Oct 29, 2018 Written by David Barlev

Building An App On A Budget: The Entrepreneur’s Guide (Part 1)

When you’re ready to pull the trigger and make a move on finally bringing your app idea to life, you’re going to hear a lot of mixed messages. Some people will tell you not to bother unless you have an endless supply of cash. Others will say you should bootstrap it, and spend as little as humanly possible.

The reality, though, falls somewhere in the middle. While it’s true you’re going to need some cash to make this thing happen, there are some areas where you need to spend, and some that you don’t.

The advice below is assuming you’ve done the work to validate your idea through customer and market research, and have come up with a product that meets a current market gap. Once you’ve got all your ducks in a row, it’s time to take action on turning your idea into a reality.

But, the reality of building an app on a budget is often quite different from the expectation. Things change, and costs can soar. The most important thing is to have a plan and to have a strategy to stick to that plan.

This blog post started out as a simple list but has turned into a comprehensive guide. We’ve split into 3 blog posts!

building an app on a budget

Here are some proven ways to keep your app project on budget, and tips to help you cut costs where it makes sense:

Start with clear product goals

Clearly defined product goals are essential for the success of any project, especially if you’re building an app on a budget. When you’re working with a limited budget, this becomes even more important.

You want to clarify important things like:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What does the customer journey map look like?
  • Why do consumers need your product, and what specific problems will it address?
  • Who are your main competitors? What makes you different?
  • What specific results do you expect to achieve after your launch?

In this early stage, you also want to complete your preliminary market research and conduct customer surveys. You should build out a list of your app’s desired features, and rank them in terms of importance (more on this point later).

Additionally, you should decide on your app’s monetization strategy. Will it be a paid download or a freemium model? There are plenty to choose from, so take your time on this one.

Choose the right pricing model for your business and your project

When you’re building an app on a budget, there are different ways you can hire help. The most common ways to compensate your builder or software development team will be hourly, or by a fixed project fee. There are pros and cons to each approach, so it’s important you fully understand the scope of your project before making this decision.

For example, a fixed project price can seem like a good idea, especially when you’re on a tight budget. But what happens when you receive customer feedback and want to make a change? No dice if the contract’s been signed.

Be honest with yourself about your financial reality

Don’t dive into a major project with the anticipation that you’ll somehow be able to come up with the money you need along the way. If you’re trying to control app-building costs, be honest about your financials and come up with a plan that works within your budgetary constraints.

Some developers will have pricing models that tailor to low-budget mobile app builds, so seek those out if that’s the position you’re in. The point here is to understand what you’re dealing with and plan accordingly.

Worst case scenario? You blow through your budget and your project is only 25% done. Don’t be that guy – plan and be honest with yourself about what you can (and can not) afford.

Understand what factors will influence the price of your app

If you want to maintain control of potentially soaring app-building costs, it’s important to comprehend what specific features and choices can push you over the edge.

Typically, your app’s build cost will be primarily influenced by:

  • The platform you’re building on (mobile, wearable, web, etc.)
  • Product type (is this an MVP or finished product?)
  • Mobile platform types
  • Required technologies
  • Key product features
  • The developer or software team you partner with

Take stock of your different price-points for each option, to ensure you’re selecting what aligns with both your goals and budget.

Start with one platform only

This can be a difficult choice, but it’s one that can save you tons of money in your early stages. No one wants to alienate a group of users; that goes without saying. But the reality is that the more platforms you build for, the more it’s going to cost.

If you’re trying to control and keep down app-building costs, start with selecting the platform you believe the majority of your users are on. You’ll need to select either Android or iOS and even take it a step further to decide which device ranges you’ll support. Do the research and price comparisons early so you can approach this aspect with a solid plan in place.

Do not skip the MVP process

It can be enticing to jump right into creating your final product, but the saying “The cheap comes out expensive” really does apply in the app building world. Your app isn’t going to be built overnight, and you can’t build something based on old news and feedback. Consumer wants and demands will change often, not to mention that your competitors could easily be planning their next big move.

We’ve written quite a lot about the importance of the MVP process, and even created a comprehensive guide to walk you through Creating Your First App.

In that guide and several other posts, we dig into the importance of taking the time to create an MVP before finalizing your end product. If you truly desire to build something that people are going to love, your best bet is to get their feedback and suggestions once they’ve been able to hold your minimum viable product in their hands and test it out for themselves.

This is one of those areas where you do not want to try and save through skimping. It’s an error that can cost you big bucks in the long-run if you wind up creating a product that nobody wants. This can literally be the difference between success and failure.

The great part about this process is that even when you’re on an insanely tight budget, there is always a way to get creative and build out some version of MVP for your target customers to test.

Types of MVP’s include:

  • Product wireframe or mock-up
  • Interactive product prototype
  • Mobile or web version with 1-3 key features
  • Landing page with either mock-up or prototype that collects email addresses

If you really need to bootstrap your MVP, slap up a simple landing page that will validate your idea through collecting contact information and introducing your idea. It doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to happen. That’s exactly what Dropbox did and just look at them now.

Here are some proven ways to keep your app project on budget, and tips to help you cut costs where it makes sense:

Don’t let your features get out of control

The features of your app will be extremely important but they’re something that will need to evolve over time. You probably have plenty of great ideas, but incorporating all of them into the very first version of your app isn’t a good idea, for several reasons.

The obvious one here is cost, but you also want to consider the future needs and wants of your customers. You can’t decide all the features before people get to try it out and show you what they want – so you need to approach this with a strategy.

The best policy is to break your desired features into 3 categories:

  • Critical features
  • Important features
  • Additional features

Everything can seem critical at first, but you need to get real and break it down. What are the core components that will allow your app to function and provide the desired outcome to your users? Everything else will have to wait.

Get an idea of what each feature is going to run you, so you can understand what your total vision looks like financially. Build out the critical features only, and then work on adding those important and additional features once they’ve been validated by your users.

Don’t forget to account for your maintenance costs

Don’t forget that there’s going to be a constant stream of recurring maintenance costs, so you need to account for those in your budget. You may have to pay regular fees to 3rd party service providers to support some of your features, plus you’ll need to roll out regular updates of your own.

Maintaining a great product won’t happen for free, so make sure you understand what your ongoing costs will be as you’re making your development choices. Ensure you understand beforehand what any potential functional, administrative, infrastructure, IT support, and other costs may be.

Some of the most common recurring costs that catch people by surprise are:

  • Data storage
  • iOs and Android updates
  • Development tools and support
  • App update submissions
  • Servers
  • APIs
  • Push notifications

Select the right development partner

Typically, entrepreneurs and founders will go down a few different paths when they have a business idea they’re ready to turn into an app.

Sometimes, the creators are developers themselves and know exactly how to handle the build. Those people typically don’t require much outside assistance.

More often than not, the founder will need outside help for the build. The most common options are:

  • Hire a freelancer or remote developer
  • Hire a software development team or agency
  • Build an in-house development team

This is a big decision and not one we can guide you on, so it’s important you take the time to do your homework in this area. We are obviously a software development agency, so our belief is that we provide the best possible solution for our clients. If you want the right balance of technology, experience, skill, accountability, and cost, hiring an agency is your best bet.

Either way, the most important thing here is that you do your homework and make the choice that best aligns with your budget, risk tolerance, and comfort level.

Well, that about wraps this guide up! This wasn’t meant to be such a monster, but once we got started, there were just too many important elements to leave anything out on this subject.

When you’re diving into building your first app, a major part of your success will rely on you figuring out the financials and ensuring you can meet your goals without blowing all your funds.

Let us know if you think there’s anything we missed on this list!