How to Expand Your Consulting Business Without Adding Clients – Part 3

By Corbin Links

Today we’ll be discussing the third major strategy for expanding your Business IT consulting business without getting new clients. (Though the strategy when implemented correctly WILL help you get new clients.) This is Part 3 of six-part series on “business growth and expansion” we’ll explore adding apps and software to your existing line of products and services.

New to the series? If you haven’t yet read Part 1, definitely go back and check that out. FYI, any of the six major expansion strategies can be done in any order. At the end of the six-part series, I’ll share my personal favorites.

Here is a quick recap of our six major strategies to expand our consulting businesses without adding new clients:

  1. Expanding existing client relationships (covered in Part 1)
  2. Expanding existing service offerings and adding new ones (covered in Part 2)
  3. Creating mobile apps, web apps or traditional software (today’s topic)
  4. Creating information products (eBooks, physical books, online courseware, webinars, etc.)
  5. Creating membership sites
  6. Other “traditional” business strategies, such as acquisition, partnerships, buying stakes in other companies and the like

Apps / software / web — from a Business IT consulting perspective

“Apps” are everywhere today. Mobile apps, web apps, traditional desktop apps, hybrid cloud apps, multi-platform apps — you name it. It seems like everyone has an app for something. If you have a software company or other type of e-commerce product company, this makes perfect sense. But what about service companies such as Business IT consultancies? How does the service model translate into lucrative apps? Is it enough to just have your virtual calling out there on LinkedIn or on your website? Do you also need a mobile app? HTML 5-compliant mobile site? Website with “app-like” features?

Before exploring some answers to these questions, let’s standardize our “apps” definition. From the Business IT perspective, all of the following are apps:

  1. iPhone / iPad / Windows Phone / Android / RIM, etc. (Mobile)
  2. Websites – both static, and interactive
  3. Desktop applications – client/server, “cloud”, standalone, etc.
  4. Widgets – Apple, Yahoo, or other
  5. Console / terminal-based applications
  6. Interactive scripts that function like programs
  7. Enterprise software
  8. Web browsers

Today’s focus will be primarily on mobile apps, but it’s important to note that “APPS” does not only apply to mobile. For the purposes of discussion, we’ll concentrate primarily on #’s 1 and 2 above.

Why apps?

Great question. Like writing a book, doing a seminar or any creating other type of content (more on this later…) you need to first figure out your end game. (Starting with the end in mind – see IAM Success Tips Books: Volume I.) What do you want to accomplish and why? As Business IT consultants selling services, we want to build tools that will compliment, extend, or otherwise market our services.

A useful and targeted app can do one or more of the following:

  • Generate consulting leads
  • Build thought leadership
  • Sell advertising
  • Operate as a standalone paid application
  • Automate a feature of your business, such as project management and client interactions
  • Save time and money
  • All of the above…

Lots of options! Since we are focused on business expansion, we want an app that:

  1. Will generate qualified consulting leads (directly or indirectly) – and/or…
  2. Make us money from advertising, download or membership fees, or a combination

But before building an app, be sure that you have the following in place:

  1. A business web presence of some kind
  2. A social media presence of some kind (generally, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter)

What kind of app can you do?

A common question from my consulting clients is “should I do an app?” If so, what kind can I do?

  • To the first question – yes. With web and mobile app costs down into the free range or low hundreds, there is little reason not to do some kind of app, even if it’s a basic keyword-rich “presence” app.
  • To the second question – many apps.

Service providers have many options for bringing valuable apps to market. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Turn your blog or website into a mobile app (if you develop any mobile apps, you’ll also need a specific targeted web presence for your app)
  • Turn your podcast into a mobile app
  • Provide an online portfolio as part of a mobile app
  • Do a Q&A or “FAQ” app in your area of consulting expertise
  • Create a project or work estimation app
  • Create a training app
  • Create an interactive puzzle or quiz app for topics in your industry
  • Create a project tracking app for your clients
  • Complimentary “free” analysis app
  • Create a project signoff/approval app for your clients
  • And many other options!

You could also expand your business with full paid mobile applications and list them in the various app stores, such as Amazon, iTunes and Android Marketplace.

How much should you spend developing apps?

It all depends. But first, I’ll dispel the idea that useful apps have to take a lot of time and money to build. There are dozens (maybe more) of web applications out there now to build mobile apps and mobile web sites.

For example, if your goal is to create a mobile version of your company website or blog, you can do that for literally 0$ and whatever time you put in. Of course, your time is money, so calculate carefully. Here are some general estimates to start with (times are end-to-end, including concepting, designing, developing, deploying, testing, debugging, releasing…):

  • Create mobile app version of your website or blog – 1 to 3 days, depending on site complexity.
  • Create a mobile app version of your podcast or video feed – 1 to 2 days
  • Basic training app – multiple content types – 1 – 2 weeks
  • Basic project/client/service portfolio app – 2 – 3 days

So far, the apps above can developed 100% on free or low-cost application services. If you have business requirements and budget to pursue a larger-scale application, then you can branch into games and productivity applications.

  • Basic games can be designed and delivered within four to six weeks, for $600 – $2000
  • Basic productivity apps designed and delivered within two to four weeks for $1500 – $5000

DISCLAIMER – Estimates vary tremendously and are constantly changing as the global app markets evolve. Your estimates may not be anywhere close to those listed above. Estimates and figures are provided for informational purposes only. Also be aware that many of the new types of “web-based mobile application development tools” have setup fees, monthly fees, and ongoing revenue sharing fees. Do your research carefully before investing in free or paid app-development services.

Funding your new app

I’m a big believer in service providers designing –and wherever possible– developing their own apps. At least, your first app can be developed in-house to get your feet wet. Something to keep in mind is that most companies making any “real” money from apps do so by having lots of apps. That’s not to say that you can’t release the next “Angry Birds” and make bajillions of dollars. I hope you do! Rather, my point is that you want to have reasonable expectations. Start with a marketing focus, “appify” something you already have (blog/website/podcast/YouTube channel/whitepapers, etc.) get the experience and move up the ladder from there.

That said, I recommend following in the footsteps of other Business IT consulting firms and use consulting revenue to fund apps development.

Making money from your app – which model?

Monetizing your app is a whole article in and of itself. (Hmmmm…that gives me an idea…) For now, there are several primary ways to make money from your app:

  • Carry advertising such as Google ads, Apple ads, or other third-party advertisements
  • Charge a download fee
  • Charge a download fee and “in-app” option fees (for example, a game that you sell for $1.99, and then inside the game unlock bonus levels for $.99)
  • All of the above

For service providers advertising their own services and expertise, I generally do not recommend showing third party advertisements in portfolio or marketing apps. Best not to distract visitors or downloaders from the main purpose which is to sell them on doing business with your company. However, if you’re selling standalone apps in the games or productivity categories that are not specifically about your company or its information, then consider offering free advertising-supported versions and full paid versions of your apps. “Free” apps with advertising can and do make money if they are good enough and capture enough download traffic.

Hire or build yourself?

As discussed above, for most basic “presence/mindshare” apps, you want to do those yourself. But what about more elaborate productivity apps or games?

Apps can become very complex, very quickly. No surprises there. If you have plans to do a serious professional app with lots of features and a price point, you’ll want an experienced developer or team working with you. Even if engaging third party developers, always design the app yourself. App designers and graphic artists can help explore new design concepts for an assigned task, but don’t have them do the whole thing for you. It’s your app and you’ll be responsible for it long after your third-party contract designers and developers have moved on to other projects. Design it right, iterate as much as necessary, and tightly manage third-party resources.

How to get started

Here is a quick checklist:

  1. Be sure your primary business website presence is up and running.
  2. Establish social media presence(s) as needed.
  3. Decide what app you want to do.
  4. Decide how or if you want to monetize your app.
  5. Design your app (for mobile apps, think in terms of “screens.” Each function of the application will have one or more screens, tied to a main or parent screen). Very basic apps will generally have 12 – 15 screens, more complex apps may have dozens or even hundreds of screens. (We’ll cover app design more in-depth in future posts.)
  6. Design the artwork for your app. Icons, graphics, banners, etc. If using a third party designer, sketch out the basic concepts for them to work with. In most cases, you will need to tell your developers and designers what you need and how much, not the other way around.
  7. Create a specific website or section of your website for your application. NOTE: Each application you develop should have its own website or minisite, even if it’s just a page or two. In general, I recommend a separate website for each app, with links to and from your main site. You want to do this before your app is formally developed.
  8. Develop your app.
  9. Test, debug, fix your app, complete the “gold code” version of your app.
  10. Create your release strategy and communications.
  11. Pre-market your app.
  12. Release your app (how you do this depends on what type of app and which marketplace you are releasing to. Each marketplace or distribution channel has its own requirements.)
  13. “TMAA” – see below

Getting the word out

Use all channels at your disposal to get the word out. Here are some of the most important:

  • Friends
  • Other team members inside your company
  • Your clients
  • Your email list
  • Press releases (be sure to make your announcement on your official website first, then link back to it from your press release)
  • Apps marketplaces (iTunes, Android Market, Windows Phone App Market, etc.)
  • YouTube video(s)
  • Twitter
  • FB Fan Pages
  • LinkedIn status updates and contacts
  • Podcast (if applicable)
  • Mentions from your partner blogs and websites

Much more on this topic to come. Stay tuned!

Tracking your progress

Launching a new app into the “apposphere” is just part of the battle. Be sure to set up analytics and financial measurements. I use a model called “TMAA”:

  1. Track – Tag your new app with the appropriate keywords, titles, phrases and tracking codes. Ideally, your app and its target URL’s will have different tags to allow it be tracked and measured across different channels. Tag options include geo-tagging, channel tagging, search tagging, or even word-of-mouth tagging via custom codes.
  2. Measure – Collect numbers of visitors and performance metrics from web, social media, and apps marketplaces.
  3. Analyze – Trend your measurements over time. Are there certain days your app gets more downloads? (Hint: Tuesday through Thursday often perform best for business apps.) Certain countries or regions downloading your app more than others? Time of day/month/year? Incoming trend up, down, or flat?
  4. Adjust – Put resources in the channels and international regions that perform the best. If your app isn’t delivering on your goals for it, find out why. If necessary, tweak your tagging and measurements. It’s critical to have current and accurate data about how your app is performing over time and geolocation.

Recommended resources

  • buzztouch – I used this application to help with the “IAM Success Tips” app. You’ll still have some Apple XCode (TM) hacking to do, but buzztouch can take care of many details for you.
  • quirco – Online iPhone icon maker. Easy to use and surprisingly handy.
  • appmakr – Similar to buzztouch, but a bit easier to use plus it’s multiplatform. It will also scour your site for artwork and prepare samples based on URL’s.
  • WPTouch – free and pro This is a WordPress plugin that transforms a WordPress blog into a fast, fully mobile website. Lots of adjustment options in both. If you have a larger site, need more graphics/icon sets, or device segmentation, invest in the PRO version. I’ve used this on many different sites and love the way it can make a website “mobile device compliant” without having to rewrite anything. Supports multiple mobile device types.
  • kishkee – Mobile website builder. Quick and easy, create a small one or several-page mobile app site in hours. Build and track your site, offer QR codes, coupons and more. Priced very low.
  • APP.NET – Another mobile website presence builder with excellent tracking and third party integration options. Multiplatform.

NOTE: I’ll cover these and other resources in upcoming posts. We’ll also walk through the creation of actual apps. There are lots of options out there, but these I know firsthand work well and can get you started quickly.

Summary and next steps

In this article, we’ve discussed the third major Business IT expansion strategy – adding mobile and apps to your portfolio. Key takeways:

  1. Any Business IT consulting firm can create and distribute an app. There is always an app to create, even if it’s just a mobile version of your company website.
  2. Take inventory of your assets and prioritize which might make good apps.
  3. Apps are important, but they are only a portion of your overall strategy. Be careful not to allocate too many limited resources away from your primary consulting business.
  4. If possible, design, develop and release your first app 100% in-house. Get the experience and understand how the process works before involving third parties.
  5. Be sure that your web and social media presences are firmly in place BEFORE you develop any apps.
  6. Follow the checklists and guidelines in this post to get started.
  7. Track and measure everything.
  8. If your first app doesn’t set the world on fire (figuratively…), try again! Like web sites or other software products, it can sometimes take a few tries before hitting on just the right app. Remember that companies making substantial income from apps usually (with some exceptions) have multiple apps.
  9. Have fun! Creating and releasing apps is a challenging (and sometimes frustrating) but rewarding experience. Enjoy the journey, apply the lessons learned to your next app and other areas of your business.

Your next steps are:

  1. Sign up for the “BIG Results List” using the form below.
  2. Inventory your current information assets and client requests. Determine what would make a good app that you can bring to market quickly and for a low-cost.
  3. Using the “service addition evaluation checklist” above, evaluate one or more new service offerings.
  4. Take action!

About the Author

Corbin Links --> Data Security and Enterprise Workflow Automation Specialist, API Integrator, Identity Access Management (IAM / IdM) Consultant and "Other Duties as Required"