Rich Foreman is the CEO of Apptology, a Sacramento-based mobile application development and mobile marketing company, and the Sacramento director of Startup Grind.

How much does it cost to make an app? As a developer, this is the most common question I am asked.

This is like asking, “How much does it cost to build a house?” Following through with the house analogy, are you looking for a mansion or a shack? Do you want a house made of straw, sticks or brick? Do you want a custom home or a tract home? Just like a house, the variables in developing an app are endless.

Develop a Storyboard

The first place to start is defining what you want your app to do. I normally recommend our clients storyboard their app (the technical term is “wireframe”). The wireframe is like the blueprint in the house analogy. The goal when developing a wireframe (or storyboard) is to capture functionality and flow. This is not the time to worry yet about the actual aesthetics.

It’s important to start from the beginning, though, when a user first launches your app. Think about what’s the first thing they will see. On the home screen, if they tap the first menu selection, what happens next? And so on. To create the wireframes, our designers use a tool called Balsamiq. I send our clients a PowerPoint template where they can either use PowerPoint’s drawing tools or they can even print it out and hand draw it.

Other Factors

Beyond the storyboard, there are other factors that will impact the development and cost:

  • Integration to an existing back end/development of the back end: Most of the apps we develop either need to talk to an existing back end or we have to create a back end to support the app.
  • Integration to third-party vendors: Many features that typically used to be expensive to develop can now affordably be added by leveraging third-party vendors. Examples are push notifications and mobile commerce.

In addition to the wireframe, if your app requires extensive integrations to third-party vendors, you may need to put together an architectural diagram.

Before Sending Out an RFP

Before sending out an RFP, ideally you should have a wireframe, a requirements document and an architectural diagram. If you don’t have these, it might make sense to start a separate project to develop them first. It’s like hiring an architect to develop the blueprints before you hire a builder to make your house.

Also, if you want an app to integrate to your existing back end, make sure that your internal team or your vendor will allow it. For example, we were awarded a project for one county that requires the app to integrate to a vendor’s back end (which we stated in our assumptions). After the project began, we found that their vendor would not allow this. Consequently we had to restructure the app and project scope to accommodate the change.

Evaluating Proposals

After you start receiving proposals, you’ll probably get quotes that are all over the board. My suggestion is to also evaluate the team. Your RFP should also ask for past work, years of experience, etc.

In conclusion, my answer to the question, “How much does it cost to develop an app?” is, “It depends.” If you are thinking about developing an app, I recommend taking time to define the scope. This will help you flesh out your concept and greatly assist developers in providing a solid quote for your app.