Actually, Custom Software Is All It’s Cracked Up To Be

As Claris developers, most of our clients come to us after they’ve looked at off-the-shelf software for their business needs. Typically, we hear that such a product didn’t do what they needed it to do, had too many features they didn’t need, or was too expensive.

It makes sense that looking for an off-the-shelf product is often the first consideration before deciding to dive into custom software design. However, as evidence from our growing client base shows, choosing to invest in custom software can make more sense in the long-term for a variety of reasons.

Making the decision to invest in custom software

Last summer, we published a blog series called Harnessing the Power of Digital Transformation. This series provided insight and tips on the potential return on investment (ROI) for technology projects and how to implement a successful custom software initiative. I’d like to continue that discussion with a look at how best to make the decision to invest in custom software.

Where do I start?

Making a decision to invest in custom software clearly requires careful consideration. You may be asking yourself:

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  • Won’t one of the online solutions serve my needs just as well?
  • Does the benefit outweigh the cost, especially when there are recurring costs?
  • What are the main benefits of custom software?

The goal of this article is to help you answer these questions.

Looking at off-the-shelf software

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Most businesses require some of the same basic software capabilities, generally provided by enterprise software, which includes a variety of elements that help work run smoothly. Several common business software solutions are systems to manage accounting, payment transactions, document management, etc. Another common business application is a CRM. Many options are web applications that use the Software as a Service (SaaS) model and charge a monthly fee. You can find many outstanding off-the-shelf solutions out there – such as HubSpot or Salesforce. It often does not make sense to re-invent the wheel when well-regarded solutions like these may fit your business.

Common problems with off-the-shelf software

When we start to encounter the more niche business processes or types of uses a business has, this is where we find that off-the-shelf software doesn’t meet the customer needs.

When we ask clients why they chose to have us build a custom application for them over using an off-the-shelf product, the most common responses are:

  • We couldn’t find a product that fit our business needs
  • It was very costly
  • It had 99% of the necessary features, but couldn’t accommodate our main mission-critical functionality
  • The user interface was not intuitive

More costly

Using Hubspot as an example, an off-the-shelf CRM can become very costly as you begin to add more necessary features, or if you want to remove the HubSpot branding from your implementation. HubSpot’s Professional and Enterprise plans start at $800 and $3,600 per month, respectively.

While custom software can be a comparable investment, when you design your own bespoke software, you are in charge of setting your budget and you can choose exactly what features are added. Once the initial development has been completed you can shift into a maintenance phase, or even take a pause before deciding to add more improvements. Working with an experienced partner to map out a budget and estimate features is immensely helpful for the pocketbook.

Confusing user experience

HubSpot is a powerful application, but if you haven’t used it before then you may be completely overwhelmed when you first log in. The number of features is great, but there is a large learning curve to gain effective working knowledge of the system. When building a custom CRM, you’re in control of the user interface and can choose exactly what buttons and options are available. You can even control functions and access by user type – you get to decide who sees what instead of being limited by preset options.

So, how does my business benefit from custom software?

If you are thinking that the off-the-shelf way isn’t sounding too promising, it’s time to consider the benefits of custom software.

You own it

Your software is built exactly to your needs. You can even name it yourself! You have complete control over how your program works, how it looks and what the future plan is for your application. Should the direction of your company change, you also have a business asset that retains its value.

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Your unique business processes are included, not ignored

What makes a business successful is often the ways they’ve developed, over time, powerful and innovative steps to accomplish their goals. If you have unique systems in place that you want to digitize or make automated, custom software allows you to accomplish such an expansion of abilities.

It’s better for your budget

You get to choose exactly what you want your custom software to include, without having to pay for features that you don’t use. With off-the-shelf choices, your options are limited. The software company decides what features are included, as well as when they are released, and often not all features are relevant to your unique business.

You can tie together all of your existing applications

With modern APIs, we have the ability to integrate almost any application out there. Blending your custom software with these third-party applications eliminates double data entry, streamlines your workflows, and improves communications. This trend is relatively new in custom software and something that can greatly boost performance and modernize your business. At Portage Bay, we specialize in custom workflow automations and are excited to discuss integration ideas with you.

You stay ahead of the curve

Custom software is here to stay. The industry is growing every year and is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.3% from 2022 to 2030. To stay in the game with your competitors, and move ahead, it’s important to know where the trends are going. Choosing to invest in custom software is a wise strategy that will give your company a competitive advantage.

Graph showing projected growth of the US custom software development market, from 2020 to 2030

You can have mobile access

Not all SaaS products out there come with mobile apps. Having access to your data on the fly, with applications that can be used fully and seamlessly by  staff working in the field, can be key to the success of your business. Custom software perfectly lends itself to branching a mobile app from your main solution, and the app can be tailor-made to your specific needs.

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Choosing custom software

If you’ve ruled out off-the-shelf products then you are ready to embark upon the process of building a custom software application. It’s actually a lot of fun, and very rewarding. You will see your ideas turned into actions, to become the software you’ve always wanted.

At Portage Bay Solutions, we have been creating and supporting Claris FileMaker solutions for over thirty years and are skilled at incorporating Claris Connect, JavaScript, and third-party integrations with systems such as Shopify, Stripe, Xodo Sign (formerly eversign), QuickBooks, and more. We are also excited about the expanding options that Claris is providing through Claris Studio and Claris Pro.

But before you get carried away with your dream software, it’s important to ground yourself in ensuring the investment meets the goals of your specific business. Since most companies don’t have an unlimited budget, it’s wise to start with a refined approach.

For instance, what workflows does your specific software absolutely need to handle from the get go, and what areas can be added later as staff get used to the new system and can provide feedback. Is it important to have a main function up and running in three weeks, or are you okay with taking three months to have more elements in play?

Determine your custom software goals

Ask yourself exactly what you want out of your custom software before you begin, communicate those areas clearly to your developer, and you’ll be starting off on the right foot. Do you want to…

  • Grow the reach of your business
  • Attain more customers
  • Save time on common processes
  • Provide support to your staff
  • Provide excellent service to your customers
  • Grow in innovation
  • Maintain efficiency
  • Enhance your business tools

Best practices to create custom software

The process from idea to application doesn’t have to be difficult. Following a guideline, working with an experienced development partner and building a plan for communication and timeline can make this process rewarding. In our 30+ years of experience, we’ve found following these steps leads to a successful custom software development project.

Computer screen in an open, airy office showing Claris FileMaker development

Choose a reliable and experienced software developer

Your software developer is your partner in this journey. Choosing someone that has experience and expertise in the platform you want to use is key to a successful project. By working with a consulting company, you get a team of developers to support your goals, and you get the benefit of their combined years of skill and experience. They also often have pre-built modules which can be incorporated, limiting the areas that will need to be built from scratch.

Claris Platinum Partner logo

Portage Bay is a Claris Platinum Partner, an invitation-only designation which shows we have demonstrated strong support for the Claris Pillars of Excellence. Our 30+ years in the industry has provided us with the expertise to handle any type of custom software requirements, including  web-based, mobile apps, and customized integrations with 3rd party applications.

Gather requirements

The first step is to sit down with all stakeholders and project managers to gather and discuss the business requirements. Your place in your industry is unique, and the requirements will be specific not only to your industry, but also to your specific business. Include the staff who will be using the program every day. A major cause of frustration with custom software comes from executives designing it for how they wish things to work instead of how things actually work. Ask your staff to be honest. During our discovery process, we aim to understand your business as best we can and will ask some investigative questions as well.

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Set a budget

I’ve mentioned a number of times the cost savings with custom software. These savings are best realized when you accurately set your budget and expectations ahead of time. A reliable developer will provide you with working estimates for areas of the software you wish to build so that you can determine your preferred approach. Would you like to spend a certain number of hours per month? Would you like to allot blocks of hours to complete the work in phases? Setting these parameters ahead of time is highly beneficial for both parties and helps prevent unexpected surprises.

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Keep in mind that project management is a required part of software development. Communication and guidance needs to take place, and these things will happen apart from the development-specific hours.

You will also find that, despite everyone’s best efforts, some plans will need to be modified. Hours will need to be reduced in some areas and increased in others, while some items will need to be moved to a future phase and budget. The nature of software development is inherently fluid, though clear communications up front and throughout will make the process productive for all.

Test, test, test

No one knows how your software will work better than you! At Portage Bay, we actively involve you and your team in the testing process as we are looking to gain your feedback and understanding of how the product works. Any type of software involves bugs, but testing early and often helps make that process much smoother. As with setting initial expectations, involving your day-to-day staff in the vetting of the development tasks is vital.

Learn more about best practices and tips for a custom software development project.

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Communicate, communicate, communicate

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Early and frequent conversations are just as important as early and regular testing. Your developers need to hear what you are thinking and what you want your software to do. It’s much easier to shift course at the beginning of a task than after a developer has spent ten (or more) hours working on the code and the layout of an area.

When you become a Portage Bay client, we include client surveys and regularly scheduled check-ins. We also invite you and your team to participate in your project through our Teamwork project management system, where you can monitor progress and can send us your comments and feedback.


I hope you have gained some insight into the world of custom software. If you decide this is the route for you, or are interested in a free consultation to discuss more, don’t hesitate to reach out to us using the form below or scheduling a call through Calendly. You don’t have to fit your company into a prescribed box of off-the-shelf software. We look forward to reviewing the possibilities you can realize with a customized solution.

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