why no one should EVER build an app as a freelance project

Should You Build Your App Yourself? 5 Things You Need To Know First

We’ve all had a great app idea once or twice, right?

Followed by the crashing realisation, “Oh. I’m broke“.

Ok, so you might not actually be broke –  but it only takes a quick google search of how much app development costs to make you think twice about how great your idea really is.

Maybe you should take our quiz: Is Your App Idea CRASH HOT Or TOTAL RUBBISH?

But if you realise you’re onto something that could turn into a real startup venture and change the course of your career you might need to really think about how you’ll get the product to market!

You may consider saving some $$$ and building the app yourself. We see it all the time.

Or you may consider partnering with an app development company.

There are dozens of online and offline courses that will teach you how to build your own iOS and Android apps, some even claiming you can do it in 1 hour with no coding.

Now, you’ll be hard pressed to find any developer who can vouch for the truth in that…

I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions. Of course, they exist.

We’ve all heard of apps that started out as a summer project and had success from there – Yo, Snapchat and Facebook all fit this description.

Today I’m going to try and be as objective as possible about the 2 options you have to launching a mobile app:

  1. Building an app yourself (that is, teaching yourself how to code and build an app as a passion project) or
  2. Partnering with an app development company to build the app for you. (Note, this not an app developer you find online, thats more time consuming than learning yourself, we are talking about an app development company.)

Let’s take a look at the factors that will have the biggest influence on your decision.

  1. Time involved

freelance app development

The hours involved in app development are pretty daunting, and obviously the biggest con of building an app yourself.

It takes professional app development teams in Australia 6 months, on average, to build a medium sized app. And they are a team of professional designers, developers, UX designers and project managers! This is you trying to do a 6-8 person job.

Sure, a simple arcade-style gaming app that people pick up and discard within a week won’t take you long to develop.

But the apps that you love to use and are a staple in most western countries (Uber, Facebook, Instagram)?

They took YEARS to develop and they’re still releasing updates to this day.

It helps to be realistic about how much time you can commit to this project.

Recommended action:

Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Do you have the time? Track your daily activities and see if anything can be eliminated, automated or delegated to free up some hours!
  • How much follow-through do you actually have? Are you someone who holds themselves accountable?
  • What are your motivations for building a business? (not an app, a business…)
  • What does your dream 10/10 outcome from this project look like? Is there a disconnect between what you want to achieve and the steps you’ve put in place to achieve it?

2. The cost

The cost of building it yourself:

The actual $ amount spent is of course the biggest PRO to building an app yourself.

You have full control over how much or little you spend on your app.

Some app coding courses are free online, while others can cost a few thousand dollars and include one-to-one tutoring in a physical classroom setting.

Check out this list of 10 Great Courses To Learn Mobile App Development to see what is covered in each one.

When considering the cost of building your own app, you should also factor in the opportunity cost.

Bear with me while I explain some basic economics here:

The opportunity cost is the loss of the next best alternative you are discarding as a result of choosing to build your own app.

What opportunity are you losing in this situation, and does it make economic sense to pursue app development as a side project?

The cost of an app development company building your app:

Ah, the pointy end of app development.

I’m not going to sugar coat it for you: Getting an app developed by a local, professional app development company is expensive.

Depending on your app’s requirements, you’re looking at between $30-60,000 for complete development of a Minimum Viable Product.

When you are quoted the cost of app development, the following factors are taken into consideration:

  • Number of app screens
  • Device types it needs to be compatible with (iOS, Android, etc)
  • 3rd party API integrations and other features like push notifications, app analytics, etc.
  • Need for integration with any existing business systems
  • Any supporting technical requirements (Eg: a web app or backend management portal)
  • Testing hours involved
  • Project management, internal meetings, your feedback and the workshops involved

3. The skills required

In a typical team assigned to an app development project, you will have:

  • Developers – physically code and build the app
  • UX and UI designers – Make the app intuitive to use (and beautiful to look at, of course)
  • Project managers and business analysts – Coordinate the activities of all divisions, ensure all elements of the app are cohesive and delivered on time and on budget.
  • Testers – Ensure the app will perform flawlessly and is free of bugs/glitches. No 1 star reviews!

The incredible amount of ‘man hours‘ (often 600+ hours!) involved in app development are reflected in the cost.

Building an app requires skills other than writing code.

This includes:

  • Strategy and systems that take an idea to code
  • Branding
  • Graphic design
  • Hardware/software integration
  • Ongoing bug and load testing on multiple device types.

That’s a a pretty steep learning curve.

If you’re ready to give it a crack, have a read of this fantastic article by Viking Code School: Learning to Code: What every beginner absolutely needs to know about the journey ahead.

This is a no BS resource that will let you know exactly what you should expect from the outset.

4. Are you an executor?

No one cares about your app idea

You might be feeling held back because you have a phenomenal idea but no money to execute it.

Reality check is coming up, brace yourself…

Someone has already thought of your app idea.

Actually, your idea has probably already been thought up 100 times in the last week.

So why doesn’t your app exist already? Because app ideas are a dime a dozen.

There is no shortage of ideas. There’s a shortage of execution. – Chase Thomson, Angel Investor

Execution is key, and if you don’t have the technical skills to execute, you’re going to have a hard time in this industry where 80% of app users uninstall an app within 3-7 days of downloading.

I mentioned before that apps like Facebook, Yo and Snapchat had success despite being built in dorm rooms or as side projects.

Their common denominator? They already had a technical executor at the helm.

Let me know if you know of any successful apps that were built by non-coders, I’d be interested to have a look!

5. App development never ends

app development never ends

Unfortunately, you can’t ‘go hard’ developing an app, then release it to the app store and retire your coding days.

Apps and software are just like any other part of a business – to keep them relevant and competitive, you need to maintain them.

This requires continuous maintenance to take into account iOS and Android software updates, bug fixes and the like.

And that’s just to keep it operational!

Why do you think Facebook is constantly changing its newsfeed options and adding new features? (To the point of infuriation)

Or why Uber recently integrated with Spotify and added UberPool to its portfolio?

Because they know they need to keep updating their apps’ value offering if they want to stay on top and not become the next MySpace or Blockbuster!

A good app developer will also look after all of the maintenance and updatse of your app post-launch.

So, there will be a decent amount of software development to do over the entire lifetime of your app. Think about doing that and then having to actually run the business.

When you have an idea that you are so ridiculously passionate about, you need to ask yourself, what would you rather do? What would get you up in the morning?

Stay knee deep for months on end learning code and doing things that you aren’t passionate about? Or letting professionals do the work they love, whilst you focus on spreading the message of your concept to the world. Marketing, messaging, meeting with investors and influencers, journalists, changing peoples lives!

Wrapping up…

I think it’s fantastic that there are now very few barriers to learning how to code. We should even see it in the Australian primary school curriculum in the next few years!

However, right now there is still an incredibly steep learning curve to developing an app by yourself. Most people don’t find coding easy (I certainly don’t!).

Building an app yourself can be the right option if you have:

  • More time than money
  • Relentless drive and commitment to achieve
  • The right motivations and mindset behind building an app startup

I hope this has been an eye opener to what you should expect before you start building your own app.

Are you building your own app right now? Let me know how it’s going in the comments below.

Where to go next:

How To Validate Your App Idea And Launch Quickly

How To Build An App: Moving Ahead With Your App Idea

5 Skills All Tech-Hopeless Founders Need To Master

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Logan Merrick is the co-founder and Director of Buzinga, as well as one of Australia's most recognised entrepreneurs, keynote speakers, investors and mentors. His writing on startups, technology and mobile marketing has been featured in The Australian, Business Insider, Startup Smart, Smart Company, and more.