Do you ever wonder why you can’t make money from your apps? Do you read about all of these people who are making a killing in the app stores and wonder why you aren’t?

In this post I take a look at why some developers consistently make money from apps and why the majority don’t. I’ll also tell you how you can become one of those successful developers.

Before I get into it, let me tell you what not to expect from this post.

I’m not going to tell you some secret to app store riches that everyone else knows except you. I’m not going to tell you that some people are lucky or Apple likes them better. And I’m not telling you that the developers who make money are just smarter than you.

Frankly, if you want a get rich quick solution or don’t like hard work you should probably stop reading now and go buy a lottery ticket.

Why Do Most Indie Developers Fail To Make Money With Apps?

The app industry is unique in many ways. But the one thing that stands out the most to me is the extremely low barrier to entry.

Anyone who knows how to program can slap together an app, pay $99 to Apple or $30 to Google and drop it into an app store. You don’t even need to know how to program! You can buy a source code for $50, whack some new graphics in there and publish it in no time.

I mean, what other industry allows you to get started with next to no monetary investment AND next to no time or effort invested either?

But this is the downfall of so many indie developers. There was a time when this worked. When creating a crappy app, investing minimal time or effort, doing no marketing and speaking to no one, would still make you money.

I’ve been there and done it myself. I was around when minimal effort could still net you some success in the app stores, and I created crappy apps and made some money.

Sorry to tell you, but those were gold rush days and they are long gone. The problem is people are still doing it and are surprised when their apps fail.

Treat Your Apps Like a Business If You Want To Succeed

There are now over 1.4 million apps in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Over 50000 new apps are being added each month. Dropping a new app into this ocean and expecting it to succeed all on it’s own is completely unrealistic.

The problem I see so often is that indie developers don’t treat what they are doing like a business. They often call it a business, but treating it like one and behaving like a business owner is completely different.

That’s the ‘secret’. If you want to build a successful app business, you have to do a lot of hard work. It’s just like creating any other successful business. It’s hard. You have to hustle. You have to get out of your comfort zone. You will fail at some stage along the way.

But if you put in the effort you will be successful in the app industry.

Where Do Most Indie Developers Go Wrong?

Does this sound familiar? You spend weeks building an app. Writing the code (or buying one), creating the graphics, audio, setting it all up in the app store(s). Then you launch it and wait.

There’s a lot wrong with this picture. Let’s look at this with a business mindset and see how you can improve the process for much better, more consistent results.

 

Customer & Product Research

Imagine you were making a physical product. Would you come up with an idea in the shower, then go and build a single version of it, get it produced, and hope people flock to buy it? Of course not!

No business creates new products like this, physical or otherwise. Yet in the app space, developers do it all the time.

A successful business would research their target audience and understand what they want/need. Product ideas then aim to fulfil these wants/needs.

When a business comes up with idea, it’s tested with the target audience to see if it really is a good idea. If there is no interest the idea is scrapped and it’s back to the drawing board.

You should do the same for your app business. Ask yourself who would want the app you are thinking about building. Think about why they might want it and what problem it solves for them.

I know people are protective of ideas and don’t want to share at the risk of having the idea stolen. That’s ok; you can validate the idea in other ways. Try reading what your target audience are writing in forums, on Facebook etc. or by talking to them and listening to their problems or what they like.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you understand your potential customers and validate your idea as being something they really want.

 

Prototype and test

The next thing that comes to mind is prototyping and testing different versions of a product.

Most successful products are the result of many different prototypes and iterations. Rarely is the first design going to be perfect and end up being the final product.

The same goes for apps. If you want to create the best product, it would make sense to create multiple prototypes and test and tweak them until you find the best design.

This doesn’t have to be expensive. I’m not saying that as an indie developer you should build 5 apps and scrap 4 of them. But you can quite easily test a few different user interfaces. Changing things like button locations, wording, ad placements, colours etc. and testing them with real people isn’t a crazy expectation.

It’s not easy and you might have to speak to people, but it’s something you have to do if you want to be successful.

 

Planning A Monetization Strategy

If you are building an app with the intention of making money (which I assume you are), you need to consider how the app will do that BEFORE you complete the design.

Often I speak to developers who design and build and app, and then slap in some ads at the end to ‘monetize’ it. The truth is, that’s not going to be the most effective way to generate revenue from the app.

Monetization should be a key consideration right from the start of the design phase. It needs to be baked to the app, not slapped on at the end.

By considering the monetization strategy early on you can design something that adds to the user experience rather than taking away from it. You can design the app in a way that it encourages users to spend money. And if this is your core goal, it makes sense to give it a lot of attention and consideration.

If we are thinking about this from a business perspective, you should be doing some calculations here and setting expectations based on data as well.

What I mean by this is understanding how different monetization strategies work. Understanding things like how much you can expect to earn per 1000 ad impressions (eCPM), what percentage of users buy in-app purchases (IAP’s) in your category, etc.

You can then use these estimates to calculate some expected revenue figures and set reasonable goals and expectations.

For example, you should be able to create a very rough estimate of how much revenue you will generate from 10000 installs, 50000 installs, 100000 installs etc.

This is what any successful business would do. Set revenue expectations and forecasts based on the data available. You might not have any data specific for your app, but there is enough general data about apps in different categories, ad networks etc. for you to start.

This could save you a lot of wasted time and effort. If you do the math and work out that with your current monetization strategy you need 50000 installs a day to be successful, you can rethink and redesign now.

 

Sell It! No One Else Will Do It For You

Yes it’s easy to publish an app to any of the app stores. And the fact that they handle all distribution for us is great. But nobody is going to market your app for you. You need to get out there and market it yourself!

So many app developers think that once an app is released that’s all there is to it. But that’s just not true any more.

As I mentioned earlier, there are over 1.4m apps in each of the major app stores. Getting discovered is tough and you have to do some work to stand out from the crowd.

Let’s look at this again from a business perspective.

Do you think many successful businesses create products and then release them without telling anybody? Nope, they don’t. Marketing is a key part of the process that is often overlooked with apps. It amazes me how often developers will spend thousands building an app and not allocate any money to a marketing budget. Building the product is great, but there’s not much point if you don’t get it in front of customers.

Once your product (app) is released you need to make sure people know about it and then you have to convince them to buy/download it.

Here’s another way to think about it. If 50% of apps in the app stores are released with zero marketing, all you have to do is put in a small amount of effort to halve your competition. That seems like a damn good ROI to me.

And marketing doesn’t have to cost money. There are lots of free ways to market your app. Here are a few examples:

  • Getting press coverage. You can (and should) start to reach out to the press well before you launch. That way you can get coverage on launch day.
  • Content marketing. Start creating valuable content related to your app. Create content that will interest and engage your target audience. Once you build a following you can introduce them to your app.
  • Do the basics when it comes to social media. Set up social media profiles for your app. Twitter, Facebook, G+, Instagram, etc. Whatever is suitable. Start posting content there as well. You can post screenshots, ask for opinions on different design aspects, post your preview video etc. Get people engaged and excited about your app before it launches and then continue to engage with users post-launch.

 

Those are just a few examples. There are many more free ways to market an app so get out there and use them.

If you want guaranteed marketing results and you have allocated a marketing budget for your app, paid marketing can be a great investment. The number of apps using paid marketing techniques is even smaller, so this is an even better way to cut through the noise.

There are several ways you can use paid marketing techniques to promote your app. Here are a few examples:

 

  • Create pre-launch interest. You can create a landing page for your app and use ads to attract people to that page. From there you can collect email addresses to keep in touch with potential users and notify them when your app launches.
  • Take advantage of the App Store’s initial boost. If you are publishing on Apple’s App Store, you can take advantage of the launch boost given to new apps by using a paid user acquisition campaign. Buying installs for your app will leverage the launch boost and push it even further up the charts.
  • Drive engagement. You can also use marketing to reach out to existing users and encourage them to come back to your app. You might do this a month after launch to bring existing users back.

 

 

Summary

 

If you are struggling to make money with your apps, or you are getting ready to launch your first one, ask yourself some tough questions.

Are you really treating it like a business?

Are you doing everything you can to make your app a success, even if it makes you uncomfortable (e.g. emailing the press, talking to potential users)?

And are you actually investing in your business by outsourcing low-value tasks and spending money in areas like design and marketing?

Be honest with yourself. Consider the things I’ve mentioned in this post and how you could incorporate them into your next app.

The sooner you adopt the mindset of a successful business owner, the sooner you will find success in your app business.

  • Daniel 2:44

    This is an excellent article! I bookmarked it as soon as I saw it. I had an acquaintance (app developer) who complained bitterly that it was “impossible” to make money on the app stores and that my dream of publishing a successful app was a ‘pipe dream’ and a long shot because of “competition” and “saturation”. He had published several apps that performed terribly and wanted to save me the trouble.

    Well, after I spoke to him I reviewed his ‘app’. It was the worst piece of app store garbage I had ever seen. Not only was the app totally useless, but it was poorly designed and couldn’t compete with existing offerings in the category. It also had no monetization strategy and he had done zero marketing to promote it. I wasn’t surprised his app failed.

    You see, I took the same view you did. To me, building an app was a business and now as I prepare to cash my first 5-figure Google check, I laugh at that former acquaintance and wish he knew that his so-called ‘long shot’ turned out to be a game-winning touchdown and that my ‘pipe dream’ actually came true. I only hope my competition NEVER reads this article. 🙂