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Whether it’s to build a web, mobile or desktop application, you need a software developer at nearly every stage of the process. The title “software developer” is a bit of an all-encompassing term given to any designer or engineer that writes code. It can include junior-level developers that work with low-level coding to senior developers that have experience engineering a complete solution for their clients.

If you have an idea and it’s IT-related, chances are you need a software developer. Even hardware engineering requires software developers to program circuits and firmware. The cost to engage one includes several factors—here are the main components that factor into software development costs.

Cost Factor #1: What Do You Want Developed?

Because software developers have different skills in different industries, the major cost associated with engaging a software developer will hinge on what it is you want built. Some skills are higher in demand and others are rare. For instance, you’ll get several bids for a WordPress developer because it’s a common platform that’s more widely understood by web developers, requiring more common programming skills like PHP, HTML and CSS. On the other hand, if you’re engineering a router platform, you might have fewer bids to choose from since you need a specialized C, assembly, or C++ developer.

One factor you want to avoid is the high cost of low quality. Always be prepared to factor in scalability, usability and good design. Without these factors, you’ll likely pay a much higher price than the upfront cost to ensure that you can expand and maintain in the future.

To help you budget for different development project types, here are rates charged by developers for different languages and platforms.

  • Basic C Development: $75-$150/hour
  • Web Development (front-end): $50-$75/hour
  • Web Development (back-end): $75-$150/hour
  • API Development: $75-$150/hour
  • C++ Development: $100-$150/hour
  • Desktop Development: $30-$100/hour
  • Mobile Development: $30-$150/hour

These categories are very generic, but you can probably align any development project with one of them to identify the general cost of your project. The cost factors have a large range, because after you determine the type of programmer you need, the next factor is scope.

Cost Factor #2: Scope

Software development projects can last anywhere from a few hours to a few months to even a year. The length of time definitely impacts the cost, and the time it takes to develop even a minimal viable product (MVP) will be determined by the scope.

Scope is loosely defined as “what you need done,” factoring in things like languages, technology, platform, API integration and difficulty. Your developer (either an individual or an agency) can help you flesh out the scope. For someone unfamiliar with software development, the scope can be hard to document and nail down, but it’s a critical part of a successful project.

A few scope categories that must be defined prior to obtaining reliable cost estimates from potential developers include:

  1. Hosting environment: Linux is free, open-source development and Windows charges for licenses. This will affect the cost of your hosting plan.
  2. Database: Do you need a database design? Most dynamic web-based projects need a database to store data.
  3. APIs: Are any external APIs needed? This increases the complexity of the scope and costs if the API requires a paid subscription.
  4. Mobile: Do you want your application to include mobile compatibility? This is mainly a web concern, but some desktop applications are also available for Android and iOS.
  5. Engineering: Will the developers be able to plug in existing code to create a solution or do they need to engineer new ideas. Engineering increases the time associated with a project, so it also increases costs.
  6. Application size: Applications come in all different sizes. You could have a small, 2-page application that takes very little time or a full enterprise solution that expands the organization. Size is a major cost factor in development.

Cost Factor #3: Geography

Upwork is a global platform, so we cater to development from any location. The location of your developer plays a role in costs, because different locations have distinguishable costs of living. There are pros and cons in choosing developers outside of your own city, state, or country.

The pros include a reduction in cost and localization should the developers speak the language of your target market. You can cut some estimates in half by choosing a developer in certain countries or outside of major metropolitan areas in your country.

The cons include increased time estimates if time zones differ, possible miscommunication and legal repercussions. If the developer is located 9 hours ahead of you, it means response times are usually increased to 12-24 hours compared to a local developer that should get back to you the same day. Miscommunications also increase costs, because the developer and application owner should have a clear understanding of what needs to be done.

Whether you hire local or in another country, a project manager can help facilitate communication between you multiple developers and keep the project on track.

Scope, geography and the type of programming give you a general idea of costs, but the only way to nail down project costs is to speak with developers and request bids. Make sure you clearly explain your requirements and work with your developer to define the scope.