Feb 10, 2021 Written by David Barlev

What Is Custom Software? The Benefits & Downsides

A group of teammembers sitting together

For business owners and entrepreneurs, it’s important to know what custom software is and how it can help. As the art of software development becomes more and more accessible to beginners, it’s easier to find help bringing digital ideas to life.

So, what is custom software? How can it help your business, and what will it take to get your project launched successfully? Let’s take a look at some ways custom software has shaped business and culture today.

The Bare Bones of Software

A coding screenGetting a computer to perform commands is the basic foundation of all software. Files exist in one location, a program is coded to retrieve those files, and then they are queried and processed. Sounds simple enough, right?

Coding software is the process of taking simple commands and translating them into a language computers understand. One function leads to another, and after some late, energy-drink-fueled nights, a program is born.

While there are many different programming languages today, all of them perform the same task of sending information in and out of circuitry. They are more efficient now, but the same rules of defining each task still apply.

If you want to build a custom program, you’ll have to find a programmer that understands how to translate your needs into something a computer will understand. That means you need to have a clear idea of what your software will do. Without clear expectations, you’re likely to spend a lot more on development than your budget allows, and the end result may still end up wrong.

Planning Out Your Custom Software

A group of coders at a tableBecause each function and command must be written out perfectly, you—the dreamer with the idea—are on the hook for coming up with the basic premise of the program. Start by identifying the problem your app seeks to solve.

The more specific you can be about the nature of the problem, the easier it’ll be for your developer to code out the solution. Don’t have a fully fleshed-out plan for how to proceed? No worries. If there’s still brainstorming to be done, working with a developer to get there is one option.

Your choice in developer is important, obviously. The right team will have some understanding of your needs and wishes. Ideally, they have experience building apps in the industry you’re breaking into. Why? Because the more they know about your line of work, the easier it’ll be for them to lend helpful advice about launching your app successfully.

So, beyond marketing strategy, what’s the best way to put yourself in the user’s shoes and figure out what your software will do? Assuming your marketing plan includes buyer personas, define how they will use the program.

Use case diagrams are a great way to walk through each and every operation to better layout how the program will work. The more you know about the functions of the program, the easier it’ll be to explain them to a developer. Will users need to log in? What data will need to be accessed? Can any functions be shortened?

Ideas for Helpful Programs

There are a million different programs out there offering solutions for your business, but they all share one thing in common: none of them knows exactly what you need. Subscribing to their services may reduce some of the headaches that comes with running a business, but there will always be areas they miss.

Custom software allows you to use simpler solutions that fit your exact needs. For example, you could build a program that tracks customer buying patterns to better design next year’s marketing campaign. While programs like Microsoft Excel can keep tabs on your customer data, having a more usable interface makes it easier for staff to keep records in order.

Consider programs like Expedia, which simply crawl existing databases to calculate the cost of flights and hotels. This function doesn’t create new data, but helps users find information that exists elsewhere.

Whether you want to build a program designed for internal use or you want a web app that can aggregate other data, you can see how custom software can make a big difference in business operations.

Designing a Mobile App

Recently, mobile apps have become a much more popular marketing strategy for companies. Apps keep customers much closer through regular logins and even with push notifications. While it’s important to keep apps limited to what customers need, they can be a nice way to stay fresh in their minds.

There are a few different frameworks for mobile apps. Native apps are those fully hosted on the user’s device. Most or all of the functions take place without any outside data or processing. If a native app requires a connection to the internet to work, it is called a hybrid app.

If an app is accessed from a web browser, it is called a web app. These are the least expensive to build, but they don’t have the same capacity for customization and access as native or hybrid apps.

Building an app is a time-intensive process. On top of that, there are limitations on how apps can be distributed, such as Apple’s App Store approval process. Does it meet accessibility requirements for users with visual or audio handicaps? Will the app be for internal use or for all consumers?

Custom software isn’t complete without considering mobile apps, so make sure that’s part of your inventory when planning out your programs.

Some Drawbacks to Custom Software

A group of coders at a tableThere are many pros to custom software, but there are also some cons worth considering. Possibly the most demanding part of building your own app is finding all the time necessary to properly plan things out before signing a contract for work.

Virtually no custom software is out the door and running in under three months. Sure, it’s probably possible, but who cares? There’s no point in building a program that doesn’t work. Take the time and do it right.

Give yourself a few weeks to answer some basic questions about what to do in order to successfully launch an app. Look over your budget, who you want to use your software, and when you need to have it completed.

Custom Apps Cost Some Dough

Pretty much every app starts somewhere around the $10,000 mark. It’s possible to go cheaper (especially if you adequately plan and trim the fat off your app), but not by too much. If it’s time for your business to get the ball rolling on a custom app, make sure you have the cash to do so.

There are places where you can cut costs, and there are places you can’t. For example, it’s a good idea to ditch the autoplay music that turns on during the login page. It’s a bad idea to hassle your developer about spending too much time building directories.

If your developer doesn’t trust that they’ll be paid, chances are things will go south for your project. Be professional, and make sure they know what you want them to build. The more you can clarify expectations and requirements with your developer, the less time they’ll have to spend exploring options to make the app work.

As a refrain, spend as much time as you can planning out the exact features and functions of your software before paying a developer. Get as much input as possible early on, implement good advice, and be patient.

The Buck Stops with You

When you decide to build something as complex and unique as custom software, there will be some tough decisions throughout the process. Sure, a smart developer will be able to handle many of those problems without your input, but there will be some choices that only you can make. Be prepared to take the lead.

Pre-packaged software takes all the risk out of development—they build a product and sell it as is. If a customer doesn’t like it, they can shop elsewhere or add more features to their subscription. As you can see though, this leaves users with the problem of trying to piece together a functional solution for their needs.

Custom software allows you to steal incorporate others’ good ideas while leaving the less helpful ones out. Any other features you want to include are only a phone call away.

To Wrap It Up

Most IT professionals prefer custom software because the learning curve is minimal. Rather than having to learn an entire suite of features, custom programs usually only require users to understand a few key functions well enough to perform on a daily basis.

Upfront, buying a subscription to pre-packaged software may sound like the better solution. Over time, however, custom software pays for itself while allowing you all rights and permissions to change it as you see fit.

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