October 17, 2023

Where to Prioritise Your Budget When Building an App


Building a successful app can be a highly lucrative endeavour, but it’s also a long and expensive process. Some of the biggest apps in the world right now started with a small team and a finite budget that they couldn’t afford to spend unwisely. Spending too much in one area or not enough in another is a tightrope that every new app must walk, with disaster awaiting those who lean too far one way or another. So in this article, we will explore some of the common mistakes and some good rules of thumb to follow, when planning out where to spend your budget.

How much does it cost to make an app?

Firstly, we should tackle the big question that everyone who wants to build an app asks - how much is it going to cost me? App development costs range depending on the scale and complexity of your app. Small apps with one main feature and a simple UI can cost as low as £30k to build, but we really are talking very spartan at that budget. For more complicated apps with rich features, social interactions, and maybe even video content, you would be looking closer to the £100k mark. Apps like TikTok or Tinder, which have a clear focus but a number of core features, would cost around this mark to build.

This is only a guide and as markets shift and economies evolve, the cost of building an app will change too. Who builds your app will be as important in determining its cost as what you build. And don’t always think cheaper is better, since you may end up having to pay someone more expensive to fix what you got for cheap.

What will your budget be spent on?

Apps are complicated products with dozens of moving parts, and so their development has many aspects. Getting an understanding of all the parts that go into app development will help you make better decisions about where to prioritise. And it’s not all about the build itself as you’ll see.

  • App Discovery - This is the first stage of the app development process, where you figure out what you want to build and who you are building it for. I cannot stress enough how important this step is, even though it is so often overlooked. App Discovery includes steps like market research, competitor analysis, user research and testing and feature prototyping. You are guaranteed to make mistakes and bad assumptions in this process, so better to make them at this stage before you’ve spent too much going in the wrong direction

  • Branding - What’s life without a bit of style? Your app’s logo, colour scheme, typography and graphics will be the first thing users see when they find it on the app store. And first impressions count. So making sure your brand reflects how you want to be seen and catches the eye of who you want to be seen by is crucial if you ever want anyone to actually download your app.

  • App Design - Just as every great building started as a set of blueprints, every great app starts as a set of designs. Design will likely be your second biggest expense in the development process, and it’s not a place to take shortcuts. This is the time to get creative with your UI. Try out different navigations or sign-up flows to find the one right for your app and your users. Every screen may need to be mapped out, tested, thrown out and redrawn until you hit upon a design that sings.

  • App Build - Now we’re getting into the nuts and bolts of the matter. By investing time into the Design and Discovery phases, you should start the build with a crystal clear plan. But by no means does that guarantee a smooth build. That’s why you need a dedicated team of professional and experienced developers who can dive into the build and find innovative solutions to the problems you will encounter. It can be very tempting to go for a more inexperienced developer to save a few bucks. But so often cheaper, inexperienced developers can take on more than they can handle and beyond just piling on stress, they can cost you a lot in the long run when large amounts of the code need to be redone by them or another developer. Save your budget by picking the best developer the first time around.

  • Quality Assurance - QA should be part of your app build throughout. Problems with the app design or bugs are an inconvenience if they are caught early and a death sentence if caught too late. If you can dedicate a portion of your budget to QA and better yet, dedicate a portion of your build time to solving the problems your QA finds, you’ll save yourself both stress and budget in the long term.

  • Third-Party Integrations - Whether it’s a prebuilt messaging feature, a Maps API or user behaviour tracking software (which all apps should definitely have), make sure you have done your research into what you need and who you will get it from. If you’re unsure what you might need, even as early as the discovery stage your developer team should be able to give you an idea.

  • Maintenance - Unfortunately, the costs don’t end once you launch a site. At the very least, hosting the back end of your app as well as paying the small fee to get it onto an app store need to be taken into account. Beyond that, the best app developers will spend time and money evaluating their apps' performance; how much are users enjoying it, how well is it ranking, how are the monetisation methods performing etc. If you want your app to succeed, you need to continually update it to focus on what works and drop what doesn’t.

Tips on how to prioritise your budget

  • Invest in Discovery - We’ve already beat this drum, but it’s worth beating again. If an app was a bad idea from the start, no amount of money or time or genius developers would turn it into a good one. And if you wait until the app is built to figure that out, you may be down tens of thousands of pounds with nothing to show for it. Find out what your users want and what they're missing from the apps that are already out there. Find out how the market for this type of app is doing, or if there is anything on the horizon that could disrupt it. Trust us, it’s better to know your idea is bad at the beginning because at that point you can still pivot into something great.

  • Start with an MVP - A Minimum Viable Product is the first iteration of a product that tests the idea. It should be focused on one core feature, whatever the most important aspect of the app is. And it should be simple enough to design and build relatively quickly. The aim of an MVP is to test the app's core functionality on real users before developing it further, so you can review the response and develop the app in a direction that best fits your users' needs. By keeping this first iteration simple, and cheap, you will allow yourself to easily adapt to the best course for your apps development. If you go ahead and develop the full version of your app from the start, you may realise that some of the features you spent thousands of pounds developing are not used by your users. So avoid wasting your budget and start small.

  • Be Strategic With Your Platform Choice - It’s tempting to make sure that your app can be downloaded by as many people as possible, which is why many companies opt for an Android and iOS version of the app. The problem here is that you’ll effectively be paying to build two apps and that’s not always cost effective. While you certainly will increase your potential user base by developing for both platforms, it’s not always cost-effective to do so. Platform market share differs wildly by region, for instance, while iOS has a larger and growing market share in the US, Android is far more dominant in Southeast Asian countries. And the market share might shift further around key demographics for your app like age or gender. So do some research before you choose whether to go for both platforms or just focus on the one.
  • Design Principles and Templates - When you’re reinventing the wheel, you don’t need to reinvent the cart to go with it. A lot of time and budget will be spent on designing your app, but you want to make sure you're spending the majority of this time and budget on your most innovative features. For everything else, following common design principles will not only keep costs down but ensure your app is easy to pick up by users straight away. The two most common sets of Design Principles are Google’s Material Design and Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines. As you would expect, Material Design is more often used for Android-focused apps, while iOS apps favour Human Interface Guidelines, so your platform choice will help you choose which is right for you.

Developing an app can be a massive investment of both your time and your hard-earned money. So before you go charging ahead and risk wasting both, think about what you want to prioritise and how you can spend your time and budget most efficiently. You’ll regret it if you don’t

Where to Prioritise Your Budget When Building an App