Description of project pricing

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Executive Summary:

  • For most projects, it benefits the client that they're done hourly, as "time and materials." We typically only consider fixed-bid for very large (many-thousand man-hour) projects.
  • Even the smallest project has overhead. A "do-nothing" app carries the cost of this minimum set-up.
  • Basic data-processing is fairly straightforward. In project terms, that translates to "inexpensive."
  • Content (art, sounds) generation can be time consuming ("expensive.") Projects on a tight budget can save money by providing finished content.
  • Doing a good specification up front can save expensive re-working down the road.
    • It can be challenging to get even a ballpark estimate for rough ideas. Here's why.
  • Once you decide to go ahead, there is a page describing General_project_flow.

Hourly vs Fixed Bid

We do most projects on an hourly "time and material" basis.

Some first-time clients imagine that they would prefer their project to be done as a fixed-bid. This is understandable; they're often on a tight budget, and they want a guarantee of cost. Experience has shown that, especially in smaller projects, there is a "back and forth" conversation that happens over the course of the project and the design evolves. While it's not always the case that new functionality is added mid-project, or that a certain area is completely respecified, it does happen "most of the time", especially on smaller projects (those under several-hundred man-hours.)

While we're happy to do a fixed-bid for clients who insist, we are convinced that the limitations involved ("you will get exactly what is specified -- no more, no less, with no deviations -- for exactly this price") lead to a less-satisfying project experience for all involved.

For those nervous about project-cost runaway, we can provide excellent references from very-happy customers.

All of our work estimates come with:

  • A cap on the total hours.
  • An approximate schedule of deliverables.
  • Weekly project reports detailing progress made, planned work for the coming week and issues/concerns.
  • "All the project-discussion you can eat."

All projects carry an overhead cost

Even the simplest of apps takes some effort. If you were to ask me to write an app that did absolutely nothing except display the words "Hello, World!" on the screen, while I could whip-up something like that in very short order, by the time we met to talk about your app, clarified that you were sure you didn't want it to do anything else, discussed why you'd want to hire someone to do such a thing, then I set up the project-bookkeeping for a new client project, write the code, check it into source control, back it up, test it, send you a preview to make sure it's what you want, re-build it with the correct provisioning to submit to the app-store, re-save to source control & back-up, then get you the final version... well, we're up to about half a dozen hours. This time is "project overhead" and is carried by all projects, even for an app that doesn't actually do anything.

Data processing is easy

The overhead described above exists for any project and, if your project is only slightly more complicated, it won't take much more than that. For example, my app Strings! was about a weekend's worth of effort. It was maybe 8 hours or so to get it basically running ("beta" quality), another couple of hours to get it Just-So, and then another few spent tweaking the little details. All in all, it was probably about a 15-hour app. At our then-current billing rate of $105, that'd be about $1600. At 99¢/copy, Strings! paid for itself in fairly short order.

Now, Strings! is a VERY simple app! Most client apps are somewhat more involved than that. However, we have had simple client projects range from 20-80 hours -- well within reach of an individual entrepreneur.

Note: The above describes very simple applications! It does not take much functionality for an app to leave the realm of "simple" and become "a much larger undertaking." The description above is provided to give a sense of perspective to those who come to us with "I have this very simple idea; it can't take more than an evening to develop..."

Content/Art Generation


  • We have artists/sound/copy-writing people to help with content generation.
  • For small projects, content generation can be a substantial portion of the project budget.
    • In those cases, the client can save a fair bit of money by providing their own content.

Specification: Good!

For tiny projects like those described above, I typically spend about an hour discussing the client's needs with them, then form an initial estimate based on our description of the competed app. Because I prefer to under-promise and over-deliver, our contract will typically be for the high end of that estimate range, with a cap of 10-20% over that, to assure the client that things won't explode out of proportion. Of course, the client can terminate the contract at any time that they feel they're not getting what they're paying for but, obviously, it's in my best interest to make sure that doesn't happen!

For anything larger -- sometimes with projects in the 50+ hours range and certainly for anything over 120 hours, as ball-parked by this initial meeting -- I typically recommend that the client and I spend a few more hours in specification before we arrive at an estimate for the complete project. This preliminary specification can take anywhere from 3 or 4 hours for a small project on up, depending on the scope of the project, and it provides a very detailed view of what work will be done, what the deliverables will look like, how long it will take and how much it will cost.

Additional costs

In order to get started, you will need to sign-up for Apple's iPhone Developer program. They will want some of your business and banking information (so they can electronically deposit funds from the sale of your app), and there is a $99 annual fee to Apple to join the program which, among other things, allows you to post apps to the iTunes store. Signing up is not complicated, but it's a bit of a "process." At various points in development, we will require files from your ADC-account (i.e., in order to send you a preview-app that will work on your device), so it's a good idea to start the sign-up early.

I also typically suggest that the client Set-up a FogBugz account to help us with project tracking. FogBugz comes with a free 45 day trial, after which it costs $25/person/month. There are typically 3 people involved with small projects (the client, myself and, often, a subcontractor), so that's $75/month after the first 6 weeks. I am strongly confident that you will find that having a FogBugz account saves us well over 1 hr/month of botched communications and, hence, pays for itself. If, after the free trial is over, you disagree, we can discuss what better way to handle project tracking you prefer.