devices.

Here are four steps for getting started.

(1) Create a mobile version of your website.

Interactive Media Lab (IML) recommends creating a mobile version of your website even before you begin designing your app.  A mobile website will:

  • Connect your business to all types of smartphones and will establish your presence in the mobile world.
  • Provide insight into the way people interact with your website on their mobile devices.

Once you discover which features on your website that people use the most, you’ll be better able to narrow down what to include in the mobile app.

The easiest way to build your mobile website is to modify your business’s existing website to make it compatible with smartphones.  To create an idea that a web designer can turn into a mobile website, it’s important to remember that the website will be viewed on palm-sized screens.

(2) Decide which mobile platform(s) to include.

Will you design multiple apps for several different platforms, such as Blackberry, iPhone, and Android?  Or will you employ a cross-platform mobile framework like Rhodes, Titanium, or PhoneGap to create an app that works for all major platforms?

An app developer uses a cross-platform framework to write an app code that all customers can download no matter what smartphone they own.

Since you would only have to pay to develop one app code, this method would naturally be cheaper.  Nevertheless, it presents drawbacks.  To design more sophisticated apps, or simply to achieve the optimum user experience, many developers find cross-platform frameworks inadequate.  Very basic apps, however, often work well when designed in cross-platform frameworks.

(3) Decide which features to put in the app.

Consider which features would be most useful, informative, and time-saving.  For instance:

  • If you own a restaurant, your app might provide business hours and a few buttons for the appetizers, the entrees, the desserts, and the beverages.
  • If you own a clothing retail store, your app might provide information about sales, major products, and the latest shipments.  IML encourages small business owners to choose two to four features for their applications—simplicity is best.

(4) Create prototypes of your mobile app.

There are several ways to do this.

  • To produce prototypes that are low cost, fast, and easy to recreate, developers can use paper prototyping.

This technique involves creating sketches of interfaces that model application designs.  End users can test paper prototypes and offer input during early stages of the design cycle.  The feedback gathered in these usability tests would inform you before a design goes into full production.

  • ­­Paper-in-screen prototyping places the paper prototype of the mobile application inside the mobile device.

Developers do this by adapting images of paper prototypes to display on a mobile device’s screen.  This allows users to experience aspects of the mobile user interface that paper sketches alone do not portray.

  • A developer can use an application wireframe, also known as a page schematic or screen blueprint, to design a visual guide that represents the basic layout of the application.

The wireframe usually focuses on functionality and main content and lacks some elements of typographic style, color, and graphics. In other words, it focuses on what the features actually do, not what they look like.  The sophistication of this prototype usually increases the price to between fifty and several hundred dollars.

After you have completed these four steps, you’re ready to develop your mobile application!  Look out for a future post detailing success stories from small business owners that took their small business mobile.

If you would like to contact IML about a mobile application for your small business, see below:

Interactive Media Labs
info [AT] interactivemedialab [DOT] com

Celina Durgin for contributed to this article.

Do you have a question for Dawn, your small business coach?  Don’t panic. She’s here to help!

Be sure to check out our Instant CFO Course to learn everything you need to know about running your company.

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