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Building your Online Business on the Right Foundations: Off the Shelf vs Bespoke

Last updated: 5 Jan 2023

Building your Online Business on the Right Foundations: Off the Shelf vs Bespoke

Whats the right decision when it comes to an off-the-shelf solution or having something bespoke made when starting a new business?

As a software engineer and director at Sugarcoat, people often come to me with ideas for businesses (some good, some… questionable). More often than not they involve selling some sort of product or a service online and the question inevitably comes up “how do I get started?”. A quick web search for anything along those lines and you’re immediately down the rabbit hole of paid ads, technology vendors and click bait to “get rich quick” articles but if you take an idea to its foundations of; what are you trying to sell? Who are you trying to sell it to? and what is your budget to get started? Then “getting started” is usually a choice between having something custom made for you or buying something “off the shelf”, but which is right for your business?

If you’re a hobbyist or self-funded without a chunk of change to invest in your project, you’re likely going to have to work within the confines of an off the shelf solution, one where you don’t need a developer (or anyone for that matter) to get up and running. This will allow you to get your idea to market quickly and if it is a good one (perhaps with some shrewd investment into social marketing or advertising) you might start to turn a profit. 

Start-ups will instinctively opt for what they deem the quickest or cheapest or solution without consideration for the pitfalls of compromising so early on and how it can potentially undermine or limit the potential of their business. It begs the question, if you’re an entrepreneur with a vision, who wants their business to thrive then why compromise from the start unless you absolutely have to? The results of such an approach can be:

  • Rushing a substandard solution to market which harms future growth or the ability to pivot
  • Using a templated solution makes it difficult for your business to stand out visually or functionally in the market reducing the likelihood of growth or success
  • Liable to outgrow the chosen solution, forcing the need to enhance (if possible) or rebuild very quickly at cost and time

There is often an assumption it’s cheaper to use ready made solutions which might be true initially but isn’t necessarily cost effective in the long term. Say business X is starting up and purchases some essentials in year 1: 

– 1x Website Template – ~£100

– 1x Yearly Subscription to a eCommerce Platform – ~£350

Admittedly a very modest initial outlay but let’s say year 1 has gone better than expected and they now need to make some enhancements to their offering in year 2. They now need to invest in development time if they can afford it or maybe install a few plugins incurring license fees, say 3x plugins at ~£360 per year.

Come year 3 they are now in a situation where any other enhancements will require them to invest more and more in bolt-ons but it is increasingly likely they’ll now rely on external expertise to take their adulterated solution and change it to their new requirements, assuming it’s possible at all. Being optimistic, let’s say it is feasible and this buys them more time. The problem is they will continue to repeat this onerous process frequently. In turn, their business will never reach its full potential as it has been built on unsuitable foundations for growth from day one. Given this scenario, most developers would probably advise doing something bespoke at this point because working on an existing, Frankenstein-like codebase and trying to craft it into something else can be more difficult than just starting again and tailoring to the specific needs. 

In this hypothetical situation, you can see how in 3 short years, business X’s costs have gone up either on plugins or on development time and they may or may not need a complete overhaul costing them potential earnings with a prolonged wait for the development to be done to create something bespoke. It seems inevitable for any online business to be truly successful that it will require a tailored solution. I believe wholeheartedly that bespoke is best and starting off the right path is the key to success, saving both time and money as well as putting you in a position of strength in the market. There are many ways to achieve a bespoke solution but a headless commerce platform is increasingly the preferred approach offering benefits such as:

  • Cross platform and cross channel selling opportunities
  • Integrations with other systems
  • Pivot into new technologies and markets
  • Flexibility
  • Maintainability

At Sugarcoat our philosophy is ‘if you can dream it; you can build it’. Regardless of your idea, big or small, you should be able to build a custom solution from day one. Our focus is helping you achieve your vision through our headless technonology and, by working with our expert partners, create a solution specific to your purpose and within your budget. The end result will be superior to ‘off the shelf’ products and will not require continued investment to help your business succeed and grow.

To take it back to the start, like most things in life, with eCommerce solutions you often get what you pay for however there is usually someone who can within your budget to help you achieve your vision while having something designed, visually and technically, to your specification by experts in their field (many of which can be found on this site). So, if your project has any form of complexity or innovation involved or you have a few quid to spend, then do yourself a favour and invest in something bespoke from the start, as after all, this is the foundations of your business and hopefully your income stream so you’d want it to be as good as it can from the start and for the future, don’t compromise.

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Article originally written for Flow

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