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Published 31 Jan 19

Finding a booking system that works for you - The hidden (and not so hidden) costs of a bespoke solution.

  • Written by Cécile Girardin
  • Tagged as bespoke development

Now that it is time to embrace the success of your business and invest in a solution to automate your online bookings, you may be worried about the costs involved with a bespoke system versus a software as a service solution (SaaS). Here are the key considerations when deciding which way to go.

Check out our quick decision-making table if you are in a rush!

Initial development time

The advantage of a bespoke solution is you can specify exactly what functionality you need to meet the needs of your business. Unfortunately, this means you will also need to allocate time to communicate these needs to developers, designers and project managers. That’s before you even take into account the actual time to build the system. Realistically, a full development lifecycle will take many months.

Whilst a SaaS solution may not be built to your exact specifications it will already be fully formed and ready to go whenever you are. Established solutions, which have been operating in the space for some time, may have already formulated answers to questions you cannot conceive of early in development and which could represent yet more time lost via the bespoke route.

New features & functionality

It is important to bear in mind that securing a bespoke solution is an ongoing process, rather than a one-off purchase. Software works in iterations - meaning it requires continuous updates in response to user feedback and the demand for new features. If you go bespoke you will need to work with the developers each time a new feature is identified for your system, if your original developers are unavailable when required you will also have to contend with the expensive complication of finding a new team who are willing to inherit an established codebase. Each feature typically takes weeks or even months of development, depending on the complexity of the functionality required and how well thought through the initial software architecture was.

On the other hand, the booking software industry is a competitive market, this is advantageous for businesses looking for booking solutions! If you choose the right SaaS service then you will find that new features are regularly implemented. For instance, Bookwhen has a team of dedicated developers and a support team who aggregate customer feedback to inform updates. Together, they are constantly innovating and re-thinking how best to serve your business.


Things move quickly in the software industry. One way to ensure your system is maintained and kept up to date is to employ a team of developers to work on it in house. The alternative, pushing contractors for updates, is expensive and time-consuming. At a minimum, routine maintenance involves software updates, server maintenance, and security patches. In addition, websites and their databases need to be routinely backed up and secured.

To eliminate maintenance concerns you need to choose a booking system with a strong technical team who keep a constant eye on new developments. By choosing the right system you can ensure that your business is running on a cutting edge, up-to-date and robust piece of software that improves with age. Check reviews of the SaaS companies you are investigating, look for consistency of service and responsiveness to support queries to ensure that they are diligent and well informed of the shifting requirements of the contemporary internet.


You have already grown far enough to need to streamline your booking process, it’s entirely possible that you may need to grow further. This means new demands will be placed on your booking system, a bespoke solution forces you to allocate time and money to adapt to these demands.

Successful software will already have had to deal with rapidly growing demand. SaaS companies are built to scale and will be perfectly placed to assist with your success.

“Having worked on both sides of the industry, I quickly realized the power of a scalable online system. My team enjoys the challenge, and we thrive on all the great feedback our thousands of clients send us. We work with the Bookwhen community to produce technical excellence: that is what feeds my passion for the SaaS industry.” Jo Potts, Founding Director, Bookwhen.


There are two aspects to security. First, you need to ensure server security to maintain an efficient system. Then, most importantly, it is your responsibility to ensure the security of the data you collect from your users. This requires keeping up to date with the latest data security requirements. A bespoke solution requires you to devote resources to staying on top of these concerns or cover the cost of continuing support from a contractor.

A SaaS solution’s success is linked to yours so they are compelled to stay secure in the unpredictable landscape of the internet. Keeping your users’ data secure requires a vigilant team who understand the latest regulatory requirements and obsess about state of the art technologies to ensure the protection of the data they are holding.


You have 2 options when employing a team of developers to design and deploy a bespoke system that will suit your needs -
A team of external contractors - unfortunately, there is no guarantee that they will deliver what you need and you run a high risk of an unmanageable system with a large bill. If you outsource the project you will have a large up-front cost and ongoing maintenance costs.
An in-house team of developers - the only way to ensure developers committed to your project. This approach gives you greater control over the quality of the work but comes with the commitment to substantial ongoing staff costs.

Most SaaS online booking solutions will eliminate large up-front costs, leaving you with a monthly payment and no nasty surprises if further development is needed. When researching providers you should pay special attention to hidden costs, which can take the form of charges per transaction or ‘bolt on’ features.

Bookwhen charges you a simple flat fee per month. We do not charge any hidden fees and you have full flexibility to upgrade or downgrade your plan as required.

We spoke with Bookwhen Founder Jo Potts, who has worked extensively with both approaches:

“Of course, the bespoke route is always alluring for those who dream of building their own system. But the complexity of any project in a new discipline can be deceptive. Bookwhen has been working in booking solutions for almost 10 years, and from a technological perspective the challenges overcome in that time have been numerous, and sometimes surprising! They continue to evolve in nature to this day and that is why I would always opt for a SaaS solution.

Many businesses have returned to Bookwhen after a quest into bespoke development. The learning curve is steep and both failure and success are expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, particularly for small businesses.

If you’re seriously considering a bespoke solution, my advice would be to budget at least 30% more than the amount you’re quoted and make sure you also budget for continuing maintenance and contingency. You should also think carefully about the programming language and infrastructure of your solution, there is always the chance that your software contractor may walk away and leave you scrambling to find someone to get up to speed with it.”

If you have quite specific needs that aren’t being met by regular solutions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our award-winning support team. For example, Bookwhen has a well-established franchise business solution. And we often work with bigger clients to bring key roadmap features forwards and re-prioritise.

Quick-decision making table:

Bespoke Software as a service
Initial development time Several months. Ready when you are!
New features A few weeks to a few months whenever something is required on your system - plus the cost! New features are regularly implemented according to crowd feedback.
Maintenance Things move quickly in the software industry. One way to ensure your system is maintained and kept up to date is to employ a team of developers to work on it in house. Choose a booking system with a strong technical team, who are constantly keeping an eye on new developments.
Performance You need to ensure that your website will be able to cope with increasing demand as you grow. A successful SaaS system will have already had to deal with growing demand.
Security You need to keep up to date on two aspects of security: (i) ensure server security to maintain an efficient system; (ii) ensure the security of the data you collect from your users. Keeping your users’ data secure requires a vigilant team who understand the latest regulatory requirements and obsess about state of the art technologies to ensure the protection of the data they are holding.
Cost Many thousands for the initial development, with the commitment that entails, plus ongoing maintenance and development costs! A small monthly or yearly fixed rate without any lock-in or surprises. No hidden costs.