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How Much Does an App Cost to Develop?

How Much Does an App Cost to Develop?

One Million Dollars

Okay, it’s not likely it will cost that much. But, there are several things that contribute to the cost of your app, and the cost can vary widely from one app to the next. So, while I can’t tell you in this post how much your app will actually cost, I can help you understand what really goes into creating an app and how these things affect your overall cost.

Research & Validation

Many people don’t understand the value of doing adequate research and validating their idea before they spend a dime on development. They think, “I don’t have time for research. Someone’s going to steal my idea if I don’t start building right now.”

Stop and think about it, though. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to invest a little time and money now to determine whether there’s truly a need for the app versus spending a lot on a product that misses the mark? 

Would you rather spend $100,000 on a guess or $10,000 on research and validation to prove your app has (or doesn’t have) a future? If you are able to validate your idea has legs, the knowledge you will have gained with that $10,000 could save you tens of thousands throughout the development process.

Design

Design is another thing that is often undervalued. Creating simple, visually appealing, and user-friendly designs is becoming more and more important. Your users won’t have the patience to figure out how to use your app. It has to be easy. And, believe it or not, easy is sometimes difficult to design.

Keep in mind, though, that done right, the money you spend on a high-quality design will pay off in the form of more—and more satisfied—users.

Development

Before you approach a developer, you’ll want to do some homework. Developers will need a certain amount of information to provide a ballpark figure. Be leery of a developer that provides an exact dollar amount, unless it’s a really small project.

Designing and building apps is not a science. It’s more like building a house. There are lots of variables and decisions to be made throughout the process. Those decisions can have a significant effect on the overall cost.

So, if a developer tells you your app will cost $X, they probably haven’t been developing apps very long and don’t really understand the process. And while you may think knowing the cost up front sounds great, what likely won’t be great is the process and the end result.

A better bet for you is to be forthright and tell the developer what your budget is. Armed with your budget and the information you got from your research and validation, they can then design and build an app you can actually afford. It may not have every feature you can imagine, but that’s ok. You won’t want every feature anyway.

Depending on the idea, you may not even need a fully functional app at first. It may make more sense for you to start with a low-cost prototype to see how users respond to it.

Starting simple will allow you to spend your money wisely on features your users are passionate about, rather than implementing features they don’t end up using.

Legal

This is an area you won’t want to neglect.

Two of the more obvious instances that will likely require legal consultation are:

  1. Your app requires you to pay royalties for music, licensing fees, or graphics.
  2. Your app is medical-related and captures patient information, meaning you will be subject to HIPAA or other laws. This requires your hosting environment to conform to certain rules and regulations. Not only will the hosting environment likely cost more, but you will have to pay to have a third party certify it meets the standard of the law.

And don’t forget about all the legal documents you need to have in place to protect your business. You may need an attorney’s help drafting the terms of use, privacy policy, and/or software license agreement for your app.

Sales & Customer Support

People often put off thinking about non-technical things like sales and customer support until after the app is built. If, instead, you think about these things up front, it could save you money down the road.

Things like:

  • If you’re going to sell your app directly, will you hire a sales force or will you be selling the app in your free time?
  • If you want to sell your app online, you’ll need to determine if you need to build in payment processing.  
  • Are there things that can be built into the app to facilitate sales—upgrades, sharing from within the app, etc.?
  • What type of support do you want to offer users? Help text? Online chat? Something else? There are tools available for support, but most have a monthly charge associated with them.

Marketing

"If you build it, they will come." That might have worked for ghosts in a movie, but it doesn't with software.

You’ll need to have a plan in place for acquiring business, which may include some or all of the following:

  • Branding
  • Website
  • Blog
  • E-newsletter
  • Social media
  • Conferences or trade shows, including a booth, marketing materials, and devices to show how your application works
  • Pay-per-click advertising

Enhancements & Technical Support

Lastly, you’ll want to make sure you budget for the support required to keep the product up and running, as well as the enhancements required to keep the product relevant in the future.

These things are easily overlooked, but critical to your ongoing success.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there’s a lot more that goes into the cost of an app than just paying a developer to write the code. To increase your odds of success, you’ll want to consider all the aspects outlined above up-front.

While it can sound overwhelming, arming yourself with this knowledge will help limit the surprises you encounter along the way and increase your odds of success.