Planning on DIYing Your Subscription Billing? Read This First

When it comes to finding the right subscription billing management tool, it can be tempting to build your own. But before you decide to embark on that journey, make sure you’ve carefully weighed the pros and cons. After all, many a business owner has attempted a DIY software project, only to wind up regretting it later.

Let’s find out how you can avoid that same trap:

The upsides of building your own subscription solution:

Customization

The biggest and most obvious benefit here you’ll have the ability to completely customize the features to perfectly match your needs. For example, you might be considering building a billing solution if you need payment methods or schedules that aren’t often supported by other tools.

A possible edge

This ties in with customization but is worth discussing as its own point. Outside of the customization benefits for you as a business owner, would creating your own subscription billing tool give you an edge in your industry? Is there something you could build into it that would also be a standout benefit for your product/business?

With subscription tools, this is a little less likely than other scenarios. When it comes to a billing tool, there are only so many standout features that matter for customer experience, and most of them are covered by one tool or another. However, if your business exists in a particular niche where your customers want features like:

  • specific payment methods or schedules
  • invoices delivered in a certain format
  • other features that might not be included in a standard billing solution

…then this could come into play.

The important thing here is to make sure you’re considering things from your customer’s point of view – not yours. Oftentimes, business owners think that customers care about something that they don’t actually care that much about. If you can, sit down and talk with a few customers about what (if anything) they don’t like about the way your business is currently processing payments. Take that feedback into account before deciding whether you should build a subscription billing solution of your own.

The downsides of building your own subscription software:

Cost

No matter which way you build it, creating your own software is almost always more expensive than using ready-made software. If you successfully build your own on a reasonable budget and the other options are very expensive, then you might save money in the very long run, but that’s about it.

It’s common for people to try and lower development costs by outsourcing exclusively to overseas developers or cheap development agencies. Don’t forget that communication can take up a lot of time. If you’re working with people in other time zones, there’s often a slow turnaround on communication too.

If you don’t have someone on staff who can work on your billing solution, but you’re still intent on building it, look for local agencies or freelancers. Finding a freelancer to work with can cost less than hiring an employee or working with an agency. And make sure to look for someone with experience. They don’t have to have a decade of work behind them, but working with someone more experienced can help with communication and scope creep.

Scope creep

Scope creep relates to cost, but should also be considered and discussed on its own. In essence, “scope creep” is a term that describes that projects often take longer than we originally estimate. It specifically refers to adding things to the scope of the project — extra features, etc. — hence the name, but is often used as a shorthand for the general growth of a project over time.

Projects, especially projects involving multiple moving parts and people, often take 1.5-2x as long (or longer) than we think they will at first. The larger and more complicated the project is, the more likely it is that scope creep will become an issue. There are things you can do to try and keep it in check, though:

The important thing to remember is that scope creep’s cost is twofold:

  1. It adds to the cost of development (especially if you’re paying hourly fees)
  2. It also adds to the time until you have a workable solution, which means potentially losing money in the meantime

Just how out of control can scope creep get? Well, Rebilly was originally created as a proprietary billing solution. Now, more than six years later, we’re still continuously adding features. Keep that in mind if you think creating a comprehensive billing solution will be simple or easy!

Maintenance and security

Assuming you do finish your subscription billing tool, you’ll need to maintain it and keep it up to current security standards. There’s no shortcut here. It has to be done, so make sure you plan for that commitment when making a decision.

If you used a freelancer or outside team to build the tool, you’ll need to make sure that they’re available for ongoing maintenance work, or hire someone internally who can handle it. Security wise, you’ll need to stay at the top of the game to make sure that your customer’s data isn’t at risk. At the very bare minimum, you’ll want to maintain PCI compliance. We’ve written about PCI compliance before here, and you can read more about what it takes to meet it here.

Is there a compromise?

In general, the only real reasons to build a new subscription billing tool from scratch are:

  • A need for features that aren’t readily available and can’t be created with API functionality from current tools
  • The ability to build in subscription billing features that would be a selling point for your product itself

Otherwise, you can get most of the upsides of building your own tool, without the massive investment, by using a tool with a robust API functionality. Then, you’ll be able create the kinds of customizations you need, without having to build the entire tool from the ground up. For example, using Rebilly’s API, we’ve had customers create custom fields that let them keep track of which content their customer “likes,” which makes it easier for customer service agents to help customers.

If you’re looking for other features to evaluate a subscription billing tool on, make sure to download our free checklist. You’ll get a list of the six absolute must-haves (and why they matter), along with other useful tips. Get it for free below:

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