When you run a business, you may inevitably hit a point where you decide that software can help. Whether it be a website for marketing purposes, an app to help with automating workflow, or a solution to give you an edge over your competition, software can solve many use cases and bring many benefits.
But as you start to navigate the world of software you may be faced with information overload and have trouble deciding which route to go.
When dealing with business problems that can be solved with software, generally your solutions fall into two major categories:
- Existing Applications
- This includes apps like Shopify (https://www.shopify.ca/), Pagecloud (https://www.pagecloud.com/), or Freshbooks (https://www.freshbooks.com/). There are so many existing applications out there that can solve your problems for low monthly fees. We sometimes refer to the companies behind these apps as “Product companies”.
- Custom Software
- Custom Software involves hiring a team to build a piece of software specifically for you and your needs. We sometimes refer to the companies behind these pieces of software as “Services companies”. BiteSite falls into this category along with TWG (https://twg.io/) and Thoughtbot (https://thoughtbot.com/).
In this article, we explore some of the biggest pros and cons to choosing custom software as opposed to the alternatives.
PRO #1: Custom software solves your specific problem
The number one reason businesses choose custom software is that none of the alternatives truly solve their problem. Existing applications may come close, but may be missing one or two key features. A lot of times this happens when businesses are in very specific niches or have complex workflows that are not common. They’ll try what’s on the market and end up not satisfied with anything out there. Product companies typically develop software that suits large markets with common issues. If you find yourself in a smaller market that’s not served by existing applications, custom software is a great way to ensure that your chosen solution actually solves your specific problem.
PRO #2: Custom software is optimized for you
When exploring existing applications, they may solve your problem, but they may also solve 100 other problems. There are a few issues with this. First, all these extra features can clutter your experience and get in the way of what you really need. Secondly, all the extra features may actually be overwhelming leading to a frustrating user experience. And third, you may be paying for a lot of functionality that you’ll never use.
With custom software, in general, the features that go into the product are completely dictated by you and your business. This way you can ensure that only what you need goes into the product and nothing more. Furthermore, with a reduced feature set, you get the added benefit of quality over quantity.
PRO #3: Custom software teams are hired to work for you
When using existing applications, they may be incredibly powerful and feature rich, but consider for a second that they may also be serving hundreds of thousands of customers. 95% of the time the app may work great, but there may be 5% that doesn't work so great. So you call up the support team and you make a request to add a feature. The problem here is that your feature request might be competing with hundreds of thousands of other customer requests. While product companies will do their best to address your problem, the reality is they may not get to it for another year or more.
With custom software, you can be sure that your voice will be heard and that the features you want will be prioritized because you'll have a more direct line to the team and the team is generally serving fewer customers. The extra money that you pay for custom software gives you dedicated resources to solve your problems.
CON #1: Custom software is expensive
One of the biggest and most obvious reasons to NOT choose custom software is cost. Existing solutions can cost as little as $10/month, whereas custom software can run you literally tens of thousands of dollars a month. The best custom software is rarely a small 1 to 2 week project. Building custom software requires a solid understanding of the business and their problems, robust software practices, and dedicated resources. This all adds up pretty quick.
CON #2: Custom software takes longer to get up and running
Custom software is typically developed from scratch or at least from a basic framework. When it comes to features, not a lot comes for free. Thus, building everything to your expectation can take a long time. Even the most basic features we take for granted may take some time. For example, you may request the ability to allow users to log in. Simple enough right? Well, what if people forget their password? Ok, let's add a 'Forgot your password?' feature. Well, what if people want to delete their account? Ok, let's add the ability to delete your account and so on and so on. Each one of these features may take a significant effort to design and implement. With existing applications, you can be up and running in literally minutes.
CON #3: Custom software can suffer from lower quality
When talking about the pros - I mentioned that a reduced feature set can lead to higher quality. This is a result of the team spending more effort on fewer features. However, there is another factor that works in the opposite direction.
Generally, Product companies have way bigger teams. With services companies, you may have a team as small as 1 to 10 people working on your project. With product companies, you may have thousands or people working on a single product. Granted, typically product companies are working on products that are more complex, but having a larger, more diverse team can lead to higher quality software. This is not a certainty, but the best product companies in the world are typically doing some of the best work in the industry. That being said, service companies like TWG (https://twg.io/) and Thoughtbot (https://thoughtbot.com/) are really pushing the boundaries of software as well. And is some cases, product companies will acquire service companies because they are so strong in their field.
So, what should you do?
There are many more pros and cons aside from the ones I’ve discussed here, but the important thing is to choose the right tool for the right job. There are situations where existing applications are definitely the way to go, and there are other situations where custom software is the answer. Even though BiteSite is a custom software service company - many times we will forward potential clients onto existing applications because it makes more sense for them.
Deciding can be tough, but there is one saving grace: existing applications are generally cheap to experiment with. You could pay $10/month to try out a cloud product or even sign up for a free trial. If you’re not happy with it, you can start to explore a custom software solution. No huge loss.
The important thing is to do a little research up front before diving deep. And in my experience, people from both sides will give good advice even if that means directing you away from their business.