More people than ever before are glued to their smartphone.

Between 2011 and 2014, smartphone usage rose by 394 percent, according to comScore. This same study found that 91 percent of all adults now have their smartphone within reach 24 hours a day.

What you may not realize is that slightly more than half of all digital media is now consumed on a mobile device, according to eMarketer, and comScore says 11.3 percent of all web browsing is done solely on a mobile device.

Should your small business have a mobile first strategy, even if your IT budget is limited?

There is compelling evidence to suggest that prioritizing mobile might be a good idea, although how far your business goes with its mobile strategy depends on several individual factors, including:

  • Your intended customer base
  • Your business objectives
  • Your budget

The main thing is to ask the question and go in with eyes wide open.

“The answers to those questions will guide your planning and progress as you help your brand take the next step (or its first steps) toward building its mobile ecosystem,” noted Matt Carinio at digital consultancy Hathway.

Here are some things to consider as you mull it over.

Mobile has its own special needs

Google now penalizes websites that don’t have a mobile-ready site. This is more than just heavy-handedness by a tech giant: With mobile users now accounting for the most web browsing, sites that don’t optimize for mobile are less useful.

The amount of text on a page must be less, design needs to be clean for small screens, load times must be fast, and the role of visuals is more important. This doesn’t necessarily require a big investment in developing custom apps, however.

This doesn’t necessarily require a big investment in developing custom apps, however.

“For smaller businesses with smaller budgets, introducing a mobile-friendly platform into the marketing mix does not necessarily have to imply huge investment,” suggests U.K. consultancy Pomegranate.

“If budget restricts the development of a mobile-specific app, businesses can opt to simply mobile-optimize their website for fast loading and ease of use on mobile devices, ensuring that potential customers can still access the content they are seeking even if it isn’t via a bespoke built app.”

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Apps open up opportunities

Not that there’s anything wrong with developing an app for your mobile audience; it makes a lot of sense, in fact.

Building your own app is far less expensive and time-consuming than it used to be, thanks to app development frameworks and code snippets that can be dropped in for instant app functionality.

Some of the benefits of using an app include having a permanent place on your customer’s phone, more analytics functionality, a better user experience, and features that can take advantage of smartphone hardware like the phone’s camera.

One feature that your businesses will want to strongly consider is click-to-call functionality. When a customer wants to connect with your business, all they must do is press a button on the app and they’ll instantly be connected with one of your customer service representatives.

“Features like click-to-call make a huge difference in terms of the mobile customer experience,” noted founder Tony Zhao, who runs a firm that helps businesses add voice and video chat functionality to apps cheaply and with only a few lines of code. “When you can find a product on your phone and talk with a customer service rep instantly, with a single click, it sets the table for the sale.”

Shopping is increasingly mobile

If your business sells goods in the real world, understand that mobile is now an integral part of the shopping experience.

Three-quarters of all mobile users use their devices while shopping in stores, comScore reports. Three out of five web searches are also performed via mobile devices, and an estimated 90 percent of these searches by phone result in either a store visit or an outright purchase.

Businesses that don’t support mobile adequately risk losing out during the buying process to businesses that can interface with this mix of shopping and web browsing. Small businesses need to ask themselves if their competition is better represented on mobile, and if there’s an opportunity for taking advantage of the mobile shopping trend.

Mobile marketing just works better

Consumers are inundated with marketing messages, and it can be hard for your small business to stand out from the crowd. Marketing budgets are also tighter for small businesses, and every dollar must have an impact.

This suggests that small businesses should have a mobile focus; 70 percent of all Americans said they would be interested in promotional offers via their smartphone, and a delightfully high 22 percent of mobile coupons are shared with one or more friends.

Part of this is the immediacy that mobile marketing delivers. OpenMarket has reported that 95 percent of text message coupons are opened within the first fifteen minutes of arrival. That’s huge.

Millennials are living by their smartphones

If your business caters to the largest demographic group today—the Millennial generation—mobile plays a big role.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are now 75.3 million Millennial consumers, compared with only 74.9 million Baby Boomers. More than 85 percent of this young but plentiful generation uses a smartphone, according to comScore, and 20 percent rely on it for web browsing. Three-quarters do online research before they buy, and one in five only use their smartphone for browsing.

“The biggest generation yet is growing up on their smartphones, and in order to grow with them, a business needs to get into the mobile game and develop a mobile strategy—or get left behind,” noted Zhao at

There are significant reasons why a business might want a mobile-first strategy: the special needs of mobile, the stickiness of apps, mobile shopping, increased marketing muscle, or because they target Millennials.

Now you know how important a mobile-first strategy is, it’s time to start collecting data.

Small businesses “must learn what their users really want,” according to the Pomegranate. “In some cases this may purely mean that simplicity is what is required while in others it might call for a full-scale mobile-optimized experience.”

Get learning.

AvatarJT Ripton

JT Ripton is a business consultant and a freelance writer out of Tampa. JT has written for companies like T-Mobile and others. You can follow him on Twitter @JTRipton.