Exploring the Different Pricing Models in Custom Software Development

To accurately estimate custom software development cost, businesses must understand the various pricing models they might encounter.

A vendor’s pricing model can significantly affect the project’s cost, timeline, quality, and outcome.

It serves as a guideline for budget allocation, risk sharing, and overall project management, directly influencing the relationship between the client and the technology company.

This article explores the various pricing models used in custom software development. We examine each model’s advantages, disadvantages, and suitable scenarios. We also explore the factors that businesses should consider when choosing a pricing model.

Fixed-Price Model

A Fixed-Price model is a pricing approach with a predetermined and agreed-upon price for a specified scope of work. It requires a well-defined set of project requirements, deliverables, and timelines. Once the project scope is defined and a fixed price is agreed upon, it cannot be altered without renegotiating the contract terms.


Budget Control: The client knows exactly what the custom software development cost will be, which aids in budget planning and ensures that the project will not exceed the allocated funds.

Minimized Risk: Since the vendor bears the risk of any cost overrun, the risk to the client is minimized.

Clear Expectations: Due to the well-defined project scope and deliverables, both the client and the vendor have clear expectations of what the project entails.


Limited Flexibility: If any changes or additional requirements arise during the project, adjusting the scope can be challenging and potentially contentious.

Quality Risk: To stay within budget and meet deadlines, vendors may cut corners, potentially affecting the quality of the final product.

One example of a fixed-price project could be a small business commissioning a custom software development firm to build a straightforward e-commerce mobile app. The requirements are clear: product pages, a shopping cart, payment gateway integration, etc., and the timelines are fixed.

Time and Materials Model

The Time and Materials (T&M) model is a pricing approach where costs are determined by the time and resources spent on a project. Clients pay for the work hours the development team spends and the materials (including software, hardware, and other resources) used in the project. This model offers flexibility as it allows for adjustments to project scope and requirements during the development process.


Flexibility: This model allows for changes in project requirements and scope throughout the development process. It accommodates evolving needs and unexpected challenges.

Transparency: The client is billed for actual work done and resources used, making it easy to see where the costs come from.

Optimal Solution: With more flexibility and continuous feedback, this model enables the development of a product closely aligned with the client’s evolving needs.


Uncertain Costs: Since the final cost is decided by the time and resources used, the initial estimate may vary significantly from the actual cost, making budgeting challenging.

Risk of Scope Creep: Without a rigid scope, the custom software development project may extend beyond initial expectations, leading to “scope creep” and increasing costs.

The Time and Materials model best suits complex, long-term projects with uncertain or evolving requirements. It’s not recommended for projects with a tight budget and fixed scope.

One example of a T&M model project could be the development of an AI-based predictive analysis tool for a tech startup. Given the experimental nature of the project and the possibility of changing requirements, the T&M model allows for adjustments as the team learns more during the development process.

Milestone-based Pricing Model

In a Milestone-based Pricing model, the custom software development project is divided into several key stages or milestones. Payment is tied to the successful completion of these milestones, which can be certain functionalities, features, or stages of the software.


Risk Mitigation: This model allows clients to assess progress at each milestone and provides opportunities to correct course if needed.

Encourages Efficiency: The need to complete milestones to receive payment encourages efficient and timely work from the custom software development team.

Transparent Progress Tracking: The division of the project into measurable stages allows easy tracking of progress and quality assurance at every step.


Potential Delays: If there are disagreements over whether a milestone has been met, this could lead to project delays.

Scope Rigidity: While not as inflexible as the fixed-price model, changing requirements within a milestone can be challenging.

The Milestone-based Pricing model is suitable for large-scale projects that can be naturally divided into phases or stages, and projects in which progress can be measured against well-defined milestones.

An example of a milestone-based pricing project could be the development of a comprehensive Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. This project could be divided into milestones such as Contact Management Feature, Sales Tracking Feature, and Report Generation Feature, with payments made upon successful completion and approval of each milestone.

Value-based Pricing Model

The Value-based Pricing model determines the cost of a project based on the value or benefits it provides to the client rather than the time, effort, or resources involved. The price is negotiated and agreed upon considering factors like potential revenue increase, cost savings, competitive advantage, and other intangible benefits for the client.


Focus on Value: This model allows the client to pay for the expected value the software will bring to their business, which can feel more justifiable and satisfying.

Potential for Higher Quality: Since the vendor’s compensation is tied to the perceived value, there is a strong incentive to deliver high-quality, effective software.


Difficult to Determine Value: The value or benefits a software project will bring can be subjective and challenging to quantify upfront.

Potential for Disagreements: The vendor and the client might have different perceptions of the software’s value, leading to potential disagreements over pricing.

The Value-based Pricing model is suitable for projects that can deliver a significant competitive advantage or business transformation, where the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.

An example could be the development of a proprietary algorithm for a hedge fund. The algorithm is expected to significantly outperform the market, leading to millions in additional revenue. In this case, the vendor might price the project based on a percentage of the potential profits or a fixed amount that reflects the anticipated value to the hedge fund.

Retainer Model

In the Retainer model, the client agrees to pay a fixed amount regularly (often monthly) for a set of services or to a dedicated team of developers for a specified period. This model is often characterized by an ongoing, long-term relationship between the client and the software development company.


Budget Predictability: Clients know the cost upfront, allowing for easy budgeting.

Dedicated Team: The client often has a dedicated team from the vendor side, which provides continuity and a better understanding of the client’s business.

Flexibility: The retainer model offers flexibility to prioritize and reprioritize tasks and adjust to evolving business needs.


Unused Hours: If the client doesn’t have enough tasks to keep the team busy, the client may end up paying for idle time.

Less Control: Clients have less control over individual team members’ productivity or how the vendor allocates the resources.

The Retainer model suits long-term projects or ongoing maintenance and upgrades where the client requires a dedicated team. It’s not recommended for one-off, short-term projects with a well-defined scope and a clear end date.

An example could be a tech company that outsources its product development to a software development firm. The company pays a retainer fee for a dedicated team of developers, UX/UI designers, and project managers who work continuously on developing and updating the product.

The Best Way to Reduce Custom Software Development Cost

Given this decision’s complexity and potential impact on custom software development cost, it is recommended that businesses consult with software development consultants when deciding on a pricing model.

Consultants can provide valuable insights, understanding the nuances of each model and how they align with a project’s specific needs. This collaborative approach will help ensure that the chosen model serves the best interests of both the client and the vendor, laying the groundwork for successful project completion.

Naveen Joshi

Chief Marketing Officer

Naveen is the Chief Marketing Officer at Taazaa. He has spent 15+ years understanding the core of marketing and sales in technology. His pursuit of getting things done in the best way possible has taught him to distinguish theory from practice.