Pricing is always an interesting conversation to have - especially when it comes to software. It is a difficult conversation to have because you can quickly turn a two month project into a four month project by agreeing to add one feature. The short answer to the pricing question is - it depends on what you want done.
At dock90 the web apps I build range from $20k - $200k+. There are many factors that influence the price. That is quite the range, we are talking almost a $200k difference in price between project A and project B. What makes the difference? Why is one project priced at $20k while another is hundreds of thousands of dollars more? In this article I break down each part of building a web app to better present what actual goes into the process of building a web app, and why the price can vary so much from project to project. By the end of the article you will have a general overview of what goes into building a web app and the factors that contribute to the difference in price. My goal is to give you the tools you need to make an informed decision and to prepare you when going to talk about building a web app.
In each section below, I will overview what the scope of work looks like for the engagement, what the timeline is, and what the price ranges are for the engagement. For sections that contain multiple subsections I have titled the sections starting with the main idea, followed by the sub idea we are exploring. Let’s begin.
Map, Roadmap, Discovery - each team has their own term for this phase. This is a discovery session that lets teams and clients break down who you are, what your business is, what your problems are and what you are hoping to achieve. During this session you come up with ideas, validate pre existing assumptions and come to an agreed upon solution to the problem at hand. You map out who will use the solution, what the features of the solution are, what the users workflow will be, and generate a technical roadmap for implementation. At the end of the session you have a fully executed document that maps out what you are trying to do, who will use it, how they will use it, and what factors to consider when going to build it. The Map session is key to starting off any project.
Projects start with a discovery session. A discovery session bridges the knowledge gap between you and the team you are working with. Skipping this step or making assumptions ends up drawing out the timeline and the budget for a project. This is one aspect that influences engagement price. Some shops skip this - lowering their price, others make it mandatory. Teams either roll this cost into the overall cost, or break it out as a phase of the overall engagement.
Timeline: The timeline for discovery sessions with teams range from one day to one to two months.
Pricing: Pricing varies from 0 to $20k+.
The visualization phase is all about the designing the look of the solution. This is also known as the design phase. It encompasses everything from identity and branding, to fully functional product prototypes. Each team you work with will offer a different range of services. Below are the different aspects of design that a project can incorporate.
This phase is about identifying the core elements of your solution. By identifying the forms, buttons, input fields and other data points that are needed you build a collection of components that can then quickly be arranged into wireframes and layouts. The benefit of a component first approach is it speeds up the project because you reuse the same components throughout the projects rather than having to design each one as you run into a use for it.
This phase takes the base components you have identified and lays them out visually. Wireframes are generally greyscale and allow teams to quickly iterate on different visual solutions. The point of a wireframe is to be able to explore different options without investing too much time into them. Once a visual solution is approved, then you can put more time into it.
The design phase takes wireframes and expands on them. Designing makes things more high fidelity, adds color, adjusts the small details as needed. It makes everything look visually how things are to look.
The prototype takes designs and makes them interactive. Prototyping is very useful to bring the whole visualization phase together. It allows users to experience not only how the solution will look, but how it will behave as they interact with it. This is a good time to finalize any workflow patterns, and make the final okay on a visual design before sending it off to development.
This is how a brand wants to be perceived by its customers. It encompasses the name, logo, style, visuals, tone and more.
The design phase is all about the designing the look of the solution. Visual design is much quicker to adjust compared to a solution that has been coded. Spending time finalizing the details here may seem trivial, but it will save hours and money down the road. The design phase encompasses everything from brand identity, to fully executed prototypes. The complexity of the project, and the scope of the engagement drives the timeline and price for this portion of the project.
Timeline: Two weeks to six months.
Pricing: $10,000 to $100k plus.
This phase is about developing the solution with code. It encompasses everything from database setup to building the API and frontend.
A database is where the data for your product lives. Common steps involve planning the database architecture, how data will work together, what structure it will have. Teams will identifying the database best suited for the project at hand along with architect how data interacts with other data for speed and scalability.
The API, or application programming interface, handles the heavy lifting of the web app. The API ties the frontend and the database together. It handles third party API integrations. The API is what does most of the data processing and heavy functional processing work. API structures and setup can vary based on what the team is comfortable with, and what is best for the project.
This is the visual side of the web application. The team will take the visuals and design elements and turn those into code. This involves planning the frontend architecture, identifying the code and framework best suited for the solution and implementation.
The testing phase encompasses testing the web application to make sure everything works as expected and developing ongoing testing documentation for future product iterations and releases. Teams run through workflows and features using test plans to make sure things are working.
Often times web apps are complicated. If given directly to a client and their team, there will be confusion and the team will not utilize it to its full capability. Training the clients team needs to be factored into each web app build. To help with this building a resource library for the clients team to refer to.
These are additional factors that go into the development phase of a project that heavily influence the price and timeline of a project.
The mobile application side of things. If paired with web application this could increase the cost drastically. This should be priced separately and can build off the web app.
Integrating metrics into the application. You might want to track metrics such as: how many users are using the application, what data is coming in and out, what types of users are using the application, how they are using it, etc. This phase depends on what metrics the team needs to see - whether for internal purposes or for compliance and regulatory purposes.
Setting up servers and online deployments is complicated. Account for pricing for server setup and ongoing maintenance. This is important to account into the project when planning and developing the solution.
This phase is about developing the solution with code. It can encompass anything from building the project, to testing and onboarding, to server setup. The scope and timeline depends on what you have setup previously and the complexity of the solution you are looking for. The price and timeline is also heavily influence by what additional factors go into this phase.
Timeline: Two weeks to two years.
Price: $10,000 to $200k+
There are other aspects of a web app that can influence the price and should be considered.
If your team is using marketing software, often times you will want to tie in new signups or customers in general into your marketing software to track your efforts. This needs to be considered when building the web app.
How will the web app integrate with your sales team and your existing sales stack? You might want to track user churn and what types of accounts stick around the longest.
Web apps often need continual maintenance. This can influence cost. Consider who is running maintenance, the plans they offer for maintenance and the details that come with them.
Web apps often run on servers. This can be anything from a few dollars a month to over a million dollars. Understand the costs associated with servers and what that entails. This can easily be double or triple the project cost for the year depending on the amount of data you are handling.
Sometimes the team needs to obtain a special license or pay professional fees to develop a solutions required.
There can be compliance reports that need to be submitted to an external agency. Accounting for this reporting can play a factor into web app price.
Most web apps can use standard security features. Other solutions will require more vetting and testing.
The above is a summary of what can go into building a web app. Hopefully this information can help you understand the various stages of building a web app, and how the influence the price.
As a rule of thumb, a good way to gauge pricing is by taking a look at who the team you are considering works with, and the current and past projects they work on. If the team works with larger clients, their pricing will be higher because the value their clients get is greater, but also their risks they take.