How to Plan for the Long-Term Cost of Ownership of a Website

Building a custom application involves more than the immediate need for user experience design and development of functionality. In part two of our custom application series, we will discuss planning for the future and maintaining a website over time.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how to determine if you should build a custom application or go with an off-the-shelf solution, today we’re going to talk through cost of ownership of custom applications.

Build > Maintain > Enhance…

Building a custom website is a big endeavor, but it also involves thinking about the long-term cost of ownership. While you’re spending hours perfecting the design and functionality of your application, you should also think about how much it will cost to keep it running smoothly over time.

The investment isn’t just in the build phase…

I’m sure you’re thinking, “How can I budget for that long-term cost of ownership? It’s not even built yet!” Fear not, we’re here to help. We’ll give you some ideas to get started on how to plan for the long-term cost of ownership of a website.

Enhancements can be the biggest unknown…

You have your hosting fees and regular maintenance, but you also must keep the site up to date. Sometimes that means small enhancements and sometimes it means large efforts. The upgrades may be performed internally or through your technology partner. Either way, they need to be considered.

You should plan for any anticipated upgrades by budgeting for them in advance.
If you know that a large new feature is coming, such as an improved search or quick-order form, then you can plan for this expense by roughly estimating its cost during budgeting season. When there are unknowns, we’ve found t-shirt sizing tasks make the most sense for planning and then we deliver more refined estimates during backlog grooming.
Even rough guesses are better than having no money earmarked in your budgets. You can also up or downsize your sprints based on monthly budgets to stay within budget parameters.

And don’t forget about SEO and Accessibility…

As time goes on, you’ll want to update your SEO strategy to make sure your app is staying up to date and you’ll also want to make sure the accessibility is considered to make sure everyone has access to your application. Both of these critical things change over time. Having some yearly budget for them is a must have.

Enhancements have both internal and external costs…

As you plan for enhancement budgets, you will want to consider:

  • Priority tasks for the year: Try to roughly estimate your top priority enhancements for the year. If you leave it as a surprise that comes up at the end of a project, you may be scrambling to find budget elsewhere or trying to utilize budget meant for maintenance to complete your enhancements leaving your site with painful technical debt down the road.
  • User feedback: You may have built functionality based on early user testing or business assumptions that you find out needs to be tweaked.
  • Internal staffing: Consider your internal costs. Our most successful projects have an internal product owner that serves as the go-between with business leadership and development goals. This ensures the planned budget is focused on functionality that is most crucial to the business.

How much should I budget?

That really depends on you and your organization’s appetite to change the application. We have some clients who just ‘leave the lights on’, once the application is done, it needs minor maintenance and uptime monitoring but not much else. We can do this work at very minimal monthly costs while ensuring the application is secure and available to users.

We also have clients who have massive backlogs of functionality they are itching to release on launch day. Those clients move right into an enhancement budget where we work in 2-week sprints, constantly releasing updated functionality.

Lastly, some clients land in the middle. They have a minimal maintenance budget and then do a limited number of prioritized enhancements each year.

Thinking about building a custom application?

Building a custom website or tool for your business can be a great way to improve efficiency and customer experience. But before you get started, you should be prepared for future expenses that will come up along the way.

It’s important to think about the future of your business and how it will grow. This can help determine what kind of tool or website you need and how it should be built to maximize growth potential while minimizing costs down the line. If you are thinking about creating an app but unsure of the cost of ownership long term, reach out and we can work with you to create a ballpark estimate.

Ready to get started or have questions?

We’d love to talk about how we can work together or help you to brainstorm your next project and see how we might help.

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