In this article, we will tackle one of the first questions we get asked by our customers. How much does custom software cost to build?
It is a tough question to answer for anyone in the industry, even when you’ve been building software for decades because it really depends.
The Short Answer
In our experience, the majority of custom software projects fall somewhere between the $40,000 and $250,000 mark to design and develop the application.
It’s a broad range, and probably not that useful if you are ready to put a number in your budget. That’s because software can mean anything from a calculator on your phone to a full enterprise billing system that supports millions of users. No two custom-built applications are the same.
To get a better idea of where you might fall on the spectrum, below are the factors that we find have the biggest impact on a project’s cost.
Biggest Impacts on Software Cost
This one is straight forward. The more screens/pages you have, the more work that needs to be done to build your application, and the more expensive it will be to deliver.
Small applications range from 10-25 screens, medium are in the realm of 25-40 and large is anything more than 40.
What constitutes a screen? Generally, you would count anything that the user sees when they first come to your application, and then each unique screen behind every button click, link click or menu click.
Just so you know, a screen to view customer information and a screen to edit customer information are two different screens, even though they show the same information.
Complicated logic means more time coding and testing. If your application performs a lot of heavy analysis, scoring or number crunching, or if your secret sauce has a lot of nuances and permutations, your application probably has some complexity to it that warrants special attention.
Creative design is fun! This is where you get to select your fonts, color palettes, and images as well as have custom illustrations and animations made to give your application some sizzle.
Like when you decorate a house or buy a new wardrobe, there are nice options, there are extravagant options, and there is a range in between.
We typically recommend a budget of about $8,000 – 16,000 to cover coming up with the design and going through a few iterations of feedback and re-design. If you need more design time or have a lot of custom artwork that needs to be created, then the cost of the project will go up.
Integration With Other Systems
Integrating with external software introduces a lot of unknown variables into the equation. You just don’t know how well the other system let’s information in or out, and what hoops you have to jump through in the process.
Sometimes the integrations are effortless and sometimes they are extremely difficult. Typical integrations like payment providers such as PayPal or Authorize.Net are extremely easy to integrate with. The same goes for credit check services from Equifax or Experian.
But older, or lesser known systems may pose a challenge and increase the project cost.
Migration of Existing Data
If you have data in an existing system that needs to go into your new application, assuming it is more than you can feasibly type in by hand, then you will need migration. Migration is nothing more than custom scripts that take data out of your old system, dust it off and reshape it so it can fit into your new system.
The steps of the process are fairly straight-forward, but there are a lot of questions and decisions that need to be made as the two systems will store the data differently.
Most migration efforts are run a few times after the software is finished to make sure everything got translated correctly, and the new system is using the data as desired. The effort of figuring out the translation rules, writing the scripts, and performing a series of tests and adjustments, will add time and cost to the project.
Designing to Budget
Similar to building a house, software can be designed to fit a certain budget. You may want a butler’s pantry and a finished basement but if it doesn’t fit your numbers, these may be lower priority items that you decide to not include in the project.
The same goes for building custom software. A good software development team can take your ideas, and create a design with a target budget in mind. Once the initial design and cost estimate are complete, certain features can be added or removed to hit your target number. It is worth while to put a reasonable number to your target budget when you start a project.
But what is reasonable? Well, we all know that you can’t build much of a house for $10,000. Similarly, you can’t build much software for $10,000. If your budget falls somewhere between the $40,000 – $250,000 range, and matches the size figures shared above, with allowances given to the factors that typically increase cost, chances are it can be designed to your budget.
The Checklist For Sharing Your Software Vision
Before you get started in developing your software app, your thoughts and ideas should be clarified and written down so they can be consistently and easily shared and understood. To help you get started on the right foot, we have created a checklist.