If you’re a small business owner, you’ve probably just read that heading and thought: “That sounds expensive – I can’t afford that kind of thing!”

Think again, it’s small business owners who most often gain the greatest benefit from software tailored to their needs.

What is bespoke software?

Bespoke software is written specifically to address a particular set of problems for an individual client.

The opposite of bespoke software is off-the-shelf software.

Off-the-shelf software is more general in nature (such as a word processor or CRM software). It is aimed to have as broad an appeal as possible and this allows the developers to sell many copies of it to recoup their development costs.

Just as off-the-shelf software can range from Microsoft Excel to a simple plugin for your WordPress blog, so bespoke software covers the same range; from a simple Excel macro through to a complex online booking system.

Do I need bespoke software?

In some cases, the off-the-shelf software comes close enough to your business needs that you can alter the way in which you work to accommodate its idiosyncrasies.

For example you wouldn’t commission a bespoke word processor simply because you wanted the accelerator key for the print function to be ctrl+shift+4 rather than ctrl+p (I realise that the preceding analogy is aimed at PC rather than Mac users). Similarly a cheap CRM solution may annoy you with the way in which you have to enter client data, but it was cheap and the annoyance doesn’t impact your business enough to merit more financial outlay.

In other cases, however, there are those tasks which are specific to the way in which you do business and which you dread every single month. The tasks which tie up a member of staff for days correlating data or producing reports from spreadsheets or … well, each business seems to have its own bête noir.

This is where it may be worthwhile having some bespoke software created to carry out the task for you. The software would be tailored to the specific needs of your organisation and target the problems specific to your organisation.

Can I afford it?

For developers of off-the-shelf software the pricing model is down to units shipped. If it’s cost £50,000 to develop then they need to sell 500 copies at £100 to have broken even.

Bespoke software has a user-base of a single client and that client has to bear the entire cost of the development of the software. If the software costs £50,000 to develop then that’s the cost to the client!

You need to know how much it’s going to cost to get your bespoke software before you can make an educated business decision as to whether or not it merits the outlay. There are no brochures explaining the benefits of the software, you’ll need to talk to a software development firm, discuss your needs and get them to quote you for the cost of the job.

Most people, when they think of software development, imagine a team of pasty-faced developers working away for months in a caffeine-fuelled coding haze locked in some pizza-carton filled room far away from natural light. The result is a complex suite of programs or a super-whizzy Facebook app which costs the earth to produce.

For certain types of software, this isn’t far from the truth. Those kinds of software are the domain of the large business organisation or software providers who are creating off-the-shelf software.

Bespoke software, however, isn’t always a large development task – sometimes it’s the work of a few hours for a single programmer and the cost can be £100 or less accordingly. The more complex the task, the more money it will cost you.


Bespoke software provides you with a fits-like-a-glove solution to one or more of your business needs when there is no, satisfactory, off-the-shelf solution.

The cost of this solution is going to be dependent on the nature and complexity of the problem which it is to solve. You can only determine whether there is a good business case for this by discussing your needs with a software solutions provider.

The level of grief that a business problem causes you isn’t, necessarily, proportional to the cost of resolving it using bespoke software. It could be that a simple macro resolves a monthly battle with piles of invoices and for less than the cost of a laser printer you’ve sorted it out.

Why not have a chat with a software solutions provider to see if they can help you with monthly chore which is killing your business? You may be surprised how easily the problem can be made to go away.