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How to Build iPhone Apps for Non Programmers + Starting & Promoting My New iPhone Apps Company + My First App Sale, Traffic & The Whole Process Documented

Apple iTunes iPhone Apps I’ve been meaning to write about my iPhone Apps for some time now and finally got around to it. This one is long due.

One of the reasons I was dragging my feet is because I have a ton to write about on this topic, and kept flushing out bullets that I could later expand on. As you will see the bullets kept coming.

The other reason is that I wanted to give my Apps more time to simmer in the iTunes App store so I can also report on performance as well.

My goal is to detail everything I have learned about this process in this post and share with you all the tips, lessons learned, success strategies and my failures so that you can immediately take action if iPhone Apps are something you want to try out.

I know that Apple is going through some adversity right now and faces questions about its next innovation. Many “experts” are also saying that other brands have caught up and Apple has lost some of its edge. That said, the iTunes store is STILL the single largest repository of mobile phone applications online.

It will take years before anyone else catches up. Because of this, I will continue to focus on growing my iPhone App portfolio. As of the time of this post, I have 2 more Apps in testing stages will I will report on hopefully a lot sooner than the first two.

It was several months back now that I decided to explore the opportunity to establish yet another stream of passive income through iPhone Apps.

You can read about my initial announcement here.

Why iPhone Apps? To further diversify my streams of income, as well as because I find smart phone Apps intriguing and fun.

And before I go further, there are two very important things I want to get out of the way:

1) I am not a programmer or a developer, and I will go over how I was still able to create and profit from iPhone Apps later in this post. This initiative has been profitable for me, and I hope you can replicate the same in your business if you are thinking about the iPhone Apps space by leveraging the information and approach I have already learned and experimented with.

2) If I can do it, so can you. This is an understatement. If you have an idea, you can definitely make the iPhone App business work for you, even if you launch just ONE App. I personally know 2 individuals who work full time, who each have just 1 App in iTunes. Both are making north of $1,500 from that one App alone each month on a passive basis.

Anyhow, I decided to give it a shot and thought what’s the worst than could happen? It turns out that the business is doing very well.

I had set a goal of 2 iPhone Apps by the end of 2012 and I met my goal. I was able to release one paid App, and one free App that generates income from the iAds network (Apple’s iPhone advertising platform – more on this below).

Since launching the Apps, I have already helped a couple businesses do the same by developing Apps specific to their customer needs, and as a result of the continuing demand and the feedback I received from “clients”, I have added this as an ancillary service offering of my SEO firm. We are already seeing some interest in this space as well. More on this later.

I have randomly posted news snippets, snapshots of my Apps’ earnings, downloads and traffic reports on my Facebook page, but I will detail a lot more about the process here in this comprehensive post.

You can check out my Facebook fan page archives here to see what I’ve posted in the past.

Why I Started an iPhone App Company?

Aside from the fact that I am intrigued and find smart phone Apps fun, Apps appeared to me as a natural way to expand my passive income portfolio while diversifying my income streams at the same time.

And although the iTunes marketplace is saturated, it is less so relative to some other platforms – for example, starting a website on a niche topic on which there are likely tons of others already.

Like anything else that is new, this initiative presented a new thrill, new excitement, new learning and experimentation opportunity for me. Similar to what I have done with websites, the plan was to replicate success if there was to be any hint of initial success, which I can gladly say is there based on what I am experiencing so far.

I also liked the idea of experimenting with SEO on Apps to see if the two can be somehow married to realize any benefits. I presumed most Apps out there are not marketed with this perspective.

Of course, I had no idea of how to market an iPhone App the way it’s meant to be but learned a few effective strategies along the way which I will also share below.

How I Started My iPhone App Company

In a nutshell, I did the following (the App specific details pertain to my first App, which is a paid App):

  1. I observed the market place and used other iPhone Apps out there to get a feel from a user and developer’s perspective. It is interesting how your perspective changes when you evaluate something with a specific agenda in mind. You tend to look at things from a whole different set of lens. Many of the realizations never occurred to me in the past as merely a user of these apps.
  2. I read up as much as I could on how to develop iPhone Apps and all the nuances that come with it, including books on outsourcing the development of Apps as a non developer or programmer.
  3. I drafted the App design (process flow) on paper including placeholders for images (I’ll tell you how you can avoid doing it on paper later. This is especially useful if you’re not very artistic).
  4. I outsourced the creation of the images and design on the App.
  5. I outsourced the creation of the App itself (the programming).
  6. I created a developers account on iTunes (costs $99 a year).
  7. At the same time I created a small support site for my App.
  8. I submitted my App’s files (You need a MAC to do this or you can get your developer to do it for you).
  9. I toyed around with the developer’s dashboard (iTunes Connect) to get more familiar with the content and navigation.
  10. I engaged in some marketing activities to promote my App and its support website.
  11. I started an LLC just for this company, got my EIN and opened up a bank account. I should have done this sooner, funded it, and then paid the freelancers out of this account to truly keep “business” separate from personal activities.

Sounds simple? It is. It really is, but it does take some time as you can imagine because of the steps involved in the process.

Most of these tasks were outsourced and there are more than enough resources out there to help you get all the way through this process from end to end.

You can check out the resources I use here.

Some of the steps above are self explanatory, while others need further elaboration. Let’s go through some of these in detail.

Steps 1-2:

Like anything else, when you are contemplating getting involved in something new, it is prudent to do your due diligence and learn as much as you can about the industry, the products, services, competition, nuances, etc.

This is exactly what I did. I wanted to get a feel for how Apps are developed to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of user interface and experience.

The more important aspect of it was to learn about the unknowns in this territory, preferably from someone who has been there and done it. So I asked around and most referrals pointed to the Free the Apps book, which is a book written by two guys Michael and Quoc who managed to establish an $800,000 a year business making iPhone Apps without having programming background like myself.

I gravitated toward this resource naturally and while I didn’t learn everything there was to learn (I will discuss everything I’ve learned below) , I picked up a whole lot of wisdom and clarity about the process. I can for sure say that I was a lot more comfortable approaching this initiative after having read Mike and Quoc’s book.

Comfort is important. I can tell you that had I not been comfortable after reading this book, I likely would not have moved forward with this project. I would have either given it up completely, or picked up another book or two to reinforce my decision, whatever the decision may have been.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in earning income from iPhone Apps (affiliate link).

Step 3:

I literally designed my App on a piece of paper with a pencil. When I was done, I had 8 pages of back to back sketches laying out the App. This was a long, but real fun process for me as I was envisioning the App in works before my eyes.

When I say “design”, I am referring to what each screen contains, how it looks, the placement of objects and how it flows to the next screen and so forth. I cannot emphasize how important details are here. As I was going through this process, I had a Microsfot Word document open in parallel where I was typing notes to the developer.

For example, I would label my first drawing “screen one”, and then label a heading on the document called “screen one” as well and type out my instructions below it. It is important to be very clear about every single little thing or your developer will end up either guessing or not doing anything. This will blatantly show when you test the initial development of the App.

For example, if you want a screen to appear after performing a certain action, be sure to indicate how many seconds you want that screen to be up, what kind of music/sound you want playing while the screen is up, what sound should the App make when the screen flows over to the next screen after however many seconds you specify. You need to be very detailed and rigorous carrying out the process if you want to minimize any issues on the back-end.

I chose to approach the App design this way the first time around. For my second App, I drafted the design and flow electronically (a process called wire framing) using a tool called Mockingbird. You can see a list of free wire frame applications here.

Steps 4-5:

Once the process flow design was complete, I outsourced the images and design elements of the App. I hired a freelancer on Elance to do this. At the same time I also hired a iPhone App developer to get started on the App development, also from Elance.

The reason I chose two separate professionals is because developers are not necessarily good graphic designers and vice-versa. High quality imagery and design can be critical to an App’s success and I wanted the best for mine.

I have been using Elance for a few years now, mainly to find developers/programmers for my websites and occasionally content writers. I love the platform, the ease of use as well as the escrow system in place to ensure both parties are protected in a given transaction.

The rules tend to favor the customer (you) so it’s very safe to use. It also has a review and rating system so you know the quality of the freelancers well beforehand. You can also view a portfolio of each freelancer’s past projects.

When using Elance, you specify the project needs and instructions and several freelancers bid on it. You then select one based on price, experience and previous reviews other customers have given them from past projects. You can read more about Elance here.

Couple tips on selecting a freelancer:

1: Lowest price isn’t always the best. Consider the language barrier potential if you are going to hire overseas to save money, previous work experience and quality, review and rating given by previous clients, etc. Evaluate the whole package. It’s not worth losing time and getting frustrated in exchange for a couple hundred extra dollars. I’ll talk more about cost of App development below.

2: If you are worried that the freelancer will run away with your idea (which is really nothing to worry about in my opinion as most freelancers on platforms like Elance do what they do for a living and have their reputation to protect in the industry), search for an NDA on Google. An NDA is a “non-disclosure agreement” that you can have the freelancer sign if this gives you more comfort.

Steps 6-9:

While my App was being developed, I created my developers account on iTunes called iTunes Connect and at the same time created a support site for my iPhone App as well as a website for my iPhone App company where I was going to display all my Apps.

I didn’t have to do this, but chose to do so for various reasons, mainly the ability to optimize and promote the website to drive traffic to it which potentially could lead to App sales.

Several months into this initiative I know I made the right decision. More on search traffic and sales results below. Once the App was developed, I submitted it to iTunes through my developers iTunes Connect account. Note that you need a Mac (Apple computer) do to this.

Tip: When submitting an App, always specify a live launch date well into the future. When you get notice of App approval from Apple, go back into your iTunes Connect account and change the date to the next date/day after receiving approval notice. More on this below and why this is very important to do.

If you are curious about the support site, I used Appify, which I feel is the best turn key solution to a customized support site specific to an iPhone application. It’s working out great for me (affiliate link).

Step 11:

Step 10 (Marketing) is a big one so I will save that for the end. In Step 11, I incorporated my company so that this part of my business is completely separate from everything else that I am involved in.

There are several reasons to do this and you can read about them here. If you are interested in learning about the other initiatives I am involved in, you can read more about those here.

Tip: The reason I did not do this upfront is because it takes a lot longer for “corporate” accounts to get approved by Apple relative to individual accounts. However, once you have an individual seller account approved in iTunes, you can subsequently convert it to a business/corporate account and the process is a lot faster.

The Apple developer support personnel were very helpful when I transitioned from a personal to a business account. They were always just a phone call away. I recommend this approach if you plan on establishing a business account in iTunes.

Step 10: How to Market Your iPhone App

One of the more common misconceptions about Apps is similar to opening a brick and mortar store in that once you build them and get them on the App store, sales will come flooding in. This may work in some rare cases, but for most Apps, you need to engage in active marketing if you want to generate a significant volume of sales.

If you don’t market your iPhone App, your App may go totally unnoticed (a very rare situation as well), generate low to moderate level of sales (a more likely event given the nature of the end user behavior) or go viral (very rare but it does happen). The best course of action therefore is to engage in some level of marketing, monitor the results and then make a decision going forward from there.

You may decide that after a couple weeks of marketing initiatives you want to lay off and move on to your next project. This is fine too. Again, engage, monitor and decide. There is nothing more effective than testing.

Here is how I marketed my first couple Apps:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Just as I promote my websites, I did basic SEO on my Apps. I started with keyword research to come up with words I wanted to target, and then used them strategically on the display pages of the Apps on iTunes as well as the support website that I established for each App.

The display page of the App in iTunes is where you can read all about the App before downloading it. It looks like this.

The support website is like any other content website, therefore also optimized like any other content site. I focused on the same key elements when optimizing both the iTunes display page and support site that I focus on when optimizing a static website.

Some of these include the keywords, title, and the body or content itself, as well as some basic back link building.

Social Media Marketing

I also created a Facebook and Twitter account for my iPhone App company. I synced my Facebook account to the support site so that all updates to the site automatically posted on Facebook using the RSS Graffiti Facebook App.

I then linked my Facebook account to Twitter using the Facebook to Twitter App so that all updates to Facebook auto post on Twitter.

I also used a really cool and automated approach to solicit Twitter follower who have interest in the subject of my Apps and what each does. This has been an excellent way for me to drive traffic to and get more exposure for my Apps mainly on auto pilot.

And as an extended note, I also use this method to reach out to new visitors and readers for my blog and websites. I can manage to do all that easily because of the automated nature of how the process works. You can read about my method here.

Video Marketing

In my opinion, having a video demo on an App is almost a no brainer because the nature of how Apps work. As a potential user, watching the App “in action” helps a lot and can brew enthusiasm and interest.

Of course this will depend on what your App does and who it is for, but for most Apps, I think video marketing can go a long way. I know from reviewing my site analytics that the referral traffic to my App support site coming from various video channels  is quite robust.

If you are going to go this route, YouTube is the first site that comes to mind. Definitely post a video of your App in action, or at least a part of it if  you don’t want to give it all away on YouTube, but also explore other video platforms such as Vimeo and the likes.

If you Google how to take a video of your App while using it on your iPhone, you will find several videos that walk you through how to do that. Some involve Jail Breaking your iPhone, but there are ways you can take a video of your App in action as it is being used on your iPhone so that viewers can get a true feel for it as if they were using it first hand.

I use One Load, an offshoot of the old Tube Mogul which is a video syndication service that allows me to automatically distribute my App promo videos to multiple channels instantly. This tool has delivered some great results for me.

I use Camtasia to record my videos via screen capture of my computer monitor. They have a free trial period you can subscribe to initially to get a feel for how it works.

Blogger Reviews and Forums

This one is a hit or miss because you never know how it will perform. Nonetheless, when my Apps went live, I was given some free download codes/coupons by Apple (you get 50 of these each time a version of your App goes live on iTunes).

I had my virtual assistant reach out to relevant App review bloggers and websites and send them a templated email message that I had drafted requesting a review in exchange for the free download code.

I also had her post about the App in relevant blogs and forums. If nothing else, these activities may generate some back links to the App support site.

Fiends and Family

This is not fluff and just on the list because it’s an easy check mark, so make sure you consider this. Here is why. The first few reviews an App gets are critical.

Crowd theory and behavior pressure all subsequent reviewers to cooperate with those before them. Psychologically speaking, the initial few reviews (given they are consistent) do a lot more to one’s psyche than we may think.

Before your App goes live, have a few family and friends lined up to download, rate and review your App. Rating and review activity also show potential buyers that the App is being downloaded by others and that it’s not just another dud (majority of Apps are duds). Always have a few folks ready to fire off ratings and write reviews when your App goes live.

Who better to ask for favors than close family and friends? I had 10 five star ratings and stellar reviews within the first couple days of releasing my first App. One simple message to my Facebook page was enough to do that. I thanked each of the 10 individually after the fact.

Outside the Box Methods

Don’t limit yourself to traditional and conventional methods of marketing online. One of my Apps is in the fitness niche, so I got some T-shirts designed and ordered them online from Cafe Press in various sizes.

Tip: Wait for a Groupon or Living Social deal to get 80%+ off!

I sent a bunch to my friends and handed off others locally to folks I know that participate in this particular type of fitness activity. I asked them to wear it when they work out.

I did the same whenever I went to the gym. In fact this is how I got one of my clients. They asked me about it after seeing the catchy design. This led to an App development project for my SEO firm.

Two weeks after distributing the T-shirts, the direct hit traffic to my App support site increased noticeably. There could have been many other factors causing the traffic spike, but I think having the URL on the T-shirts definitely helped. Who knows?

I just wanted to get a bit creative. If you have the budget to spend on similar marketing initiatives, why not give it a shot and see what happens?

Cross Sell and Cross Promote

When you adapt a shot gun approach to something, you never know what is going to hit and what’s going to miss. In the event something hits, you want to maximize the benefits from that hit. It’s really the core 80/20 Pareto principle that’s at work here.

Just as those who own several web properties interlink them to each other, you can do something similar when you have more than one iPhone App. Here are two ways I do that:

1) I credit this one to my good friend Pat who does this with his Apps. When developing each App, I instruct the developer to include a “More Apps” link on key screens of the App. In addition, I have a link to the App support site in the “About” or “Instructions” screen of each App.

Users click this for various reasons, many simply because of curiosity similar to how I click the same links on other Apps I use. Adding such feature can get your other Apps more exposure no matter which App the user downloads first.

2) I created a central website for all my Apps. This is my iPhone App company website, wherein I showcases all the Apps and have all sorts of other relevant and interesting material for readers. This site is also  optimized for search engines and brings in a fair share of traffic.

Tip: When using links in various initiatives, consider using a link management program that allows you to track the type of traffic/clicks you are getting. Tracking analytics help fine tune your approach to get better results and more effectiveness going forward. For example, you can measure changes in traffic by changing what pages or screens the links are placed on, or by changing the directional placement (location) of link on a given page or screen. I use the Thirsty Affiliates (affiliate Link) program to do this. You can read my review of Thirsty Affiliates here.

Great, this is a lot of information so far. You must be wondering about the cost of development of my Apps, the effectiveness of my marketing methods and a lot more. I will share some numbers and results from my efforts below:

Budget and Timing of My First iPhone App

Let’s start getting into some of the details.

Initial Budget and Timeline for App #1

  • Concept to design: roughly 1 month
  • Tweaks, submission and Apple review: roughly 1 month
  • Total time to market: roughly 2 months
  • Purchase of iPhone to test Apps
  • Purchase of Mac book to submit the App (Apple App loader)  – they really do bind you to their brand!
  • Costs (including Apple fees, etc): just under $3,000

Initial Marketing Plan

  • Organic: search, social media through Facebook and Twitter
  • Launched a press release (back links from this as well)
  • Reached out to bloggers and forum owners in the fitness niche
  • Reached out to bloggers and forums
  • Viral video syndication – YouTube and other media channels (see above)
  • CNN and Wall Street Journal – I wished!
  • Reached out to App review writers – provided free App download codes

My budget for marketing, outside of salary to my virtual assistant (a sunk cost that I incur every month anyway) as well as some basic tools and services here and there was pretty thin. I wanted to exhaust all the free resources I knew about and later exercise my wallet muscles but only if I felt it made sense.

This was my first App so I didn’t really know whether what I was doing would work. If you have any tips and suggestions on marketing my App going forward, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Submission of My First iPhone App to Apple iTunes

Shortly after development I submitted my App to Apple. Weeks later (no kidding), I received a message from Apple in my inbox indicating that my App’s binary (submission file) has been rejected. This is what the message looked like:


Disappointing to say the least, but not the end of the world. Upon reading further Apple wanted me to make a minor change to the UI – “user interface” by eliminating the Exit option on my App’s menu screen. So I had the developer make change, tested the prototype and resubmitted the App within half an hour. What a bummer, another few days until I hear back I thought to myself as the App is in review status again. There is a first time for everything.

Lesson learned: Apple does not want you to give your users the option to “exit” a program. It is no wonder you always have a difficult time leaving an App for good before moving on to the next. The only true way to close the App is to hit the Home button on your iPhone twice and delete/or stop the Apps from running manually. Painful if you ask me, but that’s just how Apple likes things to be. This is a BIG battery drainer.

Their rejection messages reads that Apps must be able to save information on an ongoing basis. This is the rationale they provided for why they have their policies the way they do. However, what if an App saves a user’s actions real time and still provides an easy way to exit the App upon the user’s wish?  Apparently that is a no-no with Apple.

The Approval by Apple of My First iPhone App in iTunes

It did not take another couple weeks to hear back. I heard back within hours. I guess they were working on my account in real time as I was making the revisions.

When I submitted the App initially, I specified a launch date / release date a full year in advance (ahead of time). Once it was approved, I logged back in to my dashboard and moved the release date to the day after I received the notice from Apple of the App’s approval.

I did this because the App goes live in the iTunes store 24 hours after its release date, and since Apple doesn’t clarify the time stamp on the release date, I wanted to play it safe by letting close to a full 24 hours lapse after their notice to me before releasing it for sale in the store.

The first 24 hours of any new App’s availability for sale in the iTunes store are the most critical. I will share why in a bit.

How to Maximize a Brand New App’s Exposure on iTunes

As difficult as it is to get an App approved by Apple’s picky staff, getting a brand new App approved in Apple’s iTunes stores is just the beginning. With an ever growing (saturated) pool of Apps (and only getting worse), how does your App find its way to the end user?

As I am quickly learning, it is difficult to promote an App to get it the exposure it needs to do very well. Note that when I say “very well”, I mean generate a significant amount of income.

Even if an App doesn’t accomplish this, it can do well enough relatively easily to where it recoups its development cost and starts paying you back profits. I just want you to know that the effort is worth it. This is why I will continue to build my iPhone App portfolio over time.

But there is one very easy and quick thing you can do to maximize a brand new App’s exposure on iTunes. Before discussing this, let’s first go over what not to do.

When first submitting an App for review, Apple will ask you the anticipated release date of the App. Many developers try to guess when Apple will make a decision (it usually takes a couple weeks before Apple can get back to you).

Apple often times takes much longer than anticipated to approve or reject an App, especially if they need you to make modifications which further prolongs the review time period. I received one of those emails as well when I initially submitted our first App for review (see image above).

With all that going on, let’s say you specified a release date of January 30, but Apple doesn’t get around to approving your App until February 15, then they will make your App available in iTunes with a retroactive release date of January 30.

You don’t want this to happen. Why? Because when an App is first released, it appears on the first page of “New Apps”. It also appears on the first page of all the Apps in your app’s category. With each passing day, the App gets pushed further down the list as newer Apps are approved and newer release dates take precedence.

So despite your App being new, an earlier release date specified by you will cause it to get “buried’ in the archives. There goes all of your free exposure. The first 48 hours of an App after its release are the most critical, providing you don’t succeed much at marketing it afterwards (this is the case with majority of the Apps out there).

Here is what you should do . . .

As I mentioned earlier, when submitting your App, specify a release date well into the future. When your App is approved, log on to your developer’s dashboard and change the date of the release to the date your App is approved, or the very next day.

How do you know? Apple sends auto notifications as your App moves through the review process, from submission, to review, to processing, to acceptance or rejection or more changes / modifications needed.

When you do this correctly, you will notice your App as the number one on the list of new Apps in your chosen category. This is exactly what you want happening.

This entire process takes 2 minutes at best, but will ensure your App gets maximum exposure for free when it first comes out. You never know who is looking around the App store at any given time – why risk the possibility of not being seen when you can easily ensure you are.

How Much Income Are My iPhone Apps Generating?

I went into iPhone Apps without expecting to turn profits until at least after the first full year of an App being live in iTunes.  I’d rather be conservative than aggressive when it come to estimates. Both Apps far surpassed expectations.

Bellow are the results from the day 1 sales of the first App on iTunes. Note that this is a paid App that is sold for .99 cents. Apple keeps a 30% royalty share, remitting the rest of the 70% to you as the developer.


So 18 total sales on day 1! Not too shabby for something mostly passive in nature once the App is live, which is what I was going for. The key question at the time was whether the trend will continue?

This depends on how well the App is promoted I suppose, as well as what breaks I catch. You never know who sees the app and decides to get it in front of a large audience.

Here is further breakdown of the day 1 sales in iTunes.


Pretty cool stuff.

What’s encouraging is the source of purchasers.

5 different countries.  Woohoooo – I am going Global!

So how much do I pocket? If you decipher the breakdown report above, you see that Apple keeps roughly 30% of all App sales, which means for a .99c App, I pocket .693 cents per sale.

That’s it, I am quitting everything else to focus just on iPhone Apps.

No . . .

18 sales at .99 = $17,82 at 70% = $12.474

Extrapolated over a 30 day period = $374 / monthly or $4,490 annually

As I wrote above, my total spend for this App was $3,000, but roughly $2,000 of that was for hardware, fixed sunk costs that I will no longer continue to incur.

Nothing earth shattering, but considering the fact that I have another 16 or so now Apps in the design stages, I am potentially looking at $4,490 at 16 Apps = $71,850 annually

Obviously I took liberty to conveniently assume that . . .

1) All my other Apps will all be just as profitable

2) That the trend of 18 Apps per day will actually continue

But assuming the extrapolation exercise works in my favor, the numbers are not too shabby considering a “set it and forget it” model.

Besides, I entered this space not expecting to get rich. Making millions is not the objective here (although it’d be nice), but knowing that I will not be in the red certainly helps me keep plugging away with this initiative.

Fast forward a full month later, this is how the sales trend was looking:

weekly-app-sales   daily-app-sales



Almost 150 sales during the first month of launch!

The above chart shows the weekly summary, and the chart below shows the daily summary. What is most notable here is the spike seen in the last 5 days. How and why did this happen? Traction.

It takes time for an App to gain traction. With more marketing and exposure over time, traction increases as do sales. The good news is that I had not done any aggressive marketing at all after the initial wave. That will change and should impact sales in the future.

So 145 sales at 70% (Apple keeps 30%) leaves me with just about $100.

With a net cost of $1,000 to develop the App, my break even appears to be at the 10 month period as of this time. This is ok because I expect the estimated time taken to break even to expedite as I further promote the App.

$100 bucks a month is certainly not money that will make me a millionaire, but if you think about how the money is generated, it is purely passive in that it is not predicated on me working on it after having launched it.

One can argue the ROI (your return on investment) is infinite. $1 in passive income that you didn’t have to work for is $1 you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Read this to get a true appreciation for what one dollar of passive income really is worth.

My goal is to launch several applications, which overtime parlay over each other, potentially creating a reasonably sized snowball effect similar to what I have been able to establish with my websites.

I am looking forward to how it all rolls down the hill from here. I am already seeing some good synergy benefits after launching my second App.

App #2 is a free App that generates income through advertisement. Downloads are averaging roughly 250-ish a day which is equating to roughly $3-4 per day in ad revenue.

Extrapolated over a month, App #2 is averaging $90-$120 per month. This is a much simpler App that was quicker and more economical to develop. The total cost of developing this App was just under $500.

Other Trends, Traffic, Search Optimization, Etc.

Let’s talk about traffic sources to my iPhone App company website.

Initially, most traffic to the website and the Apps on the site as well as on iTunes was purely through referral traffic coming from sources like App directories, Facebook, Twitter and similar sites.

This means people mostly found it through word of mouth, or reading about it somewhere where someone decided to write about it for some reason :) It could also have been deliberate link building on my part.

I have been working on some search engine optimization (SEO) behind the scenes and starting to see the effects of that on the business. As you will see in the sales figures below, an increase in traffic has correlated to an increase in App sales. Traffic and profitability are always directly correlated, although conversion percentage may not.

Because iTunes does not provide traffic and conversion tracking functionality, it is difficult for me to track conversions.

In other words, what percentage of my visitors are converting into customers, where those customers are coming from, how they found the site, etc.

Understanding such intelligence allows one to optimize resources on more profitable advertising avenues and cut out less effective mediums.

So here is the traffic breakdown:


Almost 10% of traffic coming from organic search results is a good sign. For a few month old site this breakdown is pretty stellar and I am happy with it, considering very little effort up till this image was taken was made on SEO.

Let’s have a look at where the biggest chunk of traffic is coming from:


These are some pretty cool stats to look at.  I had 513 visitors to the site. The average visitor viewed over 2 pages and stayed on the site over 3 minutes.

Again, great results. Anything over 1 minute of viewing time is solid. Almost 63% were brand new visits. Google is #4 on the list of sites that sent traffic to me, with a total of 42 visitors.

Have a look at #11. It is interesting to see that those who found the site on Apple iTunes are the ones that spent the most amount of time on the website. This is awesome.

I deliberately included links on our iTunes sales page to my website. This is a fine strategy. Most developers don’t do this because most don’t have their own web presence.

Thus, the links on their iTunes listing are generic links pointing to support pages. I have the support page embedded into the website. Good move in retrospect.

It is not a coincidence that those coming from iTunes are also the ones viewing the most number of pages on the site, at over 4 pages per visitor.

Legal Entity Formation, Outside the Box Marketing, Etc.

I mentioned earlier it is easier to get started selling iPhone Apps on iTunes under an individual or sole proprietor account. I started out this way, but knew I wanted my iPhone App business as a separate legal entity.

Your tax accountant and lawyer can tell you all about the benefits and reasons you should incorporate your business separately. If you are going to apply to iTunes as a company, you will need legal paperwork demonstrating that you are a corporation.

You will need a DUNS number (D&B or Dun & Bradstreet) as well as an EIN – Employer Identification Number. You can get these on your own by spending some time researching and applying online, or you can engage a legal professional to help you.

Making Money With Free iPhone Apps – The Apple iAd Network

There is one more thing I want to cover in this post before concluding it, and that is the Freemium model (free distribution). My second App is a free App and anyone can download it wherever it is available. Why would anyone spend time and money developing a free App?

There are several reasons. If you already have an existing business, you may want to develop an App that ads to the overall user experience and convenience. This is why one of my iPhone App clients hired me. If you are an entrepreneur, you can still make money with free iPhone Apps by displaying advertisements on your App.

Any platform that gets the attention of viewers’ eyes has the potential to make money from advertising. Just like magazines charge money to display and add on their pages, and websites to display ads online, Apple also charges vendors to display their ads on their applications. So while one revenue model with iPhone Apps is to flat out charge for your application, another is to provide it for free and then display ads on it.

Companies normally pay per add impression and sometimes per add click (when a user/viewer clicks on an add). Each time an impression is served, or an add is clicked, the App generates advertising revenue for its developer/owner.

The success of my free iPhone App will be strictly based on volume of downloads. The more downloads, the more users, the more ads and the more revenues.

So far so good. It is being downloaded over 250 times per day, which amounts to $3 to $4 in daily ad revenue. I am expecting this to increase over time with marketing and promotion.

The Apple iAd Network

Most of Google’s multi billion dollars in annual revenues come from their Adwords network, which is an ad network through which vendors of sorts pay Google to display ads. You can read how and where Google makes its money here.

Google turns around and publishes those ads on various private networks such as websites people own. Google then splits the revenue share with the website owner.

Here are how Google ads look like on websites you browse every day:


(Click to enlarge image: Notice the Ads by Google logo on the top left of the ad?)

Similarly, Apple entered the ad serving market by establishing their iAd network.

Here are how Apple iAd network ads look like on iPhone applications:

iAd Network

iAd is not the only iPhone ad network. There are several other alternative. I believe you can also display Google Adsense ads on applications.

I decided to stick with iAds in the beginning because its most convenient and embedded within the iTunes Connect developer’s dashboard that I am already using. I may decide to experiment with other platforms down the road.

But the concept with iPhone App ads works the same no matter what ad platform you are using. Each time a website is viewed, or an App is used, it generates an ad impression, which can also lead to a potential click through (pay out rates are often times higher when someone clicks).

Where did I get the idea to try something like this out?

From my information based websites that generate passive income through the display of Google ads. I took this successful experiences with the web based model and decided to try it out on iPhone Apps.

I am hoping this turns out to be a successful experiment as well. So far it is. If you are interested in seeing some of my earnings from Google Ads you can view them here.

My total cost of developing the free App, not including my minimal time involvement was just under $500. The App took approximately 3 months to develop, test, fix bugs and get approved in the Apple iTunes store.

The App is usable on both the iPad and the iPhone.

TIP: Remember, you can make money with free iPhone Apps as well as paid iPhone apps. Don’t discount free Apps right off the bat without trying them. Something that is offered for free will likely get many more downloads as we are seeing in the initial stages of our new free iPhone App already.

Is Developing iPhone Apps a Viable Business?

Loaded question, and the answer can significantly vary on quite a broad spectrum.

As with many industries, products and platforms, the first mover advantage has a lot going for it. The iPhone App space is quite saturated today, and will be more so tomorrow.

That said there are still new Apps that come in and become very successful. There will likely be many more in the future as well. Generally speaking however, doing well with iPhone Apps is a bigger challenge today and will continue to be.

That said, if you have an idea you believe people will like, try it out if you have the budget. Don’t go into iPhone Apps simply for the profits because it is a rough and tough field to play in.

You will be competing against some giants out there. Get into it for the fun (they really are) and the excitement that comes with the process. Can you be profitable? Of course.

If your funds are limited, contemplate other potentially more higher ROI initiatives. Just like blogging isn’t for the desperate, neither is developing and profiting from iPhone Apps.

There are a lot of variables beyond your control, and competing in a super saturated space, especially one where large corporate giants are playing in as well, is just too unpredictable.

But sure, keep your paycheck as your bread and butter and dive into iPhone App projects on the side if your situation allows it and appetite calls for it. It’s fun and you will likely end up making a few extra bucks on the side every month.


You can tell how excited I am about this new initiative.  I certainly had not planned this post to be this long but screen space flies when you’re having fun.

There are several tips and strategies in this post that have worked well for me. There are also several lessons that I have learned along the way.

If I were to extract one main message from this post about my journey however, I’d say that it is that “there is a way where there is a will”.

We live in a time where and when we can do pretty much anything we want and have all the knowledge, training, tools and resources readily available at our disposal. I am not a programmer, nor did I know anything about developing, marketing and profiting from iPhone Apps when this process started just about a year ago. Yes I should have published this post much earlier.

Today I have my own small iPhone Apps company and a couple Apps live on iTunes, both of which are doing very well. I have also learned repeatedly that more you pout yourself out there the more opportunities will come knocking on your doorsteps. As many have said before – “I love luck and getting lucky, and find that the more I try the luckier I get”.

Because of my involvement with Apps and what I was able to demonstrate, I was contacted by a couple small local businesses through word of mouth referrals that wanted an App developed specific to their business and solely for their customers and clients. Because I knew I could facilitate the process I took the offers. I knew I could find developers at every skill level to execute for me.

I really did this for two main reasons – and money isn’t either one. First, I wanted more experience with iPhone App related project management experience and second, I wanted to try out what could become a potential complimentary offering that my SEO firm can offer to its clients. Yup, as a result, our SEO firm now offers iPhone App development as well.

I am currently exploring the opportunities on the Android side as well, but from initial research it seems that there are more nuances, especially with customization, modification and compatibility with the various phones that use Android, that can make the process more challenging. Let’s see where this research takes me in the near future.

So there you have it 8,000 or so words later. I am not a programmer but I did it. You can do it too. Anyone can do it. I am not making millions, but iPhone Apps have been profitable for me and will likely continue to be over time as they mature and I develop and cross sell more of them. I also have a new service offering because I put myself out there yet again through this brand new experience. Most important of all, I am learning, growing and enjoying the entire process.

You really never know unless you put yourself out there. It really just takes one good idea to propel you – just think Angry Birds and the likes – but even if you don’t reach that level, take comfort in knowing that you can still do fairly ok. But you’d never know that until you take action. Who knows what your actions can lead to in the future?

There is more than enough information in this article for you to take action if you choose to. I hope you do, and I’d love to hear all about it so please let me know of your progress.

I’d also be happy to answer any questions or concerns about iPhone Apps, my process, or anything else you have in mind in the comments section below.

If you want to read more about the iPhone App development business, please let me know what specifically you want me to share with you in the comments section below.

Finally, I’ve put a lot of time, thought and effort in writing this article. If you enjoyed the article and found it helpful in any way, I’d appreciate it if you could help me spread this article by liking it or sharing it on Facebook or Tweeting it through Twitter.

All the best and make sure you drop your questions and comments below.

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97 Responses to “How to Build iPhone Apps for Non Programmers + Starting & Promoting My New iPhone Apps Company + My First App Sale, Traffic & The Whole Process Documented”

  1. Lesley says:

    This is an overwhelming (in a very good way) and amazing post Sunil. I have paused and will continue later but could not resist to comment.

    I am not even halfway through and can say this is the BEST article I have read about making money from iphone applications as an experiment.

    This is truly amazing Sunil. Keep the good work coming I always look forward to it.

  2. Great long post! determination is the key! btw, the link for Free the Apps book doesn’t work.

    • Sunil says:

      apologies, it’s working now. going through some coding clean up/glitches. do you have any exp with apps? are you planning to get involved?

  3. Josh G says:

    Hey Sunil,

    This just popped up on my FB newsfeed – I’ve got a great app idea and this is exactly what I need to make it reality. I’ve bookmarked it and shall be coming back to read it later!



  4. Sara says:

    Couple questions (still need to read this all again)…how do you come up with ideas (I mean profitable ideas)? It seems like there is an app for most anything already. Are there original ideas left?

    Also, how do you evaluate the developers and know which one will do the best job? I’ve hired people from ODesk for other things and it’s been hit or miss.

    I actually bought Free the Apps awhile ago – guess I should read it now!

    • Sunil says:

      Sara – ideas can come from personal experience, your industry/trade etc. keep asking whether there is a better way to do this, or answer the question “I wish there was…”. that said, my second app is a game/gag type app that doesn’t help with anything but provides decent entertainment value. in this case I defined the market I wanted to target and created something I thought the market would enjoy. I could’ve researched it more (recommended), but shot from the hip and so far so good. even taking existing apps and enhancing them by adding more features and functionality can carve you out a nice piece of the market. seems like you have yet to pull the trigger on apps. that said, what are you/businesses currently involved with these days?

  5. Lemuel says:

    Hi Sunil,

    This post is epic!

    I also started my Google Play Store and I am getting a good earnings via AdMob.

    I am moving to Canada soon and do you know if I can register my app business in LLC category?

    I am planning to make an iOS app also to expand my market.



    • Sunil says:

      Hi Lemuel – have you shared your current Android app? how is it doing in terms of sales and what are you doing to promote/market it? Canada and the US have very similar business laws, and I am certain you will be able to do as you intend. are you planning on making your current Android app available on iTunes or creating a new one?

  6. Mike says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write up this post! It really points out all of the extra work that needs to be done in addition to building the app. A quick question: I don’t see any links to your iPhone business or your apps. Why not include them in the post?

    • Sunil says:

      Mike, I have revealed several of my websites that are profitable and over time people started copying. As you can imagine the same is true for the apps. I may disclose however in the future

  7. Hey Sunil,

    I’m still reading but found a missing link in the Social Media section. Here’s the sentence:

    “I can manage to do all that easily because of the automated nature of how the process works. You can read about my method here.”

    The “here” is bolded but there isn’t a link and I presume you wanted one there.


  8. Wow, amazingly detailed post. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I have been surfing online greater than 3 hours these days, but I never found any fascinating article like yours. It’s beautiful value sufficient for me. In my view, if all webmasters and bloggers made just right content as you probably did, the net will be much more helpful than ever before.

  10. really nice information and it will help me for my personal database.
    great bro and keep it continuous cause of i’m going to bookmark you

  11. etskamlesh says:

    It is very good page posting in the site because in this built to the more information .So i like in this page.So thanks for the good page……………..

  12. Rajendra says:

    thanks for this article and I know that Apple is going through some adversity right now and faces questions about its next innovation.

    • Sunil says:

      it will be interesting to see the evolution of the i products, particularly the phones and the apps that are supported by it. will definitely impact what we are doing here

  13. Hey Sunil,

    This is a fantastic post and something I really needed to read.

    I don’t have any cash right now but I do have some app ideas and also experience coding html, css and a little javascript. So I just have to learn how to turn this into app programming!

    I’m going to start designing my first app on paper soon and learning the programming side of things.

    I’m a graphic designer by trade so the graphics side is no problem.

    I’ll stop by and let you know how it goes in a few months!

  14. Really great post sunil! Thanks for the link for Oneload, I was looking for something like it. Keep it up!

  15. kathleen says:

    Awesome, Sunil! You’ve inspired me. Now all I need is a good idea!

  16. Paul says:

    Nice detailed post. What are your two apps? I’d like to download them even the paid one. Thanks!

    • Sunil says:

      I will be disclosing at least one Paul, stay tuned. the issue always is, they are profitable for me and the ideas are easily “replicable”. perhaps I will share the next one which is rather complex.

  17. cherry says:

    You’ve inspired me. Now all I need is a good idea

  18. Awesome tips you have here. You just gave me a great idea on what app to build. Thanks for sharing this content, Sunil! You rock!

  19. Viv says:

    Hi Sunil,

    Another hit.

    I’d like to know where one can find information about the biggest advertisers in mobile advertising space. You wrote a wonderful article on that with adsense. Can you do the same with mobile advertisement?


    • Sunil says:

      I would Viv. Google as a public company is required to disclose the ins and outs. the challenge with mobile publishers is 1) the variety and 2) the type of companies these are. I can tell you that iAds is one of the bigger ones. if relevant data does come out at some point, I would def be interested in exploring it further. if you stumble upon any please do share

  20. Wow ! I wonder is it really posibe ??
    Great tips.

  21. cherry says:

    Awesome tips you have here. You just gave me a great idea on what app to build. Thanks for sharing this content, Sunil! You rock!

  22. As usually another detailed and well written post. I didn’t think I would ever finish and some parts I did skim a bit but I like the break down and with 16 apps i like those numbers. Have you found that the larger (whale posts) work will for your site?

  23. John says:

    First time visitor, awesome post and definitely inspiring!

    Quick question, what type of on going maintenance costs should you expect once the app is released? It seems as though every app on my phone has a new update every week.

    • Sunil says:

      welcome to the blog John.

      I have not updated either of mine yet. I anticipate an update to one, not because it’s outdated or will not work, but because I want to make it better and more useful (adding functionality). it just depends on what your app is and what it does. I can potentially leave the 2 alone for as long as iTunes exists

  24. tinny says:

    very useful tips of iphone users

  25. Amit says:

    Reading the post it seems that you have a iPhone Apps development as a service offering via your SEO firm. I have some ideas for the Apps and wanted to know whether you are OK now to take those on for App development.

    • Sunil says:

      hi Amit, yes we definitely have helped some local small businesses develop apps for their customer base. no one on our team actually develops/or does the coding/programming. we facilitate the process utilizing freelancers. you can do this yourself (read my articles on outsourcing) for a lot cheaper. but if you want, please email me and we can chat more.

  26. Hamid says:

    Thank you for sharing a great tips and trick .But there is a doubt ,why we need programming knowledge to make a game or an app?

  27. There’s a world of possibilities to develop innovative mobile apps that can change the way your users work. If you’re like most in-house development teams, you need to focus on creating apps that provide an immediate benefit to users and also deliver a solution in record time.

    • Sunil says:

      this is exactly what the 2 small businesses that hired us have done. they wanted an app to enhance the experience of their existing client base.

  28. Jacob says:

    Great article!!! I have been trying to create an app myself, but I have gotten lost many times in the “graphic” part, believe it or not the technical part is not that had to me, nevertheless you article gave me a clearer view about the process, and even I have a lot of experience bringing traffic to my sites I found very useful the sites you wrote there to get traffic,

  29. Thanks for your resourceful writing.Its a compete package for the new comer and also a good guide for everyone.Really a good one.

  30. Bill says:

    This post is so informative and helpful, so glad i found this website, thanks for the info!!!

  31. Aimee says:

    I love your article about iPhone App development business! You are going global! I’m gonna check out you interesting site.

  32. With the bigger display on iPhone 5, your built-in apps look even more stunning. Apple apps you download from the App Store have been optimized for the new iPhone 5 display. But even if an app hasn’t been updated for iPhone 5, automatic letterboxing lets you use it as you always have. And developers can easily update their apps to take advantage of the larger screen. So you’ll see more, play more, and get more done.

    • Sunil says:

      my initial app was not made for the 5, but it renders just fine on it. like you said, something built into the iPhone I believe is helping make the adjustment

  33. piyush001 says:

    this article is so helpful and provide a so much information..

  34. Estetik says:

    I m always Looking for these kind of stuff, Sharing these kind of information is really helpful to all.Your blog is really nice simple and always provide valuable information to all users.Thanks a lot !

  35. Great article. I am looking into getting into creating apps. The biggest problem I have is coming up with the idea for a successful app. I feel like the ideas I do have could be winners or flops.

    I would love an article on coming up with app ideas and how you research if the idea has profit potential.

    • Sunil S. says:

      that could be a good article. that said, you don’t necessarily need to build the next angry birds. many apps are doing just fine and are profitable. you can take an existing app and improvise on it. if you think about it, most apps are a variation of another existing one

  36. Alicia says:

    this is simply amazing. thank you so much for the hard work putting this together. we have had many app ideas before, but this will help us take action. thank you for doing this.

  37. merlin says:

    Thanks this is very nice tutorial for programmers like me who are interested to write long codes for developing the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch apps. i also like to develop the android apps , so when you will give us tutorial for developing android apps?

  38. Lavindra says:

    This post is therefore informative and useful, therefore glad i found this web site, thanks for the data

  39. One of the Awesome Article i read very candid and deep research for this Niche Thank you so much sharing this most valuable post. Fantastic work.

  40. iPhone helps you keep projects moving with great apps for project management, file-sharing, and document editing. Review project milestones and assign new tasks whenever you have a few minutes between meetings. And if you need to review a document on a tight deadline, you can download it from anywhere and add input right from your iPhone.

  41. We originally created our metrics page in the fall of 2008 to celebrate the App Store reaching a milestone of what at the time seemed amazing, 10,000 apps. There was a tremendous response to that page and to the App Store which is well north of half a million apps now. We’ve added a few more interesting stats and expanded the ones that were there onto this new page. Let us know what else you’d like to see on these page either in the comments below or send us feedback via email . We’ll do what we can to include them in the future.

  42. piyush001 says:

    your provided information is really good and effective.. i like it because it is provided step by step and this is batter for me when i need next steps i get it after the first one..

  43. iPhone helps you keep projects moving with great apps for project management, file-sharing, and document editing. Review project milestones and assign new tasks whenever you have a few minutes between meetings. And if you need to review a document on a tight deadline, you can download it from anywhere and add input right from your iPhone.

  44. good content raised vary valuable information for me….

  45. Zain Ali says:

    Hey there, thanks for sharing it’s such a great post

  46. Ben says:

    Great inspirational and motivational post
    1year ago I was keen on developing an app ( thru outsourcing) but let a friend with recent MBA comments about how competitive it was and how hard to monetize put me off. One must always be persistent and determined. Your detailed comments have re-energized me, and made me feel like an idiot. Advice is good but naysayers are dangerous.

    The comments also are gold, especially May10
    “Sara – ideas can come from personal experience, your industry/trade etc. keep asking whether there is a better way to do this, or answer ” etc etc
    Thanks v much

    • Sunil S. says:

      you are most welcome Ben. and don’t forget, while most people are thinking home runs, even singles and doubles can win a game. small, easy to develop apps that are downloaded a moderate amount can also be profitable

  47. pawan says:

    Its great to know the alternatives for building up the I-phone
    apps , specially for the non programmers side.

    Nice post.

  48. “I observed the market place and used other iPhone Apps out there to get a feel from a user and developer’s perspective.” That is a great tip! While trying out new apps on my iPhone and iPad, I usually wish developers would look at it from the users perspective more often.

  49. haven’t done any reps one like that but think it is creative enough to handle to get the real concern and variety on pages because other appears addicted to do the same stuff

  50. raoasif says:

    Hey Brother,
    thanks for shairing this post and information.
    i like it.

  51. Martina says:

    Wow, incredible blog structure! How lengthy have you ever been blogging for?
    you make running a blog look easy. The total glance of your site
    is magnificent, as neatly as the content material!

  52. I always look to find new ways to generate income from online. Currently, i am earning from data entry and article writing. But after reading your article, i am seriously thinking to develop my own apps.

    Many thanks sir!

  53. Manasa B says:

    thanx for Great Article..i would like to say

    It really points out all of the extra work that needs to be done in addition to building the app. A quick question: I don’t see any links to your iPhone business or your apps. Why not include them in the post

  54. Eve Wright says:

    Hi! Sunil Awesome post you’ve here. It really help me alot. Thanks for the sharing this post keep it up!

  55. Eve Wright says:

    Hi Sunil Awesome post you’ve here. It really work for me. Thanks…..

  56. Hey Sunil!
    Wonderful post having great tips.

    I liked it!!!!!!

  57. rajan jain says:

    Thanks for giving very useful tips for from online income

  58. Hey Sunil

    Your tips are always worth it.


    • Sunil says:

      Jeff – are you working on an app of some sort for your practice? I have always pondered how CPAs like us can utilize this technology in an accounting practice?

  59. ravi says:

    Thanks for giving very helpful tips

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