Are you ready to stop working for someone else and start make a living on your own terms?
Mobile app publishing is a great way to build an extra income stream, and if you put the work in, you can earn more than you do at your day job.
Whether you have already published apps, or are just trying to move forward on your first app idea, this page provides an easy, one-stop reference of all the key steps involved.
I’ve organized this page into specific, easy-to-follow steps to build your app portfolio and start earning money on the side quickly.
Let’s get started!
1. Outreach (From day 1!)
2. Refine Idea
3. Plan it Out
4. Build, Test, Repeat
5. Submit to app store
6. Outreach (again;)
Step 1: Outreach
You may be asking, “What do you mean by outreach, and what does that have to do with building a mobile app?”
Read carefully because this is important, which is why I have it as the #1 step.
Outreach refers to connecting with the communities where your users congregate. As an app publisher, this means participating in conversations, adding real value, seeking feedback, and inspiring change.
If there were a secret sauce to successful launches of any kind, this would be it.
In his book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us”, Seth Godin calls this building your tribe:
A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.
When those people hear from you directly, when they understand your message, and when they know that you’re listening to them, they will listen back. They will want to help you. And they will be the first to download your app.
They will also be the first to tell you why your first version sucks. This is good, because you’ll know what to fix next. And they will love you for it.
You don’t need an army of initial users. Just a few will do.
tell show their friends how they helped shape your app, and why they should download it too.
Most of us are not Seth Godin, so how do we do this when we have a ‘tribe’ of 5 or 6?
Look for Facebook groups, Google Hangouts, and discussion boards around your topic. Do not simply join the group and tell them to download your app. Do create a complete profile and include your picture. Do introduce yourself and seek to solve their problems first. Do show your personality.
Only after you are being transparent and adding value to those communities, should you tell them your story and why you are building the app. Ask them what they would like to see in it. Really listen to them and thank them for any feedback. Then, show them progress so that it’s more like a group project that they feel invested in.
Set aside at least 30 minutes each week to do this, to really interact and add value, and it will pay dividends for years to come.
Do your research!
Be a student of the app stores. Make a habit of reviewing the top charts within your category, specifically in the top grossing List, and notice how they shift over time.
Finally, make sure you establish a platform for your message. This can be a Facebook page, a very simple website, or both. The reason a platform is important is that it will help you build your following, even prior to your launch.
I recommend establishing your own platform on your own site, and using other outlets as a way to get your message out and drive people to your own site.
Remember: Apple requires a URL for customer support when submitting your iOS app, which is another reason to have your website already in place.
And once your app is live, you will use this website to highlight the app in your own way, well beyond what is shown from any App Store. In fact, this website will help drive users to the app download page, so a few hours getting this in place now will be time well spent.
Don’t worry about making the website perfect and spending a bunch of money on it when getting started. There’s absolutely no need. Just follow these steps, all of which are simple and inexpensive:
- Purchase a domain. GoDaddy is very popular and works just fine, but I am now really liking Namecheap. They came in at #2 in a recent Lifehacker survey of domain name registrars, primarily because they are one of the most affordable, yet have good customer service.
If the name of your app is not available as a .com domain name, try different variations of it. For example, Flappy Bird could use something like flappybirdsapp.com or theflappybirdsapp.com. You get the idea.
- Sign up for a hosting plan. I always recommend people use a hosting provider that is different from where you purchased your domain. If you use the same company for both, they can really hold you over the barrel if you have an issue on either end. Just avoid it.
I highly recommend Bluehost, as I’ve always had good experiences with them, and their reputation in the industry is excellent.
What I really like about Bluehost is they have low-cost plans that are ideal when you’re just starting out or on a budget.
Update: They recently lowered the price for their Starter plan to $3.95 per month (was $7.99) as the intro price, then goes to $5.95 for a 36-month term. Go here to get the $3.95/month intro price now.
- Install WordPress. You can either do that yourself here, or your hosting provider should provide a push-button install. There are loads of great resources out there for WordPress, but you need to focus on your app right now, so don’t get bogged down with all the options.
- Create one page. Just one page is all you need to start. Tell the story of your app, include an image of yourself, and give people a way to contact you. (e.g. Twitter handle, Facebook, etc.) Oh, and one more thing. Start building your email list as early as possible using AWeber or MailChimp. Later, you will add more to this site, but this is all you need to start.
That’s it. Again, don’t worry about making the site perfect. Just get your platform in place and focus on your app.
Step 2: Refine Idea
So you have an idea for your app! You may have even given it a lot of thought about what it will look like, who would use it, and how much money you can make from it. This can be an exciting time.
Before you move forward, however, there are 2 key questions you must ask yourself:
1. What is YOUR goal for your mobile app?
2. What do you want your USERS to experience?
Many people focus on only one of these questions, but answering both up front will help you be decisive as you continue through to your app launch.
Your answer to question #1 could be something similar to the following:
- My goal is to strike it rich with my app, quit my day job, and work for myself.
- I want to help build our brand and reach our customers wherever they are.
- I was assigned to build a mobile app for our company and I don’t want to mess up.
- I want to develop game apps for a living.
- I want to help tackle childhood obesity.
You get the idea. It’s all about what the result will be for you as the builder of the app.
DO NOT CONTINUE READING UNTIL YOU’VE WRITTEN DOWN YOUR ANSWER.
Your answer to question #2 above might sound like this:
- Saves users time by eliminating the need to drive somewhere or wait in line
- Provides fun, mindless entertainment (e.g. games)
- Teach user how to master the art of negotiation, resulting in more confidence and a better lifestyle
- Allows user to purchase bitcoins from wherever they are
- Gives users real-time statistics on their websites, allowing them to notice issues or trends, and act on them immediately
Many of the most successful apps focus on doing one thing very well. (See my post, Are Mobile App Riches Truly in the Niches?, for more details).
Narrow in on your one thing.
Again, there is no right or wrong answer here. The important thing is to give these some serious thought, and write down your answers. Be as specific as possible.
Productivity Tip: I recommend posting your answers to #1 and #2 near your workspace so that you see them whenever you are working on your app. This will help you remain focused on your own goals and the user experience you are trying to achieve.
Step 3: Plan it Out
A sure fire way to lose money, and possibly your mind, is to ignore the planning step.
Why is planning important? Just think about these questions:
- How much money will I need to build my app? When will I need it?
- Will I hire a freelancer developer and designer to build it? Or an agency?
- What other people will I need to help me in this process? When should I first contact them?
- Will it be free or paid? Will I implement in-app purchases?
- How long does it take to get approved by Apple these days?
- Do I want to launch it in conjunction with a particular event or on a particular day?
These are just a few of the questions that you will want to answer BEFORE you take next step. Don’t worry, it’s really not hard.
So, how should you plan it out? Do at least these 3 things:
- Create a schedule, and include time for Design, Development, Testing, App Store Approval, and Launch.
- Create subtasks under each phase above. You won’t know them all at first, and that’s OK.
- Make it no less than 3 months total time for your first app (You’ll need more, and perhaps significantly more, depending on the complexity of the app). If you end up ahead of schedule, that’s great!
Spend no more than 30 minutes to do these 3 basic things, and you are well on your way. Remember, your plan will change, but this gives you a tool to manage that change.
Trust me, it will save you time, money, and headaches by planning first.
Everything will not go according to this plan, but the benefit is you will know what you need and when you need it, and you will feel much more in control.
Step 4: Build, Test, Repeat
Now, to the fun part.
You’ve made connections with potential users, refined your idea, and planned it out. Remember, you are well ahead of the game at this point!
You’ve earned the right to move forward and build your mobile app.
Quick Tip: Before you jump into building your app, create a few screen mock-ups, also known as wireframes. Again, we’re keeping it simple here so you can really do this using pencil and paper, Visio, or tools like iMockups,
Lumzy, Mockingbird, or MockingPad.
I go into more detail on this topic in my post about how to create wireframes for mobile apps.
The reason you need to do this is it will, 1) help you think through the flow of your app and uncover details you may not have thought about, and 2) communicate your vision to whomever might be building your app. You should definitely spend a few minutes doing this — I did not bother to do this once and it resulted in something completely different from what I had envisioned. My fault!
There are many ways to have it built, but since we are keeping it simple here, I’ll explain 2 possible paths (in no particular order).
Option #1: Use a mobile app building tool.
If your app will include relatively straightforward functionality without a lot of customized features, then this might be the route you want to take. It typically requires less up front investment, since most of these tools charge a monthly or annual fee.
Another benefit of these tools is that most of them submit your app to the App Store for you, which can save you loads of time and frustration.
These tools have come a LONG way towards letting you customize the look and feel of your app so that it does not look just like all the other apps built using that same tool.
That said, the downside of this option is that it is not the same as having an experienced mobile app developer create a truly custom mobile app specifically for your purposes. Again, the tools are very good now and worth a look, but just keep in mind you are lowering your chances of creating a truly unique experience.
The best way to decide on whether a mobile app building tool is for you is to test them out yourself. Many provide free trials, or a very low fee to start.
For more detail and links to suggested tools, check out my recent blog post, How to Quickly Create a Mobile App.
Any successful mobile app includes at least some artwork, and Apple requires that you have either the copyright to that artwork, or permission to use it. Do not assume that an individual developer can also provide quality artwork. Those are two very different skill sets, and it’s rare that one person is good at both.
Most app development companies do have designers on staff and can provide the necessary artwork as part of the project. Just make sure you account for that part.
Interview at least 3 different developers. If they are not in the same city, I like using Skype so I can see their face and tell if there’s a fit.
Find out what other apps they have developed and look at the reviews. If you are using a specific feature like the accelerometer, make sure they have experience with that.
Once you decide on someone…
Learn from my mistakes: One mistake I made once was I did not include a date in the agreement. During my meetings with this developer, he indicated it was a relatively simple project and talked as though he’d have it wrapped up in a few weeks. This guy had tons of experience and had even written a book. It sounded like a slam dunk!
What a nightmare. What actually happened was those 3 weeks turned into months, and after 3 months of receiving nothing but excuses, I canceled the project. I realized I had to move on to someone that could do the job so I could stop spending my nights worrying about it.
A few other tips when working with your developer:
- Share your wireframes and notes on the app.
- Do not assume the functionality is obvious. Explain exactly what the behavior needs to be, or the developer will be forced to make assumptions.
- Require regular updates. Don’t wait until the it’s almost done to see what your app will look like.
Testing is important, and the app stores won’t accept apps that crash regularly. A great testing tool to check out is called TestFlight. Now owned by Apple, the TestFlight service is free of charge. You can invite up to 1,000 people outside your organization to test your app.
If anyone you invite already has your app installed, TestFlight will overwrite it with the new beta version, just as if it were an app update.
Make sure you keep your developer around after your app is published in the app stores. Almost all apps need some improvements or enhancements shortly after launch, and you will want to get your first update out quickly.
Step 5: Submit to App Store
You are nearing the finish line!
Submitting your app to any of the app stores can be a bit frustrating and take more time than expected, so you will need some patience here. To minimize the headaches, keep reading.
Many of the app building tools include an option to submit your mobile app to the iTunes App Store for you. Several app development companies, as part of their app development service, offer the option to help you get the app submitted.
If you’re submitting yourself, take some time to go through the Apple App Distribution Guide.
The guide is very comprehensive, but here are a few highlights about what you’ll need:
- A Mac computer (with latest Mac OS X version)
- An Apple ID.
- iOS Developer Program enrollment ($99 annual fee from Apple)
- XCode (Apple’s development tool for iOS apps)
- Screenshots of your app. You must submit at least 1, and will want to submit up to the maximum of 5.
- App Preview Videos. These are new with iOS 8. Must be no longer than 30 seconds. Consider services like App Video Machine from Mobile10x.
- Icons. For iOS devices, you’ll need the iTunes icon at a size of 1024px x 1024px, and two more icons at 72px x 72px and 114px x 114px. Again, this is required, and most app designers will already know to include these in the agreement.
Once you’ve submitted, it generally takes about 6 days for the Apple approval process. (Apple does review apps on the weekends, so that is 6 calendar days.) To get an accurate estimate of current approval times, go here.
Keep in mind that is an average approval time, and the reality is it can range from a few days to 3 weeks. I’ve recently heard that some of the largest, well established companies are seeing their apps approved in as little as 20 minutes. That is an extreme, so don’t expect that yourself unless you are one of the very top app publishers.
Final Tip: is to set the Availability Date of your app using iTunes Connect. This give you control over when you will be sending out updates about the availability of your app to all your followers that you’ve been building since Step #1.
More importantly, setting the Availability Date puts your app on the What’s New page for that entire day. You obviously want to maximize your time on that page, so don’t forget to do this and you’ll maximize your downloads on day 1.
Don’t worry — once you’ve submitted your app for the first time, publishing updates to it is much simpler.
Ready to get started today? Download the Mobile App Idea Checklist instantly.