5 Reasons Why Mobile Apps Are Not a Replacement for Your Website

The world of mobile apps is getting so dominant that many companies consider making the full transition of their digital properties towards the mobile environment. In other words, they are prepared to give up maintaining and updating their website, and replace it permanently with a mobile app.

In support of this train of thought, it is true that people use mobile phones more frequently and in a greater proportion than desktop computers to browse the internet. The major social media and email platforms have successfully implemented mobile apps to help smartphone users access their accounts without having to use a web browser.

What Do the Major Players Do?

In this situation, logic would dictate that the owners of these digital properties would stop developing their websites and focus all their energy and resources into the mobile apps. In reality, the interfaces, functionalities, layouts and designs of these popular platforms are constantly updated both for the websites and the mobile apps.

This is a clear signal that web is not dead and will not be for a long time. Because, despite the growing trend of doing everything on their mobile phones, people are not yet ready to give up their desktop and laptop computers. Although this is a generic reason, it is a valid one to determine companies to continue maintaining and improving their websites. Here are five more others:

1. There Is No SEO for Mobile Apps

For the moment, there is no way of getting more search results for your business through the mobile app. SEO is still restricted to websites when it comes to on-page keyword strategies. No matter how well you optimize your content for the mobile app, you will not get any Google hits from it. The most popular search engine in the world still looks out for your web pages in the attempt to give relevant answers to people’s queries.

2. You Cannot Incorporate Too Many Features in an App

Imagine every type of content included in your website squeezed into a mobile app. It would be a huge app which would take up a lot of storage space and it would be difficult to use. There are so many functions in a website which cannot be replicated into your app. You cannot host your blog, your e-commerce store or your main presentation pages in an app, because it would be so complex and difficult to use that people would simply give up on it.

3. You Still Rely on Website Landing Pages

Coming back to those people who are still browsing social media from their computers (there are a lot of them, and for certain niches they are the typical potential customers), your social media campaigns, ads and offers would not be effective if you send people to a mobile app instead of a web landing page. It is hard to believe that they would be so excited about your offer to stand up from their desk, grab their smartphone and start browsing Facebook or Twitter on it until they encounter your ad.

4. Web Pages Are Better for Blogging

Although they are very busy, people still enjoy reading a good article or blog post, even if it is longer. It is quite annoying to do that in an app, with endless scrolling on the screen. People may get the notification on their smartphone about your new blog post, but they will probably wait until they reach their computer to read the whole article and enjoy the graphics (if any).

5. Maintaining and Updating Websites Is Less Expensive

If you focus all your marketing, promotion, presentation and blogging efforts in a mobile app, you will have to apply frequent updates. This is not only annoying for the users, it is also costly for your organization. Mobile apps have a lot of ongoing associated costs, because each update requires specialized work by the developer. In the case of a website, modern CMS platforms are intuitive and easy to use, allowing your organization to perform content editing in-house, through your marketing department.

These are five very powerful reasons which allow us to confidently state that web-based digital properties are not dying out – they are just as relevant and useful for your company’s marketing, branding and customer acquisition efforts.

Written by Evan Rose. This article appeared on business2community.com

5 Things That Can Cause Your Software Project to Take Longer Than Expected

If you’ve ever considered having custom software created for your business, you’ve probably realized that this can be a pretty complicated process. And its not just the technology piece that makes things complicated. The time and cost required to complete a software development project are difficult to accurately estimate, for a variety of reasons. This article covers a few things that make software projects difficult to estimate and how you and your developer can avoid them.

As a business owner, if you’re considering having custom software created for your company, two questions that immediately come to mind are:
1. “How much will it cost?” and
2. “How long will it take?”

If you choose a professional software developer, one of the first things they’ll do is talk to you about you’ll need your software to do, the features it should have and the “in the weeds” details about how you want the application to work. This will allow them to create an estimate which will give you a sense of the cost and timeframe needed to build your software application. Here are a few things that make coming up with those estimates more difficult and how you and how you can avoid them.

1. Rough requirements without enough detail: One of the biggest problems that comes up in many software projects is when there isn’t sufficient detail to describe what the software should do. For example, it’s one thing to say something like:
• “The app should show a list of upcoming events”

But its totally different when you also include constraints like:
• “Only admins should be able to edit events”
• “Users should be able to see events that they’ve signed up for”
• etc…

As the client, you have the ultimate vision for what you want your software to do. But it’s up to your developer to ask the right questions to help tease out the details of what you need. They should rely on their experience building similar applications and their understanding of software to help ensure the most common use cases are covered. In doing so, they’ll have enough detail to accurately build the exact features you need.

Solution: Make sure your and your developer cover each feature in detail to be sure you describe exactly how you need each feature to work.

2. Poor communication (from either the developer or the client): One of the worst things that can happen on a project is poor communication. And no matter whose to blame, the project ultimately suffers.

Some common problems from developers are that they:
• Don’t follow up to questions quickly
• Don’t provide frequent updates

On the other hand, common client problems are that they:
• Are slow to provide feedback or answer key questions that only they can address
• Can’t decide how they need a certain feature to work

One way to help avoid this is to keep project details organized. Using a project management tool can help by ensuring that everything related to the project, the current status, the work to be done and any communications related to the project are kept in a single place. This helps avoid having to dig through email to find that one message from the client with the change they needed or that update from the developer on the feature currently being worked on.

Solution: Make sure you and your developer use a project management tool to organize communications about your project. Be sure everyone involved uses this tool to provide updates and feedback related to the project.

3. Too many features in the initial version: Another common cause of estimates being off the mark is when too many features are included in the initial version of an application. It should be no surprise that simpler, smaller projects are easier to accurately estimate. For example, a simple small business website could be done in WordPress in a matter of weeks at most, likely a matter of days depending on the client’s needs.

But complex applications with many features and complicated interactions can make the project difficult to define in detail. Having too many features adds complexity, prolongs development and delays the launch of your application. And because of that, you also have to consider the opportunity cost of not shipping your product sooner, even if its a more basic version of the product.

Solution: Decide on all of the features you ultimately want to have in your application. Then, work with your developer to narrow down the list of features absolutely required for version 1 of your software. You can work together to get that initial version launched as quickly as possible, then add additional features as small, frequent updates.

4. External dependencies: Software projects can also be difficult if they have lots of external dependencies. By “external dependencies” I mean software or services outside of your core application that your application depends upon. For example, if you need to connect with Twitter or other social media sites in order for your application to function, those would be external dependencies.

Your developer will still need to integrate your application with the services it depends on. Depending on what those dependencies are, the integration might be as simple as finding an existing library (like integrating with Twitter). Or your developer may have to get familiar with how the service works and build a library from scratch.

Solution: Be sure to discuss any external dependencies with your developer. This can help them determine how simple or difficult those integrations will be and will help make your project’s estimate more accurate.

5. Too many stakeholders: On larger projects, there can be many stakeholders that are part of the process. This is especially in larger companies. This can mean getting support and approval from multiple parties for certain features or for certain changes to be made.

Solution: Try to limit the number of stakeholders to a reasonable amount. Or have certain stakeholders responsible for certain features or functionality that is part of the application.

Written by Kenton Newby. This article appeared on business2community.com

7 Types of Custom Web Applications to Help Simplify and Grow Your Business

As a business owner, there are many ways web applications can be used in your business…and many ways they can help your business get organized, simplify tasks or grow in new areas. But it helps to have an idea of some of the common types of web applications most commonly used by business owners. That’s what I’m going to cover in this post.

With the right idea and a skilled developer, you can build a web application that does almost anything you can dream up. That being said, most applications fall into a handful of categories. This post is my attempt at trying to boil these categories down as much as possible.

I think I’ve done a good job of it, but if you read this and see that I left something out, leave a comment and I’ll update this post accordingly. My goal here is to give busy business owners a high-level look at the types of applications most commonly used by other businesses, with a few examples.

1. Content Management System (CMS)

Content Management Systems (CMS’s) are a staple for most modern websites. Gone are the days of just having a simple, 5 or 10 page website. One of the keys to having an effective small business website is that brings in new leads and sales is for your website to have updated content. Updated content can be in the form of new blog posts, videos, white papers, special reports, etc.

And the key to being able to add updated content to your site without being a web developer is to have your site built using a CMS. Depending on your business needs and how you go about publishing content, you may need a custom CMS. But to be honest, most businesses can get by with one of the popular CMS packages that are already available, either free or paid.

2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System

Most businesses need some sort of system for keeping track of prospects, customers, referrals, vendors and other people / companies they do business with. This is where a CRM tool comes into play. There are many CRM tools available, but based on your business’s needs, you may decide to either have a custom CRM tool developed or have your existing CRM tool integrated with other tools.

3. Business Process Automation System

Most companies have specific tasks that need to be done in order to process new business. For example, what do you do when you get a call from a new prospect, or from an existing customer calling for additional services? You might process that business using paper forms, your smart phone, an online calendar, various software tools…or worst of all, some combination of all of these!

A custom software tool can be created to handle that automation, allowing your business to work more efficiently, save more money, and have your employees focus on higher-level, more value-added activities that generate more revenue.

A good example of this is in the dental industry. Dentists, like most business verticals, have specialized software they use to manage their practice. However, dentists may also want to use specialized tools that enable marketing automation – automating lead generation, follow ups, referrals, and so on. The problem is getting these two tools to “talk” to one another.

You could have staff members responsible for manually entering information in two separate tools. But that introduces user error and wastes a lot of time and money. Does it make sense to pay someone a great salary to do tasks like this? Shouldn’t they be more focused on patient-facing activities instead? This is a great example where a custom software tool could be developed to serve as a bridge between two critical tools used in a business.

4. Company-Facing / Customer-Facing Web Portals

Another useful software tool for some businesses is a user portal. This is an informational website that allows employees or customers to get information in a self-service manner. A portal could be company-facing, where only you and your staff members have access, it could be customer-facing so that your customers/clients/patients have access, or it could be a combination of both.

An example of this would be a tool for a business coach. Let’s say a business coach typically meets with clients to discuss issues in their business and gives their client a handful of action items to work on at the end of each session. The coach and client need to discuss these action items in between sessions and the coach would like to know which items the client has completed and which are pending.

A web portal could be developed to allow each of them to view the action items, leave messages, and track the status of each item. This is a much more streamlined option compared to managing everything via email and attachments and can allow the coach to help more people at the same time since information is more organized.

5. Paperless Office

A popular type of custom software application these days is the paperless office. Many industries are inundated with paper forms and other documents that drive their business processes. Certain forms need to be filled out by certain people, reviewed by others, stored for archival or regulatory purposes and everything needs to be easily searchable.

A custom software app can be created that allows a business to replace all of their paper forms with a tool that can be accessed from anywhere and that can be customized for the company’s specific workflow.

6. Ecommerce / Online Store

For some businesses, some portion of revenue might come from the sale of products in addition to providing services. An online store is a great option in this case and can be integrated with the company’s existing website.

Some simple solutions already exist, like Shopify.com. But for more complex business requirements (e.g. multiple warehouses or complex rules for products sales or returns), a custom ecommerce tool might be required.

However, even if this is the case, most of the time you can take an existing ecommerce platform and customize it versus building an entire online store from the ground up, which will save a considerable amount of money.

7. Membership Site

Finally, your might want to capitalize on the knowledge you have about your industry or other information you could teach others. In this case, a membership website is a good option. An example would be if you provide training locally to people in a certain industry, you could augment (or even replace) that with an online membership website that allows people to learn your material at their own pace.

The great thing about this is that membership websites typically bill on a subscription basis, so if you have a reasonable fee and a decent number of members, this can be a great revenue generator for your business.

These are just a few ideas of software solutions that can help your business. Not surprisingly, there are existing solutions for many of these use cases. But depending on the needs of your business and your plans for the software tool, you may find it more beneficial to have a custom software solution built for you instead.

Written by Kenton Newby. This article appeared on business2community.com

5 Tips for Finding the Right Developer for Your Custom Software Project

If you have a custom software project in mind for your business, one of the biggest challenges in finding the right developer to turn that idea into a real, working software tool. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when looking for a developer for your custom software project so that it’s not just a roll of the dice.

1. Get Referrals From People in Your Network

As with most specialty services, it’s helpful to talk to other folks in your network to see if you can get referrals for providers they’ve used in the past. This can be a great way to fast-track the vetting of potential developers for your project. The only problem with this is that it relies on other people in your network having had software development services in the past, which may or may not be the case for people in your network.

2. Choose a Professional Software Developer

When choosing someone to take on your custom software project, especially if it’s a project that will be part of your business, you should choose someone that is a professional software developer as opposed to someone who is “good with computers” or who “knows a little bit about the Internet”.

For business-focused applications, you want to make sure you’re dealing with someone who can help with all of the nuances of launching a new application. For example, your developer should build your application while thinking through all of the edge cases that might come up. They should insist on including automated tests. They should also build it with best practices in mind so that can be scaled up or modified over time, or so that any other knowledgeable developer can pick up where they left off.

3. Set a Reasonable Budget and Choose a Developer Who Can Work Within Your Budget

You should set a reasonable budget for having your application developed and then focus on finding someone to build your app within that budget.

Software development is one of those specialties where you can find pricing for development services that are all over the map. You can find some low-cost providers on many of the freelance websites. And there are high-end, boutique development firms that charge hundreds of dollars per hour for projects that could span the better part of a year. And of course, you can find a range of offerings in the middle.

It’s important to find a developer that can offer you the quality you’re looking for while being able to work within the budget you have in mind. This means that a smaller development team, or even a single developer, might be a better option for you project since they will have lower overhead and likely lower fees. Your project will need to produce a certain return on investment and sticking to your budget is the best way to ensure you get the ROI you’re looking for.

4. Choose Someone Focused on Your Business Needs, Not the Latest Technology

Because software development is such a technical field, and because many developers are passionate about what they do, it’s easy to get drawn in to the technology aspects of the project versus keeping your business needs front and centre. So you should find someone who is able to avoid getting excited about how some “latest, greatest technology” could be applied to your project. Instead, your developer should be primarily focused on building an application that meets your business goals.

That’s not to say that your developer should stick with older technologies, which may actually be outdated and difficult to support. In fact, newer technologies might be better suited to your needs (e.g., building a web-based application to replace older desktop software).

But the main driver for your project should be your business goals and how your application needs to support them, not the technology that’s used in order to get you there.

5. Choose Someone With Good Communication Skills

When most people think of software developers, they think of introverted geeks, sitting in a dark room, headphones on and completely isolated from other people. This is definitely not the person you want building your custom business application.

Like most things in business, developing business-focused software requires good communication and collaboration between you (the client) and your developer. So you want to choose someone who not only had the technical skills to build your application, but who also has the personal and communication skills to make the project run as smoothly as possible.

You should expect frequent updates, questions and discussions to ensure the features for your application are being developed in such a way that they meet your business goals. This requires continuous communication from your developer and can’t be done by someone who just wants to go off for weeks at a time with their head down writing code.

Written by Kenton Newby. This article appeared on business2community.com