Custom Software Costs: 4 Tips for an Accurate Custom Software Estimate Blog Feature

By: Dave Devitt on July 24th, 2018

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Custom Software Costs: 4 Tips for an Accurate Custom Software Estimate

Business Management

The potential return on investment of custom software is very high, making the costs well worth your while. Before starting the project, however, you first need to lay the groundwork so that you can have a better estimate of what the final expenses will actually be.

If you aren’t sure how much you can afford, or you don’t have a clear set of priorities, then a development partner can help you understand how far a given budget will take you. However, if you don’t have either a budget or a list of objectives for the project, then speaking with potential development partners is a waste of time at this stage. Since you’ll have to come up with these once you speak to the developer anyway, it’s better to come prepared to the conversation.

While an estimate is only ever a rough picture of the project’s true budget, there are nevertheless steps that you can take to ensure that your estimate is as close to the mark as possible. Following the four tips below will help you get the most accurate custom software estimate and increase the chance of your project’s success.

1. Have A Clear Goal In Mind

The more transparent your intentions for the project, the better your custom development partner will understand your needs and the more easily you can evaluate the project’s success. You should be able to describe not only what you want the software to do, but how exactly it will do it and which of your pain points it will alleviate while doing so.

Not sure how to start thinking about these issues for your custom software project? Try filling in the blanks with a sentence such as: [type of software] helps [intended users] to [main goal] by [key features]. For example, employee management software helps HR professionals to streamline productivity and increase efficiencies by tracking applicants through the hiring process and creating detailed employee profiles for PTO, timesheets, and performance tracking.


Set your custom software development project up for success from the start! Our free checklist outlines key steps to take in the planning process.

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2. Do Your Homework

In order to come up with these goals, you may have to do some research both internally and externally.

Within your organization, be sure to get the right key stakeholders involved. These people can have some of the most valuable feedback about the most important features to consider.

Be sure to speak with a wide variety of employees as well, from the software’s potential users to managers and executive staff. Many of these people can pull from their previous job experiences to make suggestions and give advice about what to include (or not to include).

Collecting this information in advance will help you assemble a list of features and functionality that you can present to your development partner before getting a quote. By defining as much of this list as possible, you can avoid the risk of re-scoping and make sure that your original estimate most accurately reflects the completed work.

You should do your homework externally as well. Start by reading up on the technical aspects of successful pre-built software or custom software projects in your field. They might have key features that you’re overlooking, or they might lack certain features that you want to include.

3. Prioritize Key Features

In software development, knowing what to leave out is often just as crucial as what to include. Trying to build a single “all-in-one” application usually results in bloated, unwieldy software that employees won’t enjoy using and don’t find useful. What’s more, your ROI will be lower because you’ll be spending money on features you don’t really need.

It’s important to distinguish between features that are “must-haves” for your business and those that are only “nice-to-haves.” Tangential features that don’t contribute to the main thrust of the software, or that only improve the user experience, will have little impact on the software’s ROI. Adding these features should only be done if you’re able to spend more time and money developing them.

Some of the most common “must-have” features that companies request for their custom software are:

  • Cloud access
  • Project management
  • Financial management and forecasting
  • Client portals
  • Integrations with other third-party software

4. Don’t Let Developers Do All The Work

The three steps above should be done well before you start talking to potential development partners. Even the best custom software development companies don’t know your business or industry like you do. While they can make technical recommendations about what features are feasible or within your budget, they can’t always intuit what you need the software to do.

At the end of the day, the software will be your product. By communicating as much as possible and putting in the work ahead of time, you’ll get a better result. Don’t rely on the developer to make decisions for you and tell you what you need.

Final Thoughts

When you put in the work ahead of time to consider your needs and objectives, your custom software development project stands a much better chance at success. Want to cover all your bases before speaking with a custom development partner? Take a look at our project planning checklist to make sure that you’ve accounted for everything.

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