Choosing Between SaaS and a Custom Website
So you need a website, but you’re not sure whether you want to pay for a website provided as software as a service (SaaS), or build a custom website and host it.
The options are plentiful, as are the reasons for building a website in the first place. The purpose of this article is not to put forward specific packages or providers for consideration, rather I want to discuss how you might make that decision more objectively. Also, this discussion is for a commercial website, not a personal website or blog.
Here at End Point, we receive many inquiries asking for new websites. We are well equipped to help you work through this process, and are happy to do so. But for those of you who want to “go it alone”, or if you just want to be better prepared before giving us a call, read on for some things to consider as you make a pros & cons list for SaaS vs. custom websites.
While deciding between a SaaS offering and a custom build carries unlimited considerations, here are a few main points to help you narrow down the field.
The foremost factor that you should consider for your pros & cons list is your experience. This may come as a little bit of a shock, as you might think that budget would be the top consideration. Budget is very important, but it is largely determined by your experience with your chosen technology. Don’t think for a minute that either SaaS or custom development cannot consume almost any budget, especially when you are working with an unfamiliar technology.
So before budget, comes experience. Experience can be futher divided into experience with your business and experience with websites in general. Here are a few questions to start off with.
In your industry, are you a:
How long have you owned this business?
- 1–3 years
- 3+ years
Does this business have an existing website?
If yes, is it currently SaaS or custom-developed?
If you answered “1” to more than half of the above questions, it’s more likely that a SaaS system would be a better fit for you. If you mostly answered “2”, you may want to lean towards custom. These questions are not definitive, but are meant to help you decide where to focus your research.
In general, if your budget is under $10,000 then SaaS is most likely the choice for you. Some exceptions here:
- You are a talented web programmer.
- Your brother, sister, friend, or cousin is a talented web programmer.
- You or your developer friend have enough time to devote to this endeavor. You will need a lot.
Custom websites are no longer appropriate for the average business owner with less than a $10k minimum start up cost, as well as a $1–3k monthly budget for ongoing improvements and maintenance. Currently, droves of talented programmers are working for SaaS companies, building tools for you to use to build your own website. In fact, SaaS offerings are so much cheaper and more widely supported that building a custom site for the average small business usually makes little sense.
If your budget is $10k or more, you are probably capable of funding a custom website. However, this alone should not rule out a SaaS website. SaaS offerings come in many shapes and sizes, and many are fully capable of running enterprise-level websites!
How does your business make money?
One good case for using a custom website is if your company offers a niche product. Most SaaS offerings are based on popular business or product templates, so they might not fit well if you need to break from the mold.
For example, do you sell clothing, movies, or tools? There are great SaaS offerings out there that can have your website up and running in less than a day. Do you provide a service that uses multiple providers, working in different capacities and for different rates depending on the level of service provided? You may need a custom application! The further from commonplace your products or services are, the more likely it is that you will need a custom application.
Again, all of this advice is general, and there are exceptions to every rule. SaaS choices still require customizing to fit your business model. None of them will fit perfectly, and you will usually need to configure and add plugins to make your site conform to your business practices. SaaS offerings typically have a wide range of plugins and customizations to accommodate this. Those extras usually cost extra too.
While SaaS sites do provide a great starting point with a plethora of potential plugins, in many cases plugins are supplied by 3rd parties. That means that if you have problems with the plugin, you will need to deal with that provider separate from the main service provider.
A lot of time and money can be spent trying to make diverse systems work together. SaaS can be more “turn-key” in the beginning, but especially for more complex websites, it can end up costing more than if you created a custom site in the beginning.
What vendors does your company work with?
Vendors are sometimes overlooked when trying to decide on what type of website will be needed. Here are some questions which might complicate your website:
- Do you use a 3rd party to ship or fulfill your products?
- Do you sell your products on Amazon, Google Shopping, or other providers?
- Do you use a vendor to provide your products to you?
- Do you assemble the product after receiving parts from different vendors?
- Does your company use any software for customer management, accounting, or shipping?
If your answer is yes to any of these questions, you need to know what platform each of those vendors or platforms use, and if it is compatible with the website you are planning to build. Almost all business done today involves the exchange of information between you, your customer, and your vendors.
That exchange of information usually takes place through an Application Programming Interface (API). If you aren’t familiar with APIs, here’s a great explanation. Understanding how websites communicate with your vendors is very important.
The point is that if you plan on doing any volume of business, at some point you will need to exchange information with some vendor or other. Verifying that your new website is capable of exchanging information with existing vendors is a big consideration for you to make before you build. Building a website without the required APIs would be like building a house without any provision for water, plumbing, or electricity. This is important stuff, and it can get very expensive to retrofit!
Is that all?
Absolutely not. There are endless considerations that can play into your decision. But hopefully this post has given you some good ideas of where to start and will help you avoid analysis paralysis. Use this information to get a good idea of your needs and document them, so that you can investigate the right things. Compare how well different solutions fit your needs.
Who knows, you may start with a SaaS solution for a few years, and then when things are rolling and you have a better handle on your site layout, migrate to a custom-built site. There are no set rules.
Don’t read an ad for a website service offering to find out you what you need in a website. Determine what you need in your website and look for a product which meets your needs!