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Custom software development for a small business

First let’s have a brief introduction. Some 30 years ago if you needed a CRM you would hire a silicon valley tech firm and pay millions to implement it using let’s say Oracle. Obviously this type of software was out of reach for small businesses, which instead relied on excel sheets and their employees' magic talents to organize the business.

In recent years, with a dramatic drop in the costs of tech devices, with the rapid development of the internet, everything became more affordable. Mobile devices and cloud services changed the way businesses operate. The same goes for custom software development. Today, a small business can afford and should invest to develop custom software that will distinguish them from the competition.

Fast forward to the future. Are you in need of software and do you own a small business? Do you find a lot of solutions and none of them matches your flow completely? Are you asking yourself - do I need to do the custom development of software or to find someone to do it for me? Do I go with an off the shelf product or solution? Do you just see how to improve on the flow of certain business using software or you have a groundbreaking idea but no development power or a partner to make it happen? Maybe you have great entrepreneurial skills and see the opportunity in solving a problem for others? If any of these questions are on your mind then you are in the right place.

You have been in the situation where you dedicated a significant amount of time searching for the product that solves your problem and yet after finding and choosing one it still does not fit the requirements as expected. Your workflow and productivity are unaffected by the change. Maybe you have multiple software solutions, each of them solving a piece of your business puzzle but they do not communicate well - or at all to each other. 

Now, let's delve into a fundamental step in shaping any software development project – crafting a Statement of Work software (SOW) document as early as possible.

An SOW for software development ensures the legal protection of all parties involved in the project. It serves as a comprehensive document defining crucial aspects such as requirements, scope, and project objectives.


Choose to make your own and do it properly

First, make sure you checked enough of what is on the market. You talked to your peers and the solutions they are using are not matching your needs. 

There are many other things to consider before deciding to start creating your own software.

Choosing a company that will make your software is maybe the biggest deal in this process. Make sure you pick one that understands your business. And not only understands but that will be prepared to actively contribute to your idea. Your future partner needs to challenge the idea and to have different expertise so they can be competent to analyze your problem from different angles. You need to feel as they are extending your team and knowledge.

The second most important thing is for you to identify what you should expect as a result. That means that with custom development you should be in a position to better plan and execute your business and easily improve your works performance. It should work for you. Your custom software development partner should try to create enough automation so your software will work almost on its own, automating stuff, making it easy to use.

Once you know the strengths and weaknesses you can plan and apply the steps to get better results. Ask for the planning of your software. Usually, there is a creative force involved behind the plan and you might be charged for it. Even if 'most' of the idea was yours, the plan that is step by step and explanatory regarding the functionalities, features etc. is a creative thing done in the partner company. 

There are things to consider in a plan. For example, ask if this involves any further costs other than the development costs, are there libraries and languages used that will have more charges, maybe monthly, yearly or none at all. Be sure you understand the plan. Be sure you own the plan. This is important if you walk away for any reason you can hire another company to make your software based on that plan. Also, it is important as you might ask for new features or an upgraded version of your software, like Software as a Service or SaaS for short.


What is SaaS?

Maybe your new software is so specific and great that you know you can sell it to your competitor. You are already aware of the problems he has and you are arranging them to be fixed in your software. SaaS is this soft way of saying - hey we made your software easy enough to be deployed elsewhere and customized for anyone else besides me, so I can even make money selling it.

As you can see, this could be a potential new source of income for you in the case that you understand your branch/niche of the industry and have planned software well enough from the start, or you chose to go agile with MVP (Minimum Viable Product). This is where you can also see how good the partner developer company you chose is and how future forward thinking they are. Be sure to agree on how maintenance and adding new features of your software will be done. This is crucially important for you as a client of a custom software development company.

One important thing to mention - once you started developing with one company, do not think it is easy changing them. Why? Well like with a lot of things in life you might end up paying more & doing the things which are already done.

At the start of this article, I mentioned that things are getting to be 'easier' or cheaper. It is because of all of the innovations that are going on. This is happening because a lot of people are innovating their software solutions, among other things of course.

I am a small business owner. Is a custom software solution really for me?

YES! Let us take a step back and talk about why custom software would be the right choice for a small business or you specifically.

While off the shelf products can be broad enough to cover many areas, custom software is tailor-made and better adapted to fit and fully cover your workflow or to add features as they arise or become obvious. Moreover, custom software is usually developed by a dedicated team that reacts at the right time and adapts along with the changes, either triggered by your company growth or by the dynamic ever-changing market. Maybe you're still a small business just because you didn't realize you need to act big.

Some financial thoughts

It is not a small decision to make your own software and finance it. But is financing your software really a big deal? Let's make a comparison.

For example, your software will be smart and will save you money on the licensing of other software. Do the math. Do a yearly sum of the expenses and compare to see if this efficiency is achievable with your budget for smarter software. 

Maybe the software will be 'smarter' and solve a bunch of your issues so that you can run your business better and therefore you are unable to understand its financial impact at the moment. Anyway, we leave this up to you, as people are really entrepreneurs or employees in the end, with no disrespect to any of the two groups.

You can check our engagement models, maybe it clears some of your doubts. 

Conclusions & further steps to take

We all need to learn, improve and push forward into the new world. We all need to go forward. So investing in the heart of your business process, which could be your software, is a step to take even for the smallest businesses.

You understand this by now so I will write up the steps to take and when to consider deciding to look for better software.

  1. Look for a solution that already exists and works 95% for you, If you found one, there is no need to go any further
  2. Look for a company capable of making your perfect software and check a few things:
    Are they capable & smart enough to understand your business and challenge you, your ideas & your plans?
    Are they a true partner that you would go on working with for a period of time?
  3. Again, make sure you are choosing the company wisely since you will have to stay with them if you don't want to have a lot of extra costs
  4. Validate your plan, depending on the model of the engagement, some features might be costly to implement afterwards
  5. Be sure you own the plan
  6. Prototype the software so you can understand 100% how it will work and feel
  7. Make sure you choose the right engagement model, check our on this link
  8. Monitor the development of the software regularly
  9. Analyse the market to see if you can resell your software
  10. Improve your business with your new software & profit

Are you looking to hire a programmer or developer?

Future Forward has over 20 years of experience in software development and provides IT Outsourcing services through its offices in the Netherlands and Serbia. Our people are selected on the basis of their professional competence, but soft skills such as communication skills and work attitude must also be in order before they are included in the outsourcing team. Existing customers such as Citrus, Gateway and Vicert appreciate us for our proactive attitude and the advantage of the Dutch support.

Our areas of expertise include SilverStripe, React & React-Native, Angular, Nwjs Development and Node.js. We have a lot of experience with booking systems, visitor registration, digital signage, community portals, touchscreen applications, custom software, mobile apps and web development.

Would you like to know more? Please visit us at FFWD Outsourcing or contact us directly.


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Zoran Popovic