Should a Small Biz Have Its Own iPhone App?


Small firms are smart to find new ways to market to clients – but how to do it in a fresh innovative way?

One tack for a small business is to look to newer technologies like smart phones, which can make a small business look as big as its larger rivals.

The iPhone is a good place to start because of its popularity. It has also spawned cottage industries of both application creators and firms created to help others build a presence on the iPhone.

Apple sold 7.4 million iPhones around the world in the third quarter, which pales in comparison to Nokia's 16.4 million, says a Gartner research report. But it makes more money from the iPhone than Nokia does from its handsets worldwide. Profits from the iPhone were $1.6 billion in the quarter while similar sales at Nokia were $1.1 billion, and Apple shows no sign of slowing.

So, how do you get a piece of Apple’s pie?

Look to companies like Sweb Apps, a small, eight-employee startup that’s been growing like gangbusters thanks to the popularity of its simple templates for non-techy folk to create their own iPhone app.

Magaly Chocano, CEO of the San Antonio, Texas-based firm had worked in marketing for many years at traditional ad agencies, fell in love with the iPhone and saw an opportunity in using it as a marketing tool.

Her firm, which went from concept in May to launch in August, offers clients 50 different functions and a customer can build an app with four, six or eight functions. Each function costs $50 with a maximum cost of $400. The firm charges a $25 monthly hosting fee and allows a client the ability to control and change content in real-time. It also charges $10 per month if a client wants an analytics report of its app usage.

“I think it’s anybody and everybody who can benefit from an iPhone app,” says Chocano, adding that her clients range from an eyebrow threader to restaurant owners and wedding videographers.

The firm has about 800 unique users and has recorded about 3,000 downloads of about 27 apps from the iTunes store since Apple began approving Sweb Apps products in September.

But an iPhone presence doesn’t necessarily work for every business, says Tim Andren, vice president of Newport, Calif.-based 360 Degrees Strategic Marketing. A small firm should ask itself what does it want to gain from being in the iPhone space. “If you’re a hair salon, real estate firm or restaurant, it probably makes sense — as long as your clients have iPhones,” he says.

Andren adds that it’s important to have a methodical strategy before entering the iPhone app space. “You should ask what can I put in here that’s functional that people might be wanting six months from now,” he says.

He noted that up to two years ago the price point of entry for an iPhone app was prohibitively high for a micro firm. “It might have cost $25,000 to build an iPhone app, but now price points are coming down to where it’s very reasonable for a small business to consider developing one,” he says. However, for many small firms a simple Web site is fine, but for those firms where appointments or reserving a table on the go could be an attraction, an iPhone app makes sense. “It’s good to have a presence on different platforms.”

Andren believes an iPhone app can help grow a business because so much of a small business’s success can be based on referrals. “An app can contain simple info like phone, e-mail and appointment setting if you’re a hair salon that can be easily transferred to another iPhone user,” he said.

Chocano believes that “small business owners are realizing that they need to put their names out there in high-end spaces like the iPhone ... Studies show that by the end of 2010, there’s going to be more smart phones sold than PCs or laptops and now Google’s Android smart phone system is coming into play.”

Her firm plans on launching a similar small business feature for the Droid by March.

Smart phones also have a whole new window of opportunity to them — search terms. A key factor in playing on the iPhone playground is that there’s a lot of “wiggle room” when it comes to search terms that can gain a firm recognition.

A business can name its iPhone app anything that’s available and because it’s still a bit of the Wild West when it comes to smart phones, small firms still have the chance to scoop up some prize search word terms.

“If you’re an individual realtor and you can do an app called Dallas Real Estate, which will point to you if someone types that in, that’s great,” says Andren. “People are always complaining that all the good domain names are taken, but here’s a new opportunity.”

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