Part of the difficulty of operating a small business lies in picking battles. There are expenses that larger counterparts would have no trouble doling out, while small companies need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of spending that money. As information technology expands its horizons, those business owners may encounter an opportunity to invest in mobile platforms that could enhance their efficiency and ability to interface with clients – but at what cost?

One common thread specific to this dilemma is the decision of whether to develop a mobile app. There are benefits in doing so and it can eventually pay back the initial outlay. There are viable alternatives to consider, as well, though the app business is only growing and may ultimately become a virtual requirement.

Using the app to further the business
By creating and implementing a custom app, a small company can achieve gains in profits, visibility and ease of access.

Consumers spend more time engaging in e-commerce through smart phones and tablets than they do on computers, according to a study by comScore. In June 2013, 55 percent of all time customers spent with electronic retail occurred by way of mobile device, while 45 percent happened on PCs.

Though it is a small sample, this is a trend that is likely to continue as phones and tablets increasingly rival and overcome the speed and ease of use offered by computers. Additionally, mobile apps can be useful in finding store locations, searching through inventory and contacting the business, especially when a customer is on the go.

One step backward, two steps forward
The main drawback most business owners will allude to when discussing the potential of mobile apps is the initial cost of building one. In some cases, the total cost of developing an app can run up to $20,000, according to Newsday. While that is not an inconsiderable amount, it is only a one-time charge that will yield repeating and compounding benefits.

The use of an app can save significant time and resources for small companies by empowering its clients and customers to access content from anywhere at anytime. Mobile apps save small businesses an average of 370 million production hours and 700 million employee hours a year. Financially speaking, this is the equivalent of $14,000-$15,000 in savings every year for each company, according to Whatech. There is a good chance that within a year, the app will have paid for itself. Add another year on and the business is saving money and gaining exposure.

Not only that, but with technology and business changing at the rate it is, there is no telling if and when traditional websites will become obsolete and all business transfers onto mobile platforms. Should that occur, small businesses can be ahead of the curve and ease into the new era without scrambling to make wholesale changes to their approach.

Gradual adoption
For businesses that have no mobile presence whatsoever, it may be unwise to make the leap into a custom designed mobile app all at once. For these small companies, the first step should be to create a mobile-responsive website. Not only is it cheaper and easier to build, but it would allow the business to test the waters of mobile access and determine what approach to take going forward.

A mobile-optimized website is essentially a page that can adapt to the mobile platform. That way there are no resizing issues, broken links or unaligned text blocks. Mobile websites are a good transition for companies looking to make that first step into mobility.

IT and tech industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, leaders in information technology equipment financing. Marlin is a nationwide provider of equipment financing solutions supporting equipment suppliers and manufacturers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.