What Makes Software Worth Your Hard Earned $ (or at least worth your time)

Free empty CD image

The work that I do with my company (Codex Studios) gives me the opportunity to test out lots of software solutions to enhance my own workflow and to implement into client projects.

I have spent (and continue to spend) lots of time comparing the features of various competing products, weighing those features against the current pain points, and finally making a decision on what will work best.

In this post, I’ll talk about how I weigh the options to find the best solutions for my clients and my business.

The Morass of Options

As someone who’s very comfortable with technology, I still find the sheer number of software options that are available for a given problem can be mildly overwhelming. As an example, let’s do a quick Google search for “best project management software”.

These are the results that are below all of the ads that display at the top of the results.

I see one result for 15 options, another for 10, and still another with 68 options.

That doesn’t really narrow things down very much now does it?

How is a business owner supposed to wade through all that hullabaloo?

The Cost of a Wrong Decision

Choosing the wrong software can come with lots of costs. These include:

  • The cost of actually paying for the software (if you move past the trial period or usage limit).
  • The time cost of trying to configuring the software correctly.
  • The cost of paying off the accrued technical debt if you decide it’s not the right fit.

Questions to Consider When Evaluating Software

In general, the criteria that I use for selecting software remains fairly consistent regardless of whether I’m evaluating website hosting, a WordPress plugin, a proprietary app, a Saas solution, or a platform. For my purposes, I tend to think about all of these categories under the main umbrella of “Software.” And when comparing different solutions under a specific category, these are the questions I like to ask:

  • Who’s going to use it?
  • What’s the real problem that needs solved?
  • Do the features solve the real problem?
  • What is the quality of documentation and support?
  • Will it integrate with existing tools?
  • How much does it cost?

Who’s Going to Use It?

I tell my clients that technology should serve people—not the other way around. The first and most important factor that I consider is who’s actually going to be using the software on a regular basis. Are they tech savvy early adopters or quasi-Luddites?

For example, if I’m the only one who will be configuring or interacting with a technical WordPress plugin (e.g., something like WP Rocket for caching), then I’m OK going with a complex solution. If the end user(s) will be non-techy folks, then I’ll want to go with a solution that is easy for them to use with minimal training. Starting with the end user in mind eliminates a lot of potential implementation headaches down the road.

What’s the Real Problem that Needs Solved?

Building websites and implementing tech solutions for clients has a lot of crossover with medical and automotive diagnosis. In many cases, the problems described by the client are actually symptoms of deeper root issues.

For example, let’s say a client tells me that they’re having trouble keeping track of their document pipeline and they want a centralized place to manage everything. Sure, it would be pretty easy to spin up a cloud document solution like Google Workspace or Office 365, but springing for a solution too fast may not solve the client’s problem.

It could be that the client already uses one of those services, and the real problem is that a clear document workflow has not been established. Adding a new piece of software wouldn’t solve the problem and would likely make things worse. If I need to unscrew a nut, I don’t need a hammer.

Do the Features Solve the Real Problem?

Once I have a good understanding of what the real problem is and who the users will be, then I have the base information I need to evaluate features. Evaluating features through this lens makes it easy to sift through the solutions that merely seem like a good fit to find the ones that are perfectly suited to the problem.

What is the Quality of Documentation and Support?

Quality documentation and support are table stakes for software developers. If I’m implementing a solution for a client, I want to have good confidence that they can look up answers to their questions if necessary. If I’m implementing a technical solution in a website, I want to have confidence that I can troubleshoot any issues along the way. Good documentation shows me that you care about your customers and are invested in their success.

Will It Integrate with Existing Tools?

A lot of the software that I use regularly integrates seamlessly with other tools, either through native API integrations or through an automation platform like Zapier. Sometimes clients are using one software, and they want to make it work with other tools in their ecosystem.

Good integrations enable clients to develop custom workflows based on tools that they know and enjoy. In general, tools that are proprietary and closed tend to be more trouble than they’re worth, even if they promise to be an “all-in-one-solution.”

How Much Does it Cost?

While this is an important question, I’ve listed it last because I don’t think it should be asked too early in the evaluation process. Software offerings within a specific niche tend to have similar pricing structures. For example, if you were to compare the pricing structure for several project management apps, you’d likely find that there is some consistency in price per user, especially if those companies are after similar markets.

But sometimes price varies wildly.

For example, some high-quality WordPress plugins can be quite expensive, while other high-quality plugins are free. Price isn’t always an indication of quality or reliability. Also, some platforms seem to charge reasonable rates based on a percentage of revenue (e.g., Patreon, Gumroad), but if you do the math it’s actually more cost effective to build the same thing on WordPress and have full control and extensibility. It’s important to evaluate the cost of a software over time.

When it comes to price, the cost of software cannot exceed the cost of the problem that needs to be solved.

When it comes to price, the cost of software cannot exceed the cost of the problem that needs to be solved. By answering all of the preceding questions thoroughly, it’s easier to make a determination on whether a piece of software is actually “worth it” in terms of price.

Making a Decision

The above questions typically help me make a decision fairly easily. At the very least, they help me offer a few viable options for the client to consider. Ultimately, choosing one software over another can be a matter of preference or familiarity. In my opinion, the most important thing is to consider people first. When you start there, you can be sure that you’re making the right decisions for the right reasons.

Scroll to Top