As larger club operators such as Crunch Fitness and Gold’s Gym roll out mobile applications for their members, many smaller club owners may be contemplating whether to invest in one, too.

According to CNN Money, more than 34 million iPhones were sold in the first quarter of 2012. Google reports that 850,000 Androids are being activated every day, bringing the total number of active Android smartphones and tablets to more than 300 million. Cisco Systems predicted mobile traffic will double in 2012.

These facts are the reason small club owners must have a mobile presence, according to Joe Martello, a business development manager at Bottega Sol, Chicago. Mobile apps engage members and strengthen connections between the club and its customers, he says.

Despite the growth of the mobile market and the benefits that apps offer, some small club operators are hesitant to create their own app because of the cost, but the cost of creating a mobile app varies.

Martello says that the annual cost of ownership for a mobile app can be anywhere from $55,000 to more than $150,000, which includes the cost to create the app and maintain it.

“Mobile apps require a substantial investment from a club operator for the development phase, implementation and the ongoing support and maintenance,” Martello says.

However, Andy Wigderson, vice president of sales and marketing for CSI Software, Houston, knows club operators who have created a mobile app with a budget of $5,000.

And Casey Conrad, president of Communications Consultants, knows operators who have created apps for just $500.

The cost will vary depending on the complexity of the mobile app. The more complex the mobile app needs to be, the more the club operator will spend on it, Conrad says. Maintenance often is the highest cost factor of a mobile app, she adds, citing software updates as a constant expense.

“There’s always some sort of maintenance on an ongoing basis,” Conrad says. “You have to constantly monitor an app to make sure things are functioning correctly.”

Martello says products such as MiGym, the mobile app platform created by Bottega Sol for the fitness industry, can be a more cost-effective way to create an app, ranging in cost from $99 to $299 per month. With MiGym, clubs brand their own app with features such as Book It, a facet of the app that allows members to book personal training and spa-related services.

Club owners also can set up their mobile apps to allow members to do things such as look up club hours, sign up for classes or use a calorie counter.

Although Wigderson says that club owners should get into the mobile market, he advises them to first create a mobile strategy. By doing so, they will have a clearer sense of their goals for the app.

“It’s like your website strategy,” Wigderson says. “You have a website for the club, you have a strategy for that—the look, the feel, what you want to accomplish. You have to apply those same principles for your mobile app.”

Conrad says that the bottom line is to determine the purpose that a mobile app will serve. If the app is not going to retain members or generate revenue, it will not be worth its price.

Conrad notes that although mobile apps can have a high price tag, they also offer many ways to earn revenue. Clubs can do several things—from charging members to use the app to selling advertising— to help balance out the expenses of maintaining it.

Members primarily want a club’s hours and contact information in an app, says David Buzo, the owner of MONA Group and the community marketing manager for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, NC. Buzo adds that clubs should create two separate apps: one for members and one for nonmembers.

The nonmember app can offer a guest pass that allows prospects to try out the club. The member app can offer a discount that will appear as a message on the members’ phones, prompting them to visit the gym.

If a club operator is not ready for the expense of mobile apps for members and nonmembers, an alternative is to create a mobile website, Buzo says. A good mobile website will be easy to use and bookmark, creating a similar Web presence as an app but without as high of a price tag.

“I think there is a lot more value in a mobile site than an app because you have the two major platforms—Apple and Android— and you need to have a different app for each one,” Buzo says. “So I would look at putting more funds and efforts into a mobile site than an app.”

Regardless of whether a club owner decides to create a mobile app or stick with a mobile-friendly website, Buzo says going mobile is necessary for a fitness club of any size.