Making an App: 6 Things You Should Consider Before Getting Started

I often get emails from people who want to make their first mobile app. The emails usually start off something like this: “I have an app I want to develop…” If you want to make your first app, and you have an idea for it, here is what to think about next.

1. Are you making an app to promote an existing business or to make money from it?

Do you want your app to be a promotional tool for an existing business? If your app will showcase your car dealership, boat club, local pub or community centre, then the fastest way to get it done is probably to hire a local app development company to make it for you. You don’t need to learn too much about the process. Just show them some apps that you like in the store, and bring along the text, photos and videos you want in your app. If you can, try to design your app to do something useful. Apple have tightened up a lot and will not publish apps that are primarily marketing material. If you want the most possible downloads, set your app’s price to ‘free’. Then once it’s live tell all your customers about it.

Is your main goal to make money from your app? If you want to make money, the app should not be targeted towards one country. You will not make money by creating an app about the mountains of Scotland. Or the pubs of Ireland. Steer clear of making an app for a seasonal event as well at the start. To maximise your revenue, start small and use your first few apps as a hands on education. You can buy source code, reskin it by updating all the graphics and publish it, often for under $500-$1000 per app. The less you spend, the faster you will become profitable. Ideally spend no more than $500 per app on your first few apps. Researching what is currently popular in the store by looking at the top charts is a great way to reduce risk, and make an app type that already has proven market demand. Of course the more work you can do yourself, the more money you will save on developers.

2. Should you make an iPhone app, an Android app, or both?

Android and iPhone/iPad use different languages so most people usually choose to develop one at the beginning to keep costs down. If you want to make money,  for now choose the iPhone/iPad. From my experience, it’s more difficult to get downloads and revenue from an Android app. Learn more about How to Make an iPhone App. But if you think Android suits your market demographic better, choose Android development.  If you want the app to promote a business, think seriously about Android. There are no ‘reviews’ prior to your app being published, and your app will go live automatically about 20 minutes after you have submitted it. Instant gratification in the mobile world.

3. Should the app be free?

Pricing works differently for different app categories. Free is very popular in games and entertainment, especially on Android. Unless it’s an incredibly complex niche app, the safest option is to make two versions, paid and free. See which makes you the most money and work from there. To start making money from a free app, I would recommend putting www.chartboost.com, www.playhaven.com and www.revmob.com ad networks into your app. After a few months once you get up to speed, you can experiment with in-app purchases and other monetization options. If you want the most downloads, make your app free.

4. What kind of app should you make?

The best way to make money from your app is to know that there is market demand for your app before you start to develop it. Go into the US iTunes store every day, look at the top free, top paid, and top grossing apps in the categories you are interested in. Download the apps and play with them. Are people downloading the type of app you want to make? If they are not, maybe put that idea aside and move on to your next app idea. Don’t ever fall in love with an idea. (If you do, only make it from the profit you have earned from your other apps!). From my experience and from talking to many other developers, the category with the most revenue generating potential, both from ads and in-app purchases, is games. And if you want to start your own app business, that’s probably the best tip I can give you.

5. Should you hire someone or learn how to make the app yourself?

If you want to start an app business, then I would advise that you start to learn about making apps. Learn the common pitfalls and how the app market works. Learn from success stories and what they did to get there. You can lose a lot of money in the beginning paying developers WAY too much money to make an app if you do not have a basic knowledge of what’s involved and how much effort it should take. Check out the Chocolate Lab developer blog for insights and tips, and teach yourself how to reskin a game and integrate ads with our Udemy course Learn xCode, reskin an iPhone game, integrate ads and upload to Apple (FREE preview.)

If you only want to make one app, for example to promote a business, you probably want to hire a team. Hiring locally is probably the easiest but may cost more. Outsourcing has its own challenges but may come with a lower cost. To put together a team I use  www.oDesk.com. This is a huge freelancing site full of artists, developers and every other type of freelancer you can imagine. The quality of your team’s skills will be critical, so keep searching for contractors until you have put together an AAA level team.

6. How much risk should you take when making an app?

Aim to create a portfolio of successful apps, rather than putting all of your energy into one big app. Keep your risk low and your prospects for success high. At the beginning, it’s easier to make money from lots of small apps than it is from one big app. You will learn a lot from every app you publish, so the quality of your apps will keep increasing. You will make mistakes and learn valuable lessons. So keep your costs low at the start so you don’t bankrupt yourself. I have created and published an app for as little as $6. It is possible. By learning the basic coding skills yourself  you can save a lot of money. Aim to be profitable as fast as you can, ideally in 14 days after launch. Do not spend 6, 12 or 18 months by yourself working on getting your app perfect. Get a small section of the app done, maybe just one module or chapter, and upload it to the store straightaway. Ship fast. Customer feedback will be invaluable to you. Validate your assumptions – pricing, app type, design, theme, features, marketing material, etc – as soon as possible. The information you learn from going through the publishing process and confirming your monetization choices were correct will allow you to make more educated choices and increase your revenue in the future.

Common concerns from people making an app for the first time:

  • “There is an app like mine in the store already :(“ That is great news. Go to the website www.topappcharts.com and type in the name of the app. If it’s not in any of the top rankings for its category, then you’ve just saved yourself a lot of time and money, and you have now found out that demand for that app type is not as strong as you would like it to be. “I truly think my app idea is INCREDIBLE and I still want to make it.” Ok, great enthusiasm! What you need to do now is to put that idea in a drawer. If this IS a killer idea, you want to give it every chance of success. So for the next 2 months, plan on publishing 10 small apps. A good way to keep costs low is to buy source code on the internet, change the graphics, integrate ads and upload it yourself, or hire a developer to put in some ads, so you can start to earn money. After the 2 months you will be MUCH more knowledgeable, hopefully profitable, and in a much better position to do justice to your big app idea. If you want to do justice to you app, it has to look INCREDIBLE. It should look like it was made by a multimillion dollar studio. People download beautifully designed apps.
  • “I don’t have any money.” It’s still possible to make apps. The cheapest way to get started is to use the machine you have right now. If you have a mac, build iPhone/iPad apps. If you have a PC, build Android apps. You do not need to buy a smartphone in the beginning. The software you use (xCode and Eclipse) to make the apps comes with a free phone simulator so you can view the app on your Mac or PC. To build an app, open an account with www.Buzztouch.com, which is a very affordable online app builder, and one of the best in the market. To publish an app, you will need to pay Android $25, or Apple $99 for a developer’s license.
  • “I have this app idea but I don’t want to tell you in case you steal it.”  Don’t say this too often :) Instead say “I have an idea for a photography/health/game/entertainment iPhone/Android app. Do you have any experience publishing apps in this area?”


To do it right, there is a lot of hard work involved and you will get addicted to your laptop. There’s a steep learning curve at the start, and you might not see your family and friends for a good while. But if you can stick it out and start getting things working, it is definitely worth it. The people who are the most successful in this area learn as fast as they can and execute every day.

elaineAbout the Author:

Elaine Heney is the founder of www.thechocolatelabapps.com, an online developer blog. Founded in May 2012, its iPhone and iPad apps have been number 1 in 40 countries in entertainment, games, photography, finance, health and medical categories. She is the author of the Udemy courses Learn xCode, reskin an iPhone game, integrate ads and upload to Apple and How to Make and market iPhone apps.