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10 Tips For Building a Mobile App With a Limited Budget

Money is no funny. Especially when you don’t have any extra dollars to spare on your Big App Project.

The controversy, however, is that some say good apps cost a good heap of money, while a cheap app is bound for failure. Yet, bootstrapping appreneurs are not so rare these days either.

So is it possible to develop a mobile app with a small budget?

Our answer is absolutely as long as you know when it’s worth to act frugal, and when to spend more lavishly. In this guide, we’d like to show how you can minimize your spending without jeopardizing the success of your app product.

Set Clear Product Goals First

Mobile app development on a tight budget remains budget as along as you have clearly defined product goals.

Here’s a quick checklist to help you come up with a solid definition of your business goals:

  • Who will use the product aka who is your target audience?
  • Why does the customer need your product? What specific functions should it perform? Bonus point if you can come up with an exact customer journey map.
  • Who’s my competition? What are their unique value propositions and how those align with my product functionality?
  • What results do I want to achieve after the launch? Be specific here and list exact points such as “generate 1.000 app downloads in a week”; “create a new marketing channel by summer” etc.

As a result, you should have the next deliverables:

  • Preliminary market research and target audience survey.
  • A list of desired app features ranked in terms of priority.
  • Your app/product monetization strategy. If you plan to create a free app, we’ve compared different monetization options in this post.

You will need these docs further when creating an app specification document for developers and asking for the exact price quotes.

Choose The Right App Development Pricing Model

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The common debate is whether you should be paying hourly rates or a fixed price to the developers.

When you have a tight budget, paying a fixed price sounds more reasonable. Yet the major flip side here are the constraints you are placing upon your product. Having a static budget means that there’s no wiggle room left in case you decide to modify the project requirements after the contract is signed.

You will have to initially provide a well-defined list of project requirements and will not be able to modify those based on the new data you obtain from your customers or investors.

Additionally, most app development companies tend to add an extra cost padding for fixed-price projects to avoid undercharging. Hence, you might end up paying more for the job as compared to paying per hour.

Further Reading: Fixed vs. Hourly Rates: What To Choose For an App Development Project

Be Upfront About Your Financial Constrains

Some app development companies (Alty included), offer a third pricing model specifically for the budget-wise types.

We call it the “Fixed Budget Model”.

That’s something our company offers for startups in early stages – low-cost mobile app development without compromising the quality.

Here’s how it works. You’ll still have to create a detailed project specifications list and deliver all the additional insights gathered in step 1; outline your current budget and your product priorities.

Our development team will then advise on the different development options available. We’ll be frank with where you can cut the costs and what features to ditch in order to receive a great custom app within your budget.

Now, let’s take a closer look at what shapes the price of app development in general.

Understand What Influences The App Price

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Previously we wrote two massive guides explaining how much app development costs on average and what exactly goes into app development project estimates.

If you want to skip the reading part, here’s a quick summary:

App pricing is largely influenced by the following factors:

  • The platform (mobile, web, wearable, Apple TV).
  • Mobile platform type(s) and supported device range.
  • Product type (MVP vs. full-feature product).
  • Key product features and required technologies
  • The human factor aka the type of app development company you choose to partner with – their expertise, location and reputation.

We’ll now go into the details on each point in terms of reducing the costs.

Pursue One Platform and a Limited Device Range

Cheap mobile app development can remain so as long as you choose to launch an app for one platform and a limited range of devices.

Part of the deal why Android app development often turns out to be more expensive is due to the large variety of devices and screen sizes (1.300 different gadgets and counting!).

Yet, certain device sizes and models are more preferable than others. Here’s a quick overview:

Android

iOS

When your financials are tight it’s best to build an app for a very specific device range and limit the number of supported mobile OS versions. For instance, an app for iPhone 5/SE/6/6S supporting IOS 9 and above only.

Yes, you will alienate a certain number of users, yet keep the development costs at bay.

Building an iPad-only app also makes more sense for certain use cases. We’ve outlined those in our previous post.

Start With an MVP

A minimal viable product (MVP) means that you don’t rush into building a complete app from start and instead, choose to launch a product with truncated functionality before investing more money into development.

An MVP allows you to gather better user feedback, validate your initial assumptions with actual audiences, analyze the market demand, pitch your solution to investors and so on.

Basically, you are minimizing the risks of pouring too much money in a product that won’t bring any measurable ROI.

There are different types of MVPs you can create. Yet the following ones makes the most sense for mobile projects:

  • Product wireframe or mockup – graphic “skeleton” of your app, which includes key screens, layout, and functionality.
  • An interactive product prototype – a clickable wireframe, which isn’t connected to an expensive backend.
  • Mobile MVP – an app with 1-3 key features present.

Additionally, you can choose to build a “Pilot app” – a more advanced version an MVP with more features available. Afterward, use it ruthlessly to gather as much user feedback as possible to validate your final product concept.

Don’t Rush Into Building a Hybrid App

Fact, hybrid apps are known to be cheaper and faster to develop. Another less popular fact – they are quite limited and won’t take your business too far.

While a hybrid mobile app could be an alternative to an MVP, this solution does not quite allow deploying advanced functionality such as video streaming for instance. Sure, there is some tech workarounds, yet the final product won’t be stable. In fact, you won’t be able to take advantage of all the native smartphone features in the first place.

You initially pay less for building a hybrid app. But it won’t be viable in the long run as hybrid app development doesn’t assume room for continuous improvements.

Here’s a more detailed comparison listing all the pros & cons of native and hybrid app development.

Get To Know The Most Expensive App Development Features

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Incorporating certain app functionality will require more time, hence more budgets. For instance, supporting live-stream videos is expensive. But you can’t ditch this feature if you plan to build an app like Periscope.

Payment integrations typically require a lot of coding as well, but passing on those doesn’t make sense for an online shopping app.

You get my point here. It’s crucial to prioritize each desired feature based on two scales – development costs vs. user needs. Ideally, you should first build the “low cost/high need features”, yet you’d better opt for the pricier ones if they are critical for your product success.

Here’s a quick example of feature prioritization for a video chat app:

Critical Features:

  1. Account creation/registration using social media. Mid-cost.
  2. Instant text and video messages. High costs.
  3. Contact list integration. Low-cost.

That’s a good combo for an MVP app.

Important Features:

  1. Screen sharing. Low-cost.
  2. Custom stickers and filters. Low-cost.
  3. Video call preview. Mid-cost.

These are some additional features worth adding to a pilot app to give it a competitive edge.

Additional Features:

  1. Group video calling. High costs.
  2. Advanced privacy settings. Mid costs.
  3. Sharing video stories publicly on a map with GPS location automatically assigned – High costs.

That’s something to consider after you have validated your app idea, raised a seed round and plan to expand to product further.

Mind The Ongoing Maintenance Costs

App maintenance costs is another line to account in your budget. For instance, if you want your taxi app to send out text notifications, you will have to pay a recurring fee to a 3rd party service provider. Same is true for payment getaways, chatbot hosting or services offering weather APIs (that’s the reason why most weather apps are either paid or stuffed with ads).

Of course, there’s a bunch of free APIs and open-source integrations you can use for your product. Great app developers will typically suggest you different options and highlight the costs of opting for one technology over another. You just need to clearly communicate this point.

Partner With an Agile Team

Let’s have a quick word about app development companies.

Partnering with a large company with an established name most likely means that your product will end up being awesome. Yet, you will be billed the top dollar for it. Additionally, larger agencies are known to have more business processes happening while running the project aka more approvals to obtain, higher level of micro-management etc. Again, you will be billed for those seemingly productive hours as well.

Working with a freelancer or a larger novice team seems like a budget friendly option for most entrepreneurs. Yet, in this case, you may end spending more time on managing the team yourself, helping them build the right collaboration frame and making sure that the project stays on track. While you are paying less per hour initially, the development timeline can extend due to the lack of established processes, meaning that a budget mobile app turns into an expensive and long-term venture.

A better option is to partner with a mid-sized agile team that can build a mobile app with a limited budget within the stated timeline. Choose to hire a team with established managerial frameworks, productive communication culture, and a clear milestone schedule. In that case, you’ll be paying for “productive” time only. At least that’s the approach we vouch for at Alty!

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