How to Develop an App from Start to Finish

21 min read

Developing an App: a Guide for Non-Programmers

Building a great app isn’t as complex as it might seem. You don’t have to be a programming expert to launch a web app or mobile application for consumers. These days, even people with no programming knowledge can work to create their own app for their small business or startup.

Why might your business need an app? A well-designed app can:

  • Serve your customers better and more conveniently

  • Make your services or products accessible anywhere

  • Boost your brand’s visibility and appeal

  • Generate sales opportunities and leads that could increase revenue

  • Save time and money by empowering customers and automating tasks

  • Reach more people with your product or service 

  • Make it easier to navigate your services on a mobile device

Are you interested in creating an app for your small business?  If you’re unsure where to start, don’t worry; we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you get started. 

How To Develop Applications

Planning Ahead

Successful app development requires thorough planning. If you don’t begin with enough preparation, the app development process can take far longer than it needs to — and could end in failure.

It takes most non-expert programmers 3-6 months to develop a simple app. Of course, app design time varies based on the complexity of the app, how often you work on it, and the tools you use to create it. That timeframe can be far longer if you don’t plan ahead and do your research before starting.

Following these steps can save you a lot of time and frustration.

1. Get Your Concept on Paper

Get all of your ideas written down on paper and organized into a clear, concise vision. Chances are, your mind is whirling with possibilities, so put your scattered thoughts into precise words. And doodles.

During your initial brainstorming session for your app idea, jot down every single notion you have about the new app, making sure you don’t omit anything. Then, organize your notes by identifying the key aspects that define its purpose and function. 

2. Know Your Audience

Creating a positive user experience is key when developing your own app. The only way you can achieve that is by identifying your target audience and learning about them. If you don’t, you may develop a functionally superb app that has absolutely no value to potential users.

Getting to know your audience is vital to market research. Conduct interviews and distribute surveys to gain insights:

  • What are target consumers’ expectations and desires?

  • What problems are they facing that the app could solve?

  • Which existing, similar apps do they love using?

Use this knowledge to create an audience persona. This is your ideal user with needs, interests, a specific life stage, and demographic characteristics. 

This identity should guide your app development as you’re honing the user experience. You should create a journey map to help visualize ideal interactions.

3. Check Out Similar Apps

Another essential step in market research is seeing what other apps exist in your space. By seeing what app functions your competitors offer, you can identify what you can do better than them. This will give you a competitive edge in reaching your target audience. 

The best apps to research are the ones in your industry that offer the functions or services you want your app to provide. Looking at different apps will give you a better sense of how you can set your application apart on the market while emulating others’ best qualities.

4. Check Yourself

Don’t get ahead of yourself! Now that you’ve conducted some initial market research, it’s time to realistically examine your expectations. Make an objective assessment of your plan to create an app.  

Before proceeding with the app development process, answer these questions:

  • What are your top reasons for making this new app?

  • What do you intend to accomplish with your app? 

  • How will the app meet a current need of your target audience?

  • How will an app help your business meet its goals?

  • Can your app realistically provide revenue?

  • Is the app you’re envisioning a feasible, marketable product?

Struggling to answer any of these questions? You may want to take your app idea back to the drawing board. A lack of certainty on any of these points can indicate that you’re not being realistic or don’t have a precise vision. Don’t continue until you have a solid concept.

5. Choose Your Platforms

Now it’s time to look at the particulars of your new app, such as the platforms you intend to use. This includes the app development platform and the intended operating system. The leading mobile operating systems are iOS and Android, although Windows has been steadily growing in popularity.  

If you choose native app development, start with the platform that more of your target audience already uses on their mobile devices. Statistically, this will probably be Android, which has the biggest global market share by far. However, AppleiPhone users may be your target demographic. 

After you design the app, you can consider replicating it on other mobile platforms. 

Alternatively, you could make a hybrid app that can operate across multiple systems instead of limiting your app to a single OS. Both approaches have their pros and cons.

Whichever approach you choose should guide your research and planning.

6. Budget for Your App

Many cost factors go into developing an app, including planning, designing, testing, optimizing, deploying, marketing, and updating to fix bugs and add new features. Make sure you budget enough money for all of these expenses so you can create the desktop or mobile application that you’re envisioning.

How much does it cost to build an app? The cost to develop an app depends on many factors, including the app’s complexity, who you hire to program the app, and how long it takes to finish. Simple apps can cost $10,000-$30,000, while intricate, advanced apps often cost over $200,000.

If you don’t have the finances to afford making the app you want, it may be time to reconsider your options. Brainstorm ways to simplify your app idea so your program can feasibly fit within your budget.

7. Tighten Up Your Concept

After conceptualizing and research, you should be able to explain the app to anyone in a one-minute elevator pitch. Your pitch should answer questions like: 

  • Who is the app for?

  • What is its purpose?

  • How do its functions fulfill that purpose?

  • Will it be available on a specific platform?

  • How is it financially viable?

Right now, you can ignore the nitty-gritty of back-end operation or appearance. Just consider what it’s supposed to do and why you’re creating it — and stay focused on creating a great user experience.

Development Options

Should you develop your own app or pay an app development company to do it for you? 

How difficult is it to create an app? 

These are the questions you need to consider when deciding how your mobile program will actually be made. You have 3 main options: build the app yourself, use a no-code development platform, or contract a professional developer.

Build Your Own App

Best for: Programmers/software developers with an app idea

Pros:

  • You retain control of the process (rather than contracting it to an outside firm)

  • You can custom design as much as you want; your only limitations are your skills and creativity

Cons:

  • You’ll need to have significant programming experience/knowledge

  • The process may be prohibitively time-consuming for the average business owner

If you already have a foundational understanding of programming and software development, this is certainly the most cost-effective option.

The most common programming languages used to develop apps are Java, JavaScript, Python, C++, C#, and Kotlin. The programming language you want to use depends on the type of app you want, the devices it will run on, and its functions.

Most business owners don’t know enough coding to create an app and are better off hiring a developer. If you lack the expertise, it pays to have a team of knowledgeable developers to help troubleshoot and solve bugs. 

Many people ask if it is hard to create an app without hiring an app development company. It can be daunting and time-consuming to learn programming and create an app if you’ve never done it before. Imagine how many hours of tutorials you’d have to watch! However, there are some app development tools available to help you build an app with minimal coding.

Use an App Builder

Best for: Business owners on a budget

Pros:

  • This is the least expensive way to build an app for your business

  • With a premium app builder, you have access to multi-million dollar mobile app development platforms

  • It’s far more convenient to make changes on the fly than going through a developer

  • Requires no programming experience

Cons:

  • Limited customization and cookie-cutter designs

  • Can have poor backend security 

  • Often lacks sufficient tech support

  • Can struggle to run properly on some mobile devices

  • Can become very expensive if it involves an ongoing subscription cost

  • May involve long-term maintenance issues

You don’t have to learn a programming language to create a mobile app if you use a low-code or no-code development platform. These user-friendly tools provide a customizable framework for you to build a simple app without any prior experience in backend programming. 

Well-regarded low-code platforms are Appian, Mendix, and Zoho Creator. Popular no-code platforms include Appy Pie, ClickUp, Bubble, and Thunkable. All of these are paid app builders and can help you make a simple application thanks to functions like drag and drop assembly. 

You can develop an app for free with a no-cost app maker. However, you get what you pay for. A free app builder won’t be as high-quality as the paid alternatives. 

Can I develop an app on my own? Yes, you can learn to develop an app on your own if you learn the app development process or use helpful DIY app-maker tools with templates.

For these reasons, you may want hire a freelance developer or development team if you want to have a great app. 

Hire a Developer

Best for: Business owners with reasonable budgets

Pros:

  • Very customizable

  • Will likely yield the highest-quality results in the final application

  • You gain the benefits of tried-and-true app development methods without your own trial and error

  • This is the most time-friendly option for busy owners

Cons:

  • Significantly expensive

  • Changes may take a little longer

The most effective solution to creating a successful app is to hire an expert to do it for you. There are many reputable app development companies that specialize in creating programs for mobile devices that can bring your vision to life. 

Alternatively, you could hire a freelance programmer who specializes in mobile development. Freelance IT websites like MVP Match can connect you with skilled developers at a range of price points. 

Contracting a professional app developer is a smart solution for creating your small business app because they:

  • Bring development insight to the table that you don’t have.

  • Can custom-tailor your app to fit your vision.

  • Will create a product that’s going to provide greater user satisfaction.

  • Can ensure your app has cross-platform functionality.

  • Create more innovative apps than an app builder platform.

  • Ensure your app is secure — a must for any e-commerce firm.

  • Drive the development process so you can spend your time elsewhere.

  • Can make updates and add new app features in the future.

The benefits of hiring a professional app developer may outweigh the upfront savings of using a DIY app builder. A first-rate app is much more likely to make money back quickly than a buggy, cookie-cutter app.

Who can help me develop an app? The best people to help you develop an app are developers with lot of experience and good communication skills. You can find contractors, agencies, or even tools to develop the app yourself.

How to Develop Your App

Developing Your App

Now it’s time for the fun part: application development. This is when you finalize the plans for your app and work with developers to create, test, and launch the final product.

1. Build a Development Team

Launching a successful app requires a team of experts to guide various aspects of the app development process. That’s why you need carefully selected contributors to build your business’ app; one solitary developer isn’t enough. 

You can hire an app development company to provide their own team of professionals. Or, you can form your own development team by selecting independent experts from all around the world. 

Building your own crew lets you bring in top talent from their respective fields, giving you the final say in who’s best for making your app. 

If you decide to assemble your own freelance group, you must have your essential bases covered. This means that a sufficient development team should include at least: 

  • Project manager: Oversees all the facets of the app-creation endeavor, ensuring all tasks are completed and progress stays on course.

  • UX/UI designer: Creates the user-facing side of the app and all its visuals, from the navigation to esthetics.

  • Developer: Writes the backend code that ensures the app operates properly on the server side.

  • Quality assurance engineer: Skilled at testing the app and locating defects before it goes live.

  • App marketing manager: Generates the hype needed to ensure a successful launch.

These are the minimum roles you should have. The more complex the app, the bigger team you’ll need. 

For example, you can hire an app developer specifically for achieving cross-platform functionality. You can also have an in-house staff member serve as the product owner or contract someone externally. You may also consider hiring a UX copywriter with experience writing for this exact use case to ensure the end-user understands exactly what to do on the platform.

2. Do Your Market Research

Yes, we already made you do some market research. Now you need to do it again to iron out the specifics of your app. 

Why? Insufficient market research is a huge risk. You’ll need to research repeatedly throughout the process as you’re progressing through the app’s creation. 

You should already have a target audience in mind — feel free to arrange some focus groups now. This will give the development team a chance to speak with them firsthand. 

Another crucial part of market research now is competitor analysis. Effective competitor analysis for creating a mobile app should examine: 

  • Who are your biggest competitors? 

  • How are their apps performing in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store?

  • What are users saying about these apps in the customer reviews?

  • What do their apps do best? 

  • What are their app’s biggest gaps or failings (such as outdated elements)? 

  • How are their apps being advertised to potential users?

  • What are their digital marketing practices to increase their web presence?

You should also finalize your app’s business model at this time. Determine your monetization strategy to ensure it makes money, such as a subscription fee or in-app purchases.

3. Prioritize Core Features

During your research, you’re going to see a lot of apps with a lot of cool features. Heck, you probably already use a lot of apps with features you love! 

Narrow down the features that are most important to you. Don’t overload your app on the first pass — instead, focus on a few key features you can perfect.

Decide what the defining features of your app will be. What will make it stand out from the competition and meet the needs of your target users? As always, prioritize facilitating a top-notch user experience.

Your core app features will have 2 facets: 

  1. What specific functionality does it offer — or what does it do?

  2. What key characteristics does it have — or what is it like?

Examples of specific functions are:

  • Push notifications

  • Social media linking

  • Splash screen

  • Log-in requirements

  • Custom profile creation

  • Search option

  • Ability to function offline

Examples of key characteristics are: 

  • Easy to navigate

  • Fast loading and responsiveness

  • Clear iconography

  • Appealing visual design

  • Organized layout

  • Encourages user interaction

  • Doesn’t take up much storage space on devices

With these in mind, you’ll be able to give your development team a clearer picture of what the finished product should be like and what they’ll need to do to achieve that.

4. Plan Your App’s Security

Security is essential in every new app and should be a given in your list of important features. 

Why is app security so essential? You don’t want your new app to compromise its users’ sensitive, confidential data — both for their sake and for your company’s. A security breach will ruin your app’s chance of success and end up costing a lot more than it brings in.

First, decide what’s absolutely necessary to collect of your users’ personal data, following Privacy by Design principles. Then develop a plan to collect and store that data securely, so it’s not accessible to third parties.

What security measures will your app contain to inhibit cyber criminals from obtaining info? Some ways to ensure security are:

  • The code must be strong with no bugs or vulnerabilities

  • Data collection and transmission are encrypted

  • All APIs must be secured with a key

  • Apply network security measures

  • Users should create an account with login credentials to authenticate their identity

  • Consider using a two-factor authentication like a password and facial recognition

How to Develop an App Wireframe

5. Sketch a Wireframe

Wireframes are a series of static sketches that illustrate how the application software will function when operated by a user. This visual guide shows how the mobile app’s primary pages are organized and function. Plus, they should contain a flowchart that explains how the screens are interlinked.

A good wireframe for a mobile app should include: 

  • Spatial zoning and visual hierarchy of all major elements 

  • Simple placeholders for those elements on each screen

  • Key buttons or navigation ribbon components, such as a user login dropdown or floating action button

  • Primary and secondary text, including headers and example custom text

  • A clear user flow navigating between screens

  • A recognition of the framework limitations of the app’s intended operating system 

  • Simple black-and-white design with no aesthetic design elements yet

Your initial wireframe drawings can start on a whiteboard as you determine the arrangement of your page elements. Once you’ve determined your layouts, develop a refined wireframe on a computer. This will let give the development team something visual to work with. 

Your wireframe may consist of only a few screen illustrations or many screen illustrations depending on how complex the app will be. 

6. Get Some Mockups

Now it’s time to take your detailed wireframe and make it look more like the final product with a visual mockup. Since the wireframe solely focused on the spatial and informational aspects of the app screens, this mockup will add stylistic elements. 

What should you include in a mockup? 

  • Fonts/typefaces

  • Color schemes

  • Backgrounds

  • Important images or placeholders

  • Notes on image dimensions

  • Logos/branding elements

  • Key content

Mockups are artistic and should evoke the visual style of the app beyond its basic skeleton. This will give the development team a clearer picture — literally — of the app you want. 

7. Let the Coding Begin

The software programming may seem like the most daunting portion, but it should go smoothly if you’ve prepared well. Just let your developers produce what you’ve already laid out. Completing the coding may be quick or take a long time depending on the app’s complexity. 

There are 2 sides to every program — the front end and the back end — and both will need to be created for your app. 

The front end is the visual, user-facing side of the finished product, while the back end covers the app’s internal operations. 

Both should be completed by someone knowledgeable in app programming. However, they don’t have to be performed by the same person. Some developers specialize in one side or the other. 

Let your project manager decide how to distribute the tasks and track progress. Or, if you’re hiring and overseeing the programmers, talk with your contracted developers to identify their strengths. 

8. Test Your App…a Lot

After your developers complete their programming, the app needs to be rigorously tested. This is in addition to using a bug reporting tool during the initial coding. 

Everyone involved needs to be confident that the app will run without any hitches. The best way to do that is to run it through an array of tests. These include: 

  • Correct operation: Does the app function correctly? Does something seem wrong in the back end?

  • Proper appearance: Does the user interface look the way it’s supposed to? Are all the banners, buttons, and text in the correct places?

  • Strong security: Make sure your app isn’t easy to hack, ensuring its code is secure and has no vulnerabilities.

  • Reality check: Get the app out of the test environment and preview it on an actual mobile device. Does it install, load, save, and store without any glitches? Does the app monopolize the device’s processing or storage and bog it down? 

  • Device compatibility: Don’t assume that if your new app functions properly on one device that it will on others. Run the program in a live environment on different devices, like an iPhone, an iPad, and Android mobile devices with varying screen sizes. 

  • Platform compatibility: If your mobile app is supposed to be compatible on Apple or Android devices, does it work with those operating systems? Can it run on multiple web browsers if it’s a hybrid app?

Having a quality assurance engineer is valuable at this point in the app development process. They can conduct this phase and communicate with the developers to find solutions. 

You should also gather feedback from users who haven’t been involved in the development. An outsider’s perspective on the program can be invaluable. They can give suggestions or voice complaints so you can tweak the app before presenting it publicly.

9. Publish Your App

If your development team feels confident that you’re ready to launch, release it in the app store. An iOS app for Apple devices should go on the Apple App Store, and an Android app for Android devices should go on the Google Play Store. 

The technical upload has certain requirements, such as having a unique bundle ID, compatible format, and acceptable size.

You’ll have to fill out information like the app’s name, its description, who created it, if its content is age-appropriate, in what countries it’s available, and how much it costs. Make sure you follow any guidelines prescribed by the store regarding regulations, such as licensing, privacy, and copyright.

Stores can let you perform different types of releases such as closed tests, open tests, and production releases when you’re ready.

10. Market Your App

Your app won’t attract users if you don’t market it properly. A great app needs a great marketing strategy. Some ways you can market your new app include: 

  • Get it featured in the app store or run paid promotions.

  • Implement app storeoptimization techniques so it ranks higher in search results.

  • Promote the app on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin. Target the platforms that your intended audience uses based on your market research.

  • Distribute a press release announcing the app launch that you can distribute to national and local outlets in your industry.

  • Feature the app on your website with a banner and link to the app store.

  • Send emails to your customers and subscribers.

  • Encourage user reviews and reply to reviewers to manage a positive reputation. 

11. Maintain & Update Your App

The launch of your app is finally done, but your work is not. As you start receiving reviews, implement that user feedback to improve your app. Resolve unexpected bugs that your users face. Release frequent updates and revisions that iron out the rougher aspects of the app. 

Keep it updated with the latest app stack and ensure that your app will continue to function on the latest devices and operating systems. That way, it will continue to flourish well after its initial release.

Ready to start building a team?

Developing your own app is easier than you realize — especially if you have a talented team supporting you. The crew you have executing the project can make or break your dream of creating a successful app. 

That’s why you should check out MVP Match. We’ll connect you with freelancers specializing in app programming and software development — whether you want someone local or remote. We can also hook you up with independent project managers and marketers. 

Freelancers should join the MVP Match network. It’s the easiest way for you to find gigs with companies around the world that need your expertise.

About the Author

Match wants to bridge the perspectives of talents and companies, and Marta’s job is to blend all the elements without burning the engine. She translates backstage know-how into practical insights and stories. What can’t be written on a blog will land on socials as a meme. She believes that shaping the #futureofwork is all about transparency and courage in communication. While collaborating with writers and authors from all over the world, she makes sure that everything that ends up on the Match blog makes the bridge stronger than ever.