Ty Anderson

A Guide for making money in the Office App Store

Given all the developer guides we have posted that cover the upcoming Office App Store, we thought it would be useful to offer a guide for making money with it. I’d love to say it is as easy as 1-2-3 but it isn’t. Few things are.

But after spending the better part of the last week reading everything there is to read, I can say it is as easy 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. The Office App Store might prove to be a money making vehicle for (some) developers. But, as this guide explains, success requires more than the ability to develop a good Office app.

How to make money with the Office Apps Store

Success requires a a good idea combined with a plan and the ability to execute. Below, is our 7-Step guide to make money with the Office App Store.

1. Know it

The best place to begin is at the beginning. We’ve done a lot to inform you about Apps for Office & SharePoint in these blog posts:

Is the new app model the biggest thing since sliced bread… or VBA… or VSTO… or COM? I don’t know. This questions will remain unanswered for now as the app store is yet out of beta. But suffice it to say that the Office App Store is a place for developers to submit apps and customers to purchase them. Developer get paid and customers get a problem solved. At least in theory.

The Office app store embraces a Cloud App Model; meaning you build the UI & Client-side logic with HTML+JavaScript+CSS. The client side logic calls web-services, etc. which are hosted on your server, azure, etc.

Thanks to Microsoft Account, apps follow your users on multiple devices. Upgrades are easy. At least in theory.

For additional background and stuff I left out:

Introducing the new Office cloud app model
The Office App Store
What you can do in an app for SharePoint
What you can do in an app for Office
Core development concepts for apps for Office
Best practices for developing apps for Office

2. Plan it

You want to build great apps that people pay to use. These people are called customers and they tend to be a persnickety lot. You will have some that purchase your app on a whim (like with consumer apps where users spend their own money). But apps for SharePoint are business user play. Business users will spend their company’s money. Businesses do not spend money without planning.

Business wants to know a few things. Typically the list includes these items:

  1. Does it solve our problem?
  2. Does the cost of the solution out weigh the pain and cost of our problem (is it worth it)?
  3. Is the software vendor reputable and reliable?
  4. Does the app vendor provide great support?
  5. If the app turns out to be junk, does the vendor offer a money-back guarantee?
  6. Can I trial the software before giving away our hard-earned cash?
  7. Does the app have a roadmap?
  8. How often is the app updated?
  9. Etc.

Before you build your app, you need to have answers for these questions and communicate this information on your website, in your marketing, within your app… anywhere and everywhere can.

Question #1 is the question that receives my 90% of my focus. I think that’s okay. We are developers after all. So go ahead, answer this question and design how it will do it. But don’t neglect the other questions as they force you to think about your target market and how you will serve them.

To know how your customers will be thinking about apps, read this :: Plan for apps for SharePoint for SharePoint 2013 Preview

3. Build it

Now this is the fun part. All you need to do is configure your developer environment and start writing code that implements your plan.

You have two choices:

  1. Use Visual Studio 2012 with the Microsoft Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio 2012 –or–
  2. Use NAPA

Both of these tools are developer environments for writing code. In either case, you will need an Office 365 developer account.

For additional background and stuff I left out:
What’s Napa?
Configure an environment for apps for SharePoint (SharePoint 2013 Preview)
How to: Set up an environment for developing apps for SharePoint on Office 365
How to: Set up an on-premises development environment for apps for SharePoint
Important aspects of the app for SharePoint architecture and development landscape
Data storage options in apps for SharePoint

Create Apps using Napa
How to: Create a basic autohosted app in SharePoint 2013
How to: Create a basic provider-hosted app for SharePoint
How to: Create a basic SharePoint-hosted app

4. Publish it

After your build your app, publishing it is easy. Easy… that is… if you have successfully created your Office 365 Seller account. Creating this account isn’t difficult but it does require that you fulfill a few prerequisites. Prerequisites that do require significant effort.

Here are some of the prerequisites:

  • A Microsoft account (formerly known as Microsoft Live ID)
  • A logo
    • 96×96 pixels (.png, .jpeg, or .gif formats only)
    • it must not suck (actually that isn’t a requirement, but for your own sake, make it a good one)
  • Name
    • your app store display name
    • needs to match your company’s name from your Articles of Incorporation
  • Company Description
    • marketing speak… what does your company do? What type of apps do you provide? Etc.
  • Website URL
    • this needs to be a real website, not some 1-page brochure.
    • it should include information about
      • your company
      • your apps
      • support
      • how to contact support

Completing this form takes a few minutes. When done, you submit and wait for Microsoft to perform their due diligence. They will confirm your company exists and that you are who you say you are. They will also rummage around your site.

Check your seller dashboard page ever day to see the status. If you pass, you will see the approval on the dashboard. If, for some reason you fail, you can see the reason. Simply correct it and try again.

I failed at first but easily corrected the issue, re-submitted my application, and succeeded. I’m ready to sell some apps!

For additional background and stuff I left out:

Create a seller account
Licensing apps for Office and SharePoint
Publish apps for Office and SharePoint
Publishing your app for Office
Validation policies for the apps submitted to the Office Store (version 1.2)
How to package an app using Visual Studio
Deploying and installing apps for SharePoint: methods and options
How to: Add apps in the Microsoft Seller Dashboard

5. Market it

Marketing is about building sales channels… avenues or pathways that help prospects find you. Sure you can publish ads with Google Ads, Facebook, and Bing. These are obvious choices but the competition for the top 3 spots can be intense and expensive. So give it a go here but be creative and try other avenues to market your apps.

Avenues like these:

  • Office App Contest
  • The App Store itself (provided you make an effective listing)
  • TrafficVance
  • Relevant publications :: if your app helps Oil & Gas drillers manage well data… find an Oil & Gas magazine and advertise in it!
  • LinkedIn :: LinkedIn is turning into a useful business networking tool. I don’t see why it can’t be effective for selling apps to business users.
  • Blogs :: find blogs that attract your target market. Negotiate some advertising rates and advertise. Bam! Get some new customers.
  • Trade shows & conferences :: Don’t get a booth. That’s for suckers. No no, go as an attendee and network. Design a creative business card that advertises your app and hand them out to everyone that invades your personal space. Offer a discount on the card. Bam!
  • Email newsletters
  • Lastly, don’t neglect your own website. Update it regularly. Publish a blog on it. Engage your customers by giving them some of the “inside baseball” of your business. Let them know there is a plan and build an expectation for the next version… which leads us to #6 on the list.

6. Maintain it

After you publish your app and gain a few customers (or a lot of customers), you need to maintain it. This means supporting your customers as they think up ways to use your app that you were too un-creative to think of in the first place. It also means gaining their feedback and using it to build a roadmap for future releases.

When you are ready to release a new version of you app, the Office App Store will be ready.

Managing apps
Updating apps

7. Earn it

Can you make money with the Office App Store?

I don’t know if you can or if you can’t. I believe it depends on a combination of your ideas, your skills, and your pricing model.

A better question is “Is it possible to make money with the Office App Store?” The answer to this question is affirmative. It’s possible because the App Store not only allows you to publish your apps to the store, but also allows you to charge people to use you wares. The question you need to answer is:

Which business model is right for your app?

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