Custom Development or Out-Of-The-Box Solutions
Knowing when and what to buy versus building custom software can make all the difference in your business.
I've seen the digital agency knee jerk reaction of "you need to build this complicated thing to grow your business" more times than I want to count. In fact, a big reason I started Pilgrim Blue is because of the ever present urge of wanting to lean into a client and whisper "you could probably get by with Squarespace". The stigma of using out-of-the-box solutions is so strong that it wouldn't surprise me if some readers just dropped off at the mere mention of Squarespace.
The wise business owner knows not to invalidate a potential solution immediately and when that potential solution is potentially cost effective and more efficient, it's worth research on face value alone. Think about it like this, you arrive in Minnesota for a meeting. You need transportation to meeting and technically speaking you have a number of options. You can take a car, rent a car, or buy a car. Right away you would invalidate buying a car, because even though you could buy a car that met all your needs perfectly, not all of your needs are the priority right now. You only need to decide if you should take a car or rent one.
Pilgrim Blue believes that this distinction is important to software development as well. When addressing the digital needs of your business, sometimes it's better to rent before you buy. To me, this is where solutions like Sqaurespace come into play. To help you decide on the best course of action, here are some of the factors we look at when working with our clients.
Do you need up to date content?
Are you able to staff a technology team to manage the website or content within your app? If not, then an out-of-the-box solution is worth looking into. We've used solutions like WordPress or Contentful at times to distribute content across channels. These products are perfect when you need to communicate regularly with your customers online and don't need something custom and in many cases these solutions would outperform even the most well crafted custom software.
When you compare the short term cost associated with an out-of-the-box solution with a full blown custom build out, the benefits are clearly on the side with the out-of-the-box software. This brings me to my next point.
What's the best use of your budget?
The lower upfront cost and ability to get online and operational quickly is one of the key values I find in SquareSpace. You can get a templated site up and out in a day and within a week have basic analytics up and running as well as lead generation forms, customer prompts to advance them through the sales funnel, MailChimp and social media integration as well as a content publishing platform.
The reduced cost comes at the expense of customization, but that's another hurdle you can easily leap since SquareSpace includes the ability to be switched into developer mode for deep customization that can be done in low cost sprints instead of all at once.
The other consideration is to vet where to best allocate your budget. $30k spent launching a custom website is a significant gamble, especially when it's being driven by the profit motive of a seperate business. Instead you could invest $10k in upfront strategic consulting that provides a full reccomendation and an assessment of your current capabilities and then phase in a suite of services with the remaining $20k in budget.
What's your risk tolerance?
This is where the $30k budget really gets into some scrutiny. Let's take a look at this $30k spent two different ways:
Custom Built Solution With An Agency
(Assuming an average rate 0f $150/hour)
- Strategy: 40 hours
- Design: 40 hours
- Development: 120 hours
- Testing: 20 hours
- Ongoing Maintenance: 20 hours/ month
Total Initial Spend: $33,000
Recurring Spend: $3,000/month
This budget is just time, and is a very aggressive budget. This doesn't factor in addition material cost, like domains, servers, and licenses.
Strategic Consulting & Out-of-the-Box Solutions
(Using Pilgrim Blue's base rate of $100/hour)
- Pilgrim Blue:
- Consulting: 60 hours
- Design: 20 hours
- Service Integration: 20 hours
- Out-of-the-Box Solutions:
- Site Builder: $240 - $480/Year
- DNS: $20/Year
- CRM: $500 - $2400/Year
Total Consulting Spend: $10,000
Max Annual Spend: $2,900
Based on these rough figures, going with Pilgrim Blue would save over $20k in the upfront cost. To me, this is being risk tolerant, by reducing the upfront cost you are left with $20k to use strategically to improve your results instead of needing to go back to the well and have patch upon patch. By using Out-of-the-Box software you eliminate the need to do extensive testing as well.
For the growing business this cost saving can help you get competitive and keep up with the competition through marketing instead of infastructure costs.
When should you build instead of buy?
All of the above shouldn't scare you off building custom software. For us, it's a matter of exhausting the other options first. If you have invalidated buying a solution there's a few things to be aware of before jumping into a custom build.
Be sure to assess the long term cost.
Make sure you roadmap a plan of the total cost of the first year of operation for the custom solution. For Pilgrim Blue we like to include an estimated annual cost in our custom build proposals. For us this helps address long term issues and keep our clients informed on thier expectations.
Bite off only what you can chew.
The custom software should be targetted and scalable so that it can grow with your business. This is less an excercise of risk management and more of a strategic move. The most important information you can gather about custom software or websites isn't if it worked or not, but what worked and what didn't. In order to reproduce results, you need the data to back it up. This also stresses the importance of analytics and multivariant testing as part of your long term growth plan.
Find a vendor that helps discover the right solution
In the process of selecting an agency, you need to look for a group that's not just there to take your ask and turn it into software but that understands not just what you're asking for but why you're asking for it. Sometimes the genuine solution requires you to dive deeper than the immediate task.