Building Your Own App: I’ve had a busy spring, attending conferences, meeting experts, entrepreneurs and corporate executives—all trying to reach—and help small business owners. 

This is one of a series of articles from my time in the field.


You Can Build Your Own App—Really!

By Rieva Lesonsky


In April, I went to Austin for the Zoholics conference, an annual event where Zoho users gather to learn more about the powerful software package and how it can help their businesses.

The conference started at a reception where the press, business analysts and Zoho staff stared out a window for hours waiting for Austin’s famous migrating Mexican free-tailed bats to leave their bat cave housed in the Congress Avenue Bridge and glide over Lady Bird Lake. Unfortunately, though it was the season, the bats stayed under the bridge that night—but that was the only disappointment I experienced at the event. (And I did get to see what appeared to be an albino peacock a few days later.)

I’ve written about Zoho beforeZoho One is jam-packed with the useful apps (about 45 at last count) every small business needs to run, grow and scale.

One of the questions many small businesses face is whether it’s worth it to build their own apps? Many automatically reject the idea, thinking it’s either too costly, too complex or both. At the Zoholics conference I sat down with Tejas Gadhia, part of the product management team for Zoho Creator. Gadhia says apps offer businesses “better functionality” and helps solve their pain points. With apps you can automate your daily tasks, giving you more time to work on the important aspects of growing your business.

Zoho offers a fully stocked App Deck, with more than 50 ready-to-use, pre-built business solutions, covering functions like sales, logistics and distribution. But, with Creator, if you don’t see what you want, you can easily (yes, I can easily) build apps yourself. Gadhia stresses you don’t need to know how to code; the program “walks you through” the process of building custom apps. Gadhia says you can “build 10 small things, or one big thing or whatever you need to solve the pain point you’re experiencing.”

Creator has a drag-and-drop interface, which makes it simple to “build forms and dashboards.” Their scripting language (Deluge) allows you to “add sophisticated business workflows.” Every app is “natively mobile.” And it’s all customizable—you can craft your own “layouts, actions and gestures for smartphones and tablets.”

Zoho Creator is not an island. You can create multiple apps and have them share information. You can integrate with other existing Zoho services, such as CRM, Books and Invoice. Or you can link with other outside service providers, such as PayPal, Salesforce or QuickBooks.

Gadhia suggests using Creator to build apps is similar to using business planning software to create a business plan. “It’s so easy,” he says, “you just follow the prompts.” He says business owners think it’s “expensive and super-hard” to build an app, but “it’s even easier than it sounds.” And once business owners “see how easy it is, how it solves their problems and adapts to any situation,” there’s nothing holding them back.

For instance, if you’re a retailer, wouldn’t it be great to have an app to help you with your inventory management? Or your point-of-sales? Or logistics to help you track customer orders? It’s all here.

We all know our businesses are increasingly tech-dependent. But Gadhia says, it’s about keeping up with technology and asking the right questions. It’s not necessarily learning technology—that’s why you can create apps without knowing anything about coding.

Gadhia says too often business owners don’t put a price on their own time (so true!) and don’t realize how much time they’ll save to devote to other aspects of their business by automating processes. And he adds, later this year, the simple process will get even easier and you’ll be able to build an app in a day.

Pricing, like all Zoho apps, is affordable, starting at $10 per user, per month (billed annually). Or, if you prefer, Creator is part of the Zoho One business suite.

Get started by taking a look at the Zoho Creator 5 Quick Start Guide.

Mobile app stock photo by Graphic farm/Shutterstock