She's not a programmer or a developer, but Tina Pruitt, 50, shuttered her life coaching business last December to design smartphone apps. Think of her as an inventor. Pruitt comes up with ideas for apps, hires someone to design them, and uploads them to the Apple store. In 2014, she's on track to bring in a six-figure income. Not bad for someone who hasn't written a piece of code in her life.
"You learn a lot from creating your first app," she says. "And you learn even more designing your second." Today, with 15 live apps (most popular is Cupcakes Fun Slots, a family game for smartphones) Pruitt says it's easy for a rookie to make serious mistakes. Here, Pruitt shares her top tips for getting started.
Study Similar Apps "Everybody thinks they have a unique idea," says Pruitt. "And they might have a unique spin on an app, but most likely the core of your idea is already out there somehow." She suggests spending some time in the app store looking at apps that are similar to yours. Note what you like, don't like, and what you would change. For example, say you have an idea for an alarm clock app. There may be a few dozen out there, so what's special about yours? Maybe you have a more user-friendly design, a bigger selection of personalized tones, or maybe your alarm clock is for kids. Take note of what the other apps cost. Are most of them free? How can you make your app most appealing to the consumer? Why would they download your app rather than a competitor's?
Another thing to consider: The Apple store will not accept you into its store as an authorized app designer (each app undergoes rigorous review) if your app doesn't offer some kind of service to the user. Whether it's a game, a reference manual, or a data cruncher, your app has to be functional, and Apple checks to make sure that it is reliable and everything works. If just one small piece of code stumbles, they'll send it back for you to fix. By contrast, Google Play store accepts apps regardless of design and use.
Don't Pay a Developer Upfront To hire a developer, post an ad describing the kind of app you're designing on a site like oDesk or Elance. You don't want to give your idea away, so keep the description generic. Pruitt suggests something like: "I am looking for a mobile app programmer who is easy to work with, preferably has an alarm clock code to build upon, and can take my alarm clock app idea to the Apple and/or Google Play store." App developers from all over the world will respond. Narrow them down to two or three and schedule Skype interviews. Ask what kind of experience they have designing similar apps, when they can deliver the app and how much they'll charge.
Hiring an app designer who has existing code he or she can build on can save you thousands of dollars. Building an app from the ground up costs upwards of $10,000; starting with existing code can lower that figure to $1,500. Says Pruitt: "Take something that's already out there and make it better." In the contract, you can specify payment: Maybe it's a third upfront, a third once you approve the design, and a third after the app is complete. Says Pruitt: "Don't give anyone full payment until the app is delivered to you with a bow."
Study Keywords People won't find your app unless you name it in a strategic way. Collect a list of similar apps and plug them into SensorTower.com, which shows what search words people are typing in to find that app. Name your app with a keyword in the title. "No one will find your app otherwise," she says.
Don't Expect to Make a Mint — at First "Very, very few apps make as much money as the wildly popular Candy Crush," says Pruitt. "But it's not uncommon for people to make in the six figures as an indie developer." It's not the sale of apps that generates a fat paycheck; in fact, many are offered free. Pruitt makes most of her money by signing up with advertising agencies, which pay her whenever a user clicks on their ad. If you have 10 apps that are all getting thousands of clicks a day, you'll begin making real money. "To make a business out of it, you need volume," Pruitt says.