Most small businesses use websites and mobile apps for marketing, as a storefront, for client support, or as the core product offering.
Whatever the primary use, the applications had to be developed.
There are three primary sources to develop software. Since costs increase with complexity, the three sources of software development range from simple to complex, and inexpensive to costly.
Out of the Box Software as a Service: The quickest and cheapest way to procure software applications is using a pre-built solution. Many vendors offer solutions right out of the box that can be purchased and used immediately.
Most vendors host it on your behalf in a Software as a Service model. A personal fitness trainer could go to a company like TrueCoach and license their solutions, which could then be deployed to clients. TrueCoach allows business owners to white label their product with brand elements like business logos.
The benefits of this approach are that they’re relatively cheap and fast to get in front of clients. The downside is that you are locked into the features the vendor provides.
Customized Platform as a Service: If a Software as a Service vendor does not offer a solution that meets your needs, there are software vendors with platforms used as a starting point. Shopify, one of the most widely used platforms for hosting online stores, is an example.
Shopify provides the customer with an existing Software as a Service solution that can be used out of the box or customized with features particular to the business. If your business needs a unique feature or payment method that Shopify does not support, Shopify would build the feature or direct you to a business partner to develop it.
Customized solutions are beneficial in that they provide the features to get started quickly, and the ability to white label the application to meet your unique needs. The downsides are that it will cost more than a simple Software as a Service solution, and you will usually be dealing with a software development partner company to get customizations.
You, as the business owner, could be in the middle of disputes between the vendor and the software development partner. You would also need to be clear on your customization requirements to ensure you get what’s needed. The old software development maxim “GIGO” (garbage in, garbage out) applies. The results will only be as good as your ability to specify your needs.
Software Developed from the Ground Up: If your business requirements are sufficiently unique that you cannot find an out of the box solution or one that could be easily customized; you can have a software development company build software from scratch. Many such software development companies provide both general software development services and specialized services within business verticals like on-line stores, health care, finance, etc.
The benefit is that your unique requirements are met. However, it will come at a cost. Also, a completely custom software solution requires that you have an intimate knowledge of what you need it to do. Most often, you would need to find companies to host your software. This adds complexity and cost to deploying software and adds another vendor to manage.
Finally, the cost of developing software can frequently grow as the development company better understands your requirements. The best way to limit cost inflation is to require – as part of phase one – a software development cost and time estimate after they understand your requirements. Of course, there will be a fee for phase one.
Whichever approach you take requires continuous engagement with your Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, or software development vendor. The closer you work with your vendor, the better the chances that you will get the desired outcome at a reasonable cost.
Charlie Morris is a volunteer mentor with SCORE Bucks County. He has worked in the technology industry, focusing on commercial software products for 38 years and served the last 20 years in executive roles. For help for your business including free mentoring services, contact SCORE Bucks County at 215-943-8850 or visit /buckscounty.score.org/.