The idea of being your own boss and publisher can sound appealing to any app developer who’s toiled too long under someone else’s thumb. And thanks to the advent of technology in the past years, everyone can have their shot at it: You build your very own app, publish it in your favorite app store (probably Google Play or Apple’s App Store, or both, if you’re a hybrid or bi-native developer), and then the cash starts flowing, right?
Wrong. Pinch yourself, you’re dreaming. On the ground, it’s a different story altogether. As an app developer, you have to overcome many challenges to live off your skills independently, some of which you’ll find in this post.
High Overhead Costs
First of all, consider that as your own manager and CEO, you’ll have to pay for additional costs that app development will incur. That means that if you manage to make $100,000 (the average salary for iOS developers), you’ll be left with something around $85,000. In order to stay on track, you have to make an average of $273 a day.
You also have to make sure your app keeps generating revenue. Most apps start off with a positive spike in sales, followed by a gradual decline. In order to keep your app ahead of the competition, you’ll have to learn and master other skills on your own, including app marketing.
Keeping Marketing On Track
With literally millions of apps to choose from, how do people find out about your app and download it after you’ve launched it in app stores? As an independent app developer, you’re on your own to make sure your app has the necessary visibility to reach the right audience.
You’ll need to master quite a few skills, including app marketing and app store optimization (ASO). In addition, you’ll have to learn to create promo videos for your apps, run organic and paid acquisition campaigns such as CPI (Click Per Install), and a whole bunch of other techniques that you can be sure your corporate competitors will also be doing.
Also, you’ll have to earn some social reputation and experience by publicizing your app in social media, reaching out to bloggers, posting in forums, learning cross-promotion techniques, and handling user reviews among others.
You’ll have to do all of this by yourself (a daunting task), or split the app’s dividends with others by outsourcing the tasks (more overhead costs), which means you’ll have to allocate time and money to find and hire the right freelancer for each task.
What’s the deal with ASO, maaaan? How To Amplify Your Store Presence And Get More App Installs
If you want to make money off your app, you’ll have to learn the tricks and twists of app monetization. For instance, if you’re running a paid app, you have to consider that users will not appreciate in-app purchases for every single feature they’ll want to use: they’ll expect the entrance fee to give them unlimited access to everything. On the other hand, if you’re relying on in-app purchases, you’ll have to have a roadmap and plan to obtain customer trust to convince your users to spend money after they download your app.
Even if it’s a free app supported by ads, you’ll still have to know how to consider and respect your users’ sensitivities. Most users hate the intrusive nature of ads that pop-up within apps (or, worse, appear as push notifications after the app is installed), especially when they have nothing to do with the context of the app or the user’s preferences and tastes in general.
And let’s not forget that Google Play and App Store take their $0.30 cut out of every dollar you make. That means you’ll have to make a whopping $390 per day to actually achieve the $273 benchmark.
Maintaining Constant Customer Service
There are many facets to user retention, which is one of the main keys to an app’s success. The nature of mobile devices (carry and use them anytime, anywhere), make themobile app experience more personal to users, which effectively means they will have a lot more expectations from you as the developer.
First of all, you’ll have to offer all proper channels for users to reach out to you (email, phone, social media accounts, forums…), and then you’ll have to actually be there to respond to their needs. Ensure the next version of your app addresses the grievances that your users express. Doing so will increase retention and loyalty among your users, as they’ll respect you for caring and responding to their needs. Not doing so will result in drop-offs, users that abandon your app, or worse, users that’ll start spreading bad reviews about your app, a situation that will again demand more of your time and energy to fix.
The Exception: The “Effortless” Best-Case Scenario
There’s only one scenario where you won’t be needing to address any of the above-mentioned issues: You create a mega-innovative idea (like Uber) or create a hyper-fun game (like Angry Birds or Candy Crush) that no one has ever thought of before, and you’re lucky enough to create some organic hype and draw media attention, which will drive installs, generate purchases, and make you super-famous, giving you a huge boost for your next development projects.
That does happen every once in a while, but in 99.9% of cases, you’ll have to tackle all of the facets of developing, publishing, marketing, monetizing and maintaining an app. So don’t count on it.
Are You Still Up For The Challenge?
If you’re still thinking that you’re up to the task, I like your style. I’ve met and worked with many developers in my life, and I’ve come to respect those who do not shy away when faced with the realities and challenges that lie ahead of them. You’re probably one of those.
So for you developers who have nerves of steel and the willpower required to tread the rocky and tortuous road of independent development, I suggest you take a look at my posts on app marketing and increasing app installs. They should get you started on the right track and help you chip away at the difficulties one step at a time.
I’d also like to hear from you. Drop a note below if you have anything to add, need some guidance, or simply need to sympathize (and/or whine) about the challenges of indie deving.