Planning for a Private Shopify App: 4 Steps That Will Save You Time and Money

You’ve made the leap.

After months (or years!) of field testing apps from the Shopify App Store, you’ve decided it’s time that you need a custom app built just for your store. Congratulations! No more wrestling with clumsy workflows. Say goodbye to ugly data transfers that waste more time than they save. Say hello to more time and more sales.

If you want to leverage more ROI from this decision, let me recommend one more step: lay out a roadmap to transition from the old app to the new app.

As any business coach will tell you, failing to plan means planning to fail. So as you shift to a powerful, made-for-you private app, take the time think clearly about what how you need the app to perform – even before you start discussions with an app developer.

Being specific about what’s important for you and your customers instead being distracted by every new app feature you see is crucial for the success of the app and your business.

I’ve taken many of my clients through the process of determining what features are going to offer the best support and growth potential for their business. Here’s a version of the checklist I use every time I build a new app.

Plan Your App Checklist

I use this list as a starting point for my discussions with new clients who want be to build a custom app for them, whether it’s completely original or it’s similar to a public app (click here for more information on the types of Shopify-compatible apps). I recommend completing this checklist before you start talking to developers so your discussions can be more thorough… and accurate.

1. Get crystal clear on the purpose of your app.

When you’re starting from scratch, it’s easy to get excited about everything you could build into your app. To maintain focus, I usually ask my clients these questions.

  • What do you really need this app to do for your store?
  • How will you know if it’s a success? Will it save you time? Money? Smooth out a recurring problem?
  • Are you targeting a specific ROI?
  • If you’re replacing a public app, was there a function there that wasn’t operating effectively for you?

Knowing exactly what linchpin features are necessary for your business to run smoothly and profitably will help you identify the functions that need more oomph (and the ones which are doing just fine without additional backup).

Developers generally like clean, efficient apps, so if we don’t have to add in a lot of extra bells and whistles, we really prefer to do that. Being able to answer the questions above with confidence will help the developer invest more time in the right areas, possibly creating better solutions than you imagined.

As you zero in on the features you really need, then you can go the extra step of setting goals or measurable outcomes. Having these benchmarks at the beginning of the project will help focus your results and your performance, leading to efficient practices.

2. Determine how your is app going to interact with Shopify.

This may sound like tech geek territory, but it’s actually a practical question. I’m not asking you to know which APIs are needed, but how you want Shopify and your store to work together to get orders placed and delivered.

These questions I ask will vary depending on what you want the app to do, but you can use these as examples. If you’re planning an app that impacts products, you should ask:

  • How many products are you selling each day?
  • How many products do you offer?
  • How often do your products change (switching new ones for old ones)?

If the app is going to work on orders or fulfillment, the questions might be:

  • How many orders are placed every day?
  • What percentage of products in each order need fulfillment?
  • Would the app have to interact immediately when an order is placed, or can it be delayed a few hours or days?

A broader issue to consider is how many visitors your store gets every week. Larger stores are going to need more server support, and knowing that right off the bat will help create accurate cost estimates.

These questions are significant because part of the maintenance costs of a private app are based on hosting costs. Naturally, smaller apps are cheaper to host than larger ones, but it’s important not to start with cost as the deciding factor.

Sometimes a larger app will have a bigger ROI because of all of the features, and settling for a smaller app to save money may cut into your profits. Having good data on traffic and your Shopify usage will help your developer right-size your app for maximum function and profit.

3. Know who’s going to use the app.

When I start learning about my clients’ needs for a particular app, I always ask them who is going to be using its main features. Knowing exactly which users are going to be interacting with the features helps the design process immensely.

I typically ask my clients a lot of questions about users, like:

  • Will owners and admin staff use it to keep track of store functions?
  • Will it have a front-end function to help customers find products and make a purchase?
  • Will this app run in the background to update data or integrate with third-party functions?

Knowing who will have their hands on the app outcomes helps build a satisfying user experience and environment.

4. Sketch out development costs.

As you budget for a private app, be aware that it’s not a once-and-done expense. There are actually several costs associated with a private app, and budgeting for all of them is imperative.

The initial costs will be the upfront development costs, which include a developer’s fees for building out the app and all of the features. A quality developer will give you a clear sense of what’s included in these costs in his proposal, especially if you have the information outlined in the points above.

The next layer of costs will be for regular maintenance. Some of those may be paid to the developer for fixing bugs, doing security updates, or doing minor changes that crop up as you use the app in real time. Make sure you have a professional lined up to make these changes before the app goes live so you’re not facing a shutdown and bleeding revenue in a crisis.

Other ongoing costs include hosting fees, which are based on the size of the app and the quality of the server (see #2). For an overview of hosting costs, you can check out my article on pricing out a private app.

Put Your Plans in Gear

Once you’ve answered these questions for yourself, it’s time to start looking for a qualified developer. If you’re not sure where to get started, read my article on finding a good software consultant. When you’ve made a good connection, hand them your answers to the questions on this checklist, and you’ll have significantly streamlined the app development process.

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