How to Get an App Made: A Complete Amateur’s Guide

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So, you have a genius idea for a new mobile app that’s going to take the world by storm…

But, you’ve got no technical knowledge, and have no idea how to get an app made, or where to even start.

Sound familiar?

Well, that’s exactly the situation that two young men found themselves in when they quit their jobs to take on the challenge of mobile app development:

Now, with their new app Spot & Change launched on the Apple Store, founders Gary Fallon and Jamie Yacoubian are going to walk you through how they got here, and what they’ve learned along the way…


The Ideas Phase

Image of the "About Us" page on the Spot & Change website
Gary and Jamie left their accountancy careers behind to create fun mobile game, Spot & Change

If you’re reading this article we’ll assume you already have at least a germ of an idea, so we’ll keep this part brief:

It’s a well-worn cliché, but you’ll come up with a hundred bad ideas before landing on one that has a ring of success to it…

So take the time to think about whether there are any glaring issues with your app idea. Does it solve a problem? Is there a demand for it? Is it even feasible to make?

If you’ve got an idea that passes these tests, then get excited about it, and move on to the planning phase…


Research

Image of the results for the search term "spot the difference" on the Apple App Store
Researching their main competitors was a key early step in the process for Gary and Jamie

Check whether the idea exists already – but don’t be disheartened if it does! You could improve upon it. Competitors are a thing.

In our case, we noticed that spot the difference games were abundant and endlessly popular – but none had anything like the “create-your-own” camera and social-sharing features we envisaged for our own game.

Having the best idea of what’s already out there will help you to refine the concept of your own app. Check out the number of users apps have and how they generate revenue at Apptopia.

You should also find relevant blogs in your chosen niche. Many useful blogs informed our approach – we’d recommend Apptamin, Buffer, App Annie and Startup Stash as great places to start!


Getting Estimates

At this point you’ll need to gather as much information as possible about what it’s going to take make your app:

How much will it cost? If using an agency, meet with a number of agencies to find the best fit and to get a range of estimates. (Clutch has numerous lists comparing development agencies and the services they offer.

And remember to protect your idea – sign NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) with any external parties involved.*

Estimate the time needed to develop based on the complexity of the idea. There’s no set answer here, but expect to find that development will last several months, and there will always be delays.

*Note: When you get to the fundraising stage, a lot of institutional investors might refuse to sign an NDA as this could potentially limit their future investments.


Brand Identity

Image of the website for app analytics tool App Annie
App Annie is a highly popular – and useful – tool for mobile app analytics

Think about how people will find your app. How will you get them to your page on the app store?

An app keyword tool like App Annie is a great place to start for app store research, giving you data on rankings, search volume and a host of other useful information.

Take great care when choosing the name of your app – spend time researching popular search terms and find the best ones to use for your chosen niche…

Image of the Spot & Change logo

For us, we felt that “Spot & Change” struck the perfect balance of describing the function of our game while still allowing us to rank for the popular “spot the difference” search on the app store.


Business Models

Image of the "featured puzzles" page on the Spot & Change website
The business model for Spot & Change allows sponsors to seamlessly make adverts a part of the game

There are numerous business models to choose from when it comes to mobile apps, and each has its pros and cons:

The biggest question you’ll have to answer is: will your app be paid or free?

A paid app gets revenue up front, but that initial barrier to entry may put people off – most people expect apps to be free.

Pop-ups/banner ads are a simple way to monetise a free app, but can hinder user enjoyment.

In the end, we went for none of the above. The app is entirely free to download and has no obtrusive ads – we hope to generate revenue through brand partnerships (like Snapchat and Draw Something).

Again, there’s no set answer, so the best advice we can give you is to look at how your major competitors generate revenue, and decide from there..


Choosing a Developer

Image of the website of app development agency, Locassa
London-based app development agency Locassa have worked with a number of major brands

There are lots of options here as well – without tech skills, should you use an agency or try to find a development partner?

An agency will have a ready-made team and work process, which may end up being cheaper than building a team before you have validated the idea.

For this reason – and after meeting with more agencies than we can count – we used London-based firm Locassa (whose extensive client-list is very impressive).

Conversely, building a team will likely prove more expensive, but comes with the benefit of having everything “in-house”.

It really depends on your level of funding, which brings us to…


Fundraising

Image of the crowdfunding website Kickstarter
There are a number of platforms available if you choose to go the crowdfunding route – Kickstarter is probably the most well known

Securing investment can be tough while your idea is still just an idea…

We chose to gather any funding we could first – initially from (very generous!) friends and family –  to get things going and just focus on creating something that people would actually want to download.

If you are pitching to investors though, you should pull together a cash flow projection and product vision (a little easier for us, being halfway to becoming chartered accountants):

Don’t worry if that sounds like jargon to you though! Much of this will have been informed by your research and discussions with developers.

Crowdfunding is also a potentially great source of alternative funding, as well as a means of gauging consumer interest in your idea.


Initial Mock-up

Image of early User Experience sketches for the Spot & Change mobile app
Gary and Jamie worked closely with Locassa in refining the User Experience of their app

Once you get working with your developers you’ll be able to really refine the idea and key features of your app.

Sketch out some designs to help communicate your ideas, and consider your MVP (minimum viable product):

In other words, what is the simplest version of your idea that will allow you to test the app with users and get useful feedback?

This will mark the beginning of a lengthy design process and countless revisions to your app.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other things that you’ll also need to think about, such as…


Setting Up Your Business

Image of company registration for Spot and Change ltd.
It’s vital to register your company prior to release (as Gary and Jamie did with Spot and Change ltd.)

If you’re going to release a product with the intention of eventual profit, you’re going to have to make your company legit:

Register as a company, apply for a trademark, register for relevant taxes, meet with lawyers…

Basically, take the opportunity during the  design process to take care of all the little administrative things necessary for establishing a company.

Then, with the paperwork side of things taken care of, you can be fully prepared when you eventually reach the stage of…


Final Design and Programming

Image of User Interface (UI) designs for mobile game Spot & Change
An appealing and functional User Interface (UI) is essential for attracting and retaining app users

Work with your developers, through the User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design phases, always being conscious of your overall vision and current design trends:

With Spot & Change, we wanted our design to be as sleek as possible, and to feel familiar to users who’ve played other games with social features.

As we’ve said already though, you’ll go through infinite versions of your app before getting it to the stage you’re happy with in terms of look and functionality.


Testing

Of course, you’ll work on this as part of the process with your developers – but it should still go without saying that you need to test the app thoroughly prior to launch:

Go through every screen, every user action, every single facet of your app – and always keep the user in mind.

Communicating with your developers and designers is extremely important at this stage to keep track of all the minor adjustments that need made.

Again, this will be an ongoing process, and will continue after the release of your app as you react to user feedback and fix bugs, glitches etc.


Web Design

Image of the homepage on the website for mobile game Spot & Change
Create a straightforward landing page for your mobile app to encourage downloads

As you start to think about a looming release of your app, it’s time to make sure you have all the basic marketing materials in place for that big launch:

Having an attractive website will be key when it comes to promoting your app – it’s somewhere to send people to learn what your app does. It will also help you to gain users from search traffic if properly formatted.

Adobe Muse allowed us to create a responsive website without knowing any code, and you can make it look exactly the way you want (unlike template based website builders).

It’s also a good idea to put together a press kit that you can host on your site, especially if you’re going to be reaching out to tech blogs to promote and review your app for you.


Pre-Promotion

Image of the Facebook page for mobile game Spot & Change
Make the most of social media channels through which you can market your app for free

You may not have much of a marketing budget, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make use of all the free methods of promotion available to you:

Get your social media accounts set up, email bloggers, journalists and influencers in anticipation of your launch. If your idea is good, a little basic outreach can go a long way.

This is also the time to really fine-tune your App Store Optimisation (ASO) to make sure you give yourself the best chance of ranking for your chosen search terms:

Take great care when choosing the description for your App Store page, make sure it gets the message of your app across clearly so that you show up in those vital searches.


Using Analytics

Image of the app analytics tool Flurry
Flurry allows you to view a number of key metrics relating to the usage and performance of your app

Ensure you are ready to capture analytics that inform you of how your users are interacting with your app once it is live:

This real-world data will help you to decide which features need tweaking.

We use Flurry, one of the most popular app analytics tools, for recording our own data and metrics for Spot & Change.


Launch

Image of the Spot & Change mobile app as featured on the Apple App Store
Once you’re app is ready for launch, you’ll need to submit it to Apple (or the equivalent app store) for review

Once development and testing is complete, and you have all your systems and marketing platforms in order, it’s time for the much anticipated launch:

If, like us, you’ve had limited funding to promote your app in advance of release, it may be advisable to have a “soft launch”…

By that we mean, limit your initial marketing spend, get some initial users and work their feedback into the app prior to really pushing marketing (essentially treating your launch as a beta test).

If not though, this is when you’ll really want to make use of all your available promotional channels to get the word out about the app launch and maximise early downloads.


Early Feedback

Image of App Store reviews for mobile app Spot & Change
Addressing user feedback will be key to ensuring your app’s success

When you finally launch your app, it’s by no means finished:

For one thing, regular updates which address user feedback will assist in pushing you up the App Store search rankings.

Include a method of users communicating their feedback directly to you from within the app – this will keep constructive criticism away from your reviews on the store.

More importantly though, while development may be complete, the release of your app is just the beginning when it comes to promotion and growing your user base…


Next Steps

So, once you’re at the stage of having your app finally available for download, you’ll probably be wondering how you can make people aware of it?

Don’t worry, there are a number of great resources out there that can help you with app promotion, try checking out some of these:

We’ll be following up this guide on how to get an app made with a post on how to market your app in the near future too, so be sure to check back in.

In the meantime, check out Spot & Change on the app store and let us know what you think:

Link to download Spot & Change on the Apple App Store

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