To Build, Or To Buy, That Is The Question

4 min read

Maybe this is your first foray into tech to streamline your agency, or perhaps you’re updating what you currently have. Either way, you’ve just found yourself in the middle of one of the fiercest debates since internet forums flared up over whether that door could hold both Rose and Jack (it totally could). We are, of course, talking about whether to build or to buy your new software.  

Many people are quick to compare this with house hunting (we like simple analogies) but when it comes to software, it’s less like “Buying a house Vs Building a house” and more like “Buying a house Vs Learning how to make bricks” because when creating bespoke software, you have to do everything. And doing everything means time, manpower and, as you can imagine, lots of money. 

Of course, you can try to save cash by doing it yourself with what’s available (just look at Primitive Technology), but are you going to trust your business to crudely-formed foundations over something put together by the professionals? We didn’t think so. 

However, there are plenty of arguments from both sides, so let’s dive into some of them to help settle this debate once and for all. 

Productive - Tool Building
Via Giphy: Getting development underway.

To Build

The ever-present allure of building something of your own: creative freedom, realized dreams, and…disappointment. When you set out on an ambitious project outside your area of expertise, it is rare that it will turn out exactly how you want, which kind of undermines the point of bespoke software in the first place. And, just like if you managed to persuade the contractor to add that indoor waterfall to your newly built home, the upkeep never ends! 

It’s a common argument that building means future-proofing your systems for when your company grows. But, realistically, it is very hard to judge what the needs of your agency will be in the near future, and considering the time and money you must continually invest in bespoke software, it can often be better to look at monthly software plans and the external updates they afford. 

Pros

  • Sweet, sweet control. If your software solution is bespoke, you will have complete control over the functions it has so you can tailor it to your specific needs. Sounds pretty good. 

Cons

  • It’s really expensive. This seems pretty self-explanatory, but some estimates put bespoke software at ten to twenty times more expensive than its off-the-shelf counterpart, and considering you have to pay for it in one big hit rather than on a monthly plan, that can mean some serious expenditure. 
  • You have to have an in-house (or outsourced) development team to maintain and update your proprietary software, whereas off-the-shelf software will be maintained and updated without any input or cost from you.
  • The chances are you won’t ever get all those juicy custom features you dreamed of because it just won’t be possible with the team, budget and technology available to you.

To Buy

Buying software can be a pretty major decision — is it going to fulfill your needs, does it have the right features, is your team going to like the dashboard color? And rightly so, high-end workflow software can make or break a business, and the one you decide to go with can keep your agency small or allow it to scale up efficiently. Luckily, when it comes to off-the-shelf software you’re not the first to implement it, so you can use other business’s experience to shape your decision, and with free trials and monthly plans galore, the investment in a new product can be minimal. 

Pros 

  • Market proven — when buying rather than building software, it has already been thoroughly tested in actual industry settings so you know it works.
  • It is considerably less expensive than building custom software, especially when you factor in that many solutions like Productive offer free trials and rolling monthly plans, so the “investment” is basically the time it takes to onboard staff. 
  • The need for speed! Buying software is much faster than building. You don’t need several months of analysis, back and forth, and finally development. Buying means being able to quickly implement new software, getting workflows under control, and focusing on your actual business. 
  • Leave it to the specialists. We’re sure that you do what you do really well. So, why not trust other professionals to do what they do best — knowing how to build and implement software for your industry.

Cons

  • Buying software means that you have less control over the specific functions and it won’t be customised to your individual needs. This is no doubt the biggest aspect to consider in the buy vs. build debate. 
Productive - launching bespoke software
Via Giphy: The exciting process of launching bespoke software!

So Should You Build or Should You Buy?

By this point, the pros and cons of each solution kind of speak for themselves. But, like many decisions in life and in business, it comes down to your specific needs. Weigh up not just the general pros and cons, but what they mean for your business. 

At the end of the day, it is a huge commitment to build custom software, and without the resources — both staff and money — to keep it going, it is very likely to fall short of your company’s needs, go unmaintained, and eventually crash and burn. Buying software, on the other hand, can mean minimal initial investment in a product that is already market tested and is continually maintained and updated by a team of professionals. 

Sign up to our newsletter
Keep up to date with Productive updates and features