Would you charge for developing an app?

To be upfront, this is more than a tutorial, again this is more of an abstract article to make you think and probably comment (if you really do, even as an Anonymous user). So as the title suggests, Let me give you a scenario, I have a client that wants to get a mobile app created, as you all know that *Apps* are the in thing for all businesses. Now the client does not have a budget, in the sense that they do not have funds to put towards the project. So the question is, Would you charge for developing an app?

Let us have the clients into three major categories each with an example and a bit of description

First things first, let's call this client a hypothetical real-estate agent, the one that sells properties and makes a couple of grand on each sale in profits. They do have overheads and that is because they drive a mortgaged BMW with a custom license plate, eat out in the choicest of the restaurants, will always have a vintage bottle of scotch in their offices. Now, that is the poor client that does not have a budget and wants this app so *badly*...

Second, let's take the example of another client, this time they are an employee in an organisation that requires some apps developed for their enterprise wide in-house requirement and this organisation that has no budget is one that has a sprawling office, they keep spending on the internal décor and always spend on trying to make things better to attract customers and by that take these *bonuses* and office benefits. The same organisation that has no budget for what will bring them business but definitely will spend on a new Persian carpet in the Manager's cabin etc.

Third, let us take the example of the last client, a developer, a fellow mate that is in the same boat as any other, they could have come to development from another previous-life career, or could be a moonlighting developer, that work for one of the clients above and at night don the garb of a developer. They also do not have the budgets for anything as they are unable to get their bosses to sign for certain training, services, etc.


Now, you are a developer and you do not fall into either of the category listed above, you are a developer that has been contracted by one client from each of the three categories as listed above. They are quite clear that they are *not* having the budgets for development and expect assistance and or development from you. It is nice to see that the open source community mentality helped open up the boards with information for free. However, the question that I pose to you is....


Which client would you accept? Would you work for them for free/low budgets? What are your thoughts on this topic?

Knowing for a fact that they all have a steady stream of income for their activities, would you be able to

1. Go to the first client and say, I want to buy/sell this house, I do not have the budgets, so would you do it for $x instead of $xxxx?

2. Go to the second client and say, I am low on funds, and I love to have your products, would you be able to ship me some of your products that total up to $xxxx but I can only pay you $x instead.

3. Go to the third client and say, I want you to develop an app for me and as I am low on funds, why do you not make it for me for free.

Balance of Trade and Economies of Scale

At the end of the day, Development is as much a business as Accounting, being a Judge, Policeman, Doctor, etc is. Being a developer does not change things in terms of when you go to buy stuff, you are not automatically granted store credits and discounts (unless you had written that module...) so why do other professions get to dictate financially how they are with funds and budgets and be able to make suggestions on the way to achieve things. Do you tell a telephone operator, a lady at the reception, or any other professional how to do their job? (unless you are making a point, of course) then why is it OK for the reverse where clients can *dictate* how things need to be.

Given that there is a whole flux of developers, trainer, semi-trained and totally untrained. Listen to some that have been in the field for long cringe about how some Manager feels that their 10 yo is God's gift to computing and because they can write a HTML page that displays the company name, they should manage the IT departments for their organisation. Nothing wrong with prodigies, but the fact that if my 10 year old is good at maths, should I insist that he be made the CFO? Lastly, there are two type of things that float to the top, things that are found in a glass and things that are found in a bowl, both being extremes, but both float to the top. The good developers have a niche market and clientelle, but this is being eaten up by the *new and untrained* developers, that is hardly an issue after all they need a break, the worse part is that they charge as much as the good developers.

This brings up to the last question that is about the 3rd type of developers, if this category of developers are *confident* of charging the clients as much as a *pro* would then why do they *not* buy/pay for the services that the *pro's* do. Why do these not buy licensed copies of software, why do they run *Hackintoshes*, why do they not pay for their learning and why do they expect that things *should* be free, be it information, tutorials, code samples. As a student, one spends money paying the University for learning, however these want to be students but not pay, how fair is that, why do they not, as in the past people would do, work for an organisation for Free just for experience building, these days they expect a 50K+ salary even if they are *fresh*

So, if the client was this third type that has *no* budget for things, but would definitely charge others, what should one do? Should they be helped? I have been through that situation, I have paid for, not necessarily as much as I should have, but what I could at the time to show my gratitude. At the end of the day, each persons time is only 24 hours and in those 24, they have to earn their bread and butter which is foremost. For those who are in to a fulltime development business, the things that one expects are their bread and butter.


Many of the readers here would be either the Indie developers that are in category #3 or are the ones that are in full time development and are faced with clients like #3. What are your thoughts?

If there are any that feel "Everything has a price" and "There is no such thing as a free lunch" and "Someone pays for Free" do not really exist, I would be more interested to hear about that.


  1. Hi JayantV (I'm the anonymous of these last days),

    I guess your questions don't even come to mind for the people that come from any other businesses than those born from a passion.

    I had written a little something about this :

    As the topic of this discussion is so obvious to people who are thinking like "professionals", I don't think that you will get many answers.
    We all agree on the topic ;)

    Being professional is... being professional and act as it should be. There is no other way.

    But I want to add, if a developer only has clients the kind of businesses and employees that you are describing in your article (manicheism ;) then I guess he is faulty somewhere that he couldn't :
    - find the right kind of clients
    - attract the right kind of clients
    There is the responsibility of the developer also.

    Side note : as a published book illustrator&author (during those last 8 years), I now help artists to make money from their passion by teaching them how to value their work, negotiate, upsell. I guess we are on the same boat trying to educate beginners so the entire community of developers/artists/musicians etc... benefits from better conditions at work (money and esteem).

  2. Mr. Mels, you are most welcome to share your thoughts and I appreciate that.

    I agree with your statement that no one became right by *Working Harder* but I feel differently with your statement that the responsibility of finding clients lies on the developers too. DaVinci, Michaelanglo, VanGogh and many others were master painters, and they had to take up painting for clientelle that could pay, but had no real idea or value of art. The same remains true even today, service oriented professionals that provide their services do many things for passion but end up chosing clients because it pays the bills. All of us want to work on our *pet project* the one that *we* think will make it *big* but to pay for the bills, and help manage that we need to do what we need to do.

    I have spend over 16 years in the Middle to Senior Management of several companies in several countries so I have seen a blend of cultural behaviours and mentalities, things that many do not get to experience.

    Passion is a word that is used in a variety of ways, some depicting +ve and some -ve. The Mel Gibson movie, "The Passion of the Christ" is another example.

    can chat with you some other time over a different medium about professionalism and acting like a professional and the realities.

    Anyways, it is nice to hear from you.

  3. Interesting read, I think that we agree on the obligations (find clients that pay). It's just that for me the word 'building a career' means creating opportunities, making the right choices and slip from "doing the work that clients expect from us" to "finding clients that would *get great value* by paying us to do the work that we love to do". It requires to be proactive and not reactive.

    It takes dedication and anticipation of the market's needs.
    So, while I agree that it's *really* far from easy, one should always work toward that goal. Then fire the clients that don't pay soon enough ;)

    That's what I did for my own books in such a competitive field where others are more than happy to work for free (or even pay to be published), that's what I share with the artists that I help, and it brought more money and pleasure to all of us -after a hard and long journey.
    At the end, one is still responsible -even in a such a little proportion- of his fate. Just have to work on the right things and "ship ship ship", fail many tomes until there is no room for fortune anymore.

    I will come back to read your interesting posts whenever I have some free time. I think that your site deserves a bit more attention from the Corona community.


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