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How to lower your app development costs

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A friend of mine shared some tips on how he negotiates with iPhone developers and outsourcers. It was great advice and made perfect sense to me. Some people are naturally great at negotiation. But some of us need help with these skills. I knew this advice would be really helpful to share so my friend very kindly agreed to me posting the information here. HUGE thanks to Mr. Saveintons. You are a legend.

The first app I ever made was a simple prank app. You scroll through some photos of cute puppies and then a big mean dog would pop up and scare you. It was my first experience outsourcing the development of an app. I got around 8 quotes. Some over $3,000 and one under $300. After interviewing all the devs I decided to hire the guy that was $800. I couldn’t figure out why that one dev was only $300 when everyone else was so high. I just figured he was going to rip me off so I just dismissed him. After building a number of other games I have learned a lot. Today I look back and realize that I got ripped off on my first game at $800. The fact is, today I could get that game built for around $300 or less. It seems like the dev I was suspicious about was probably the only one NOT trying to take advantage of me. Well, I learned from that mistake and quickly made adjustments to how I hire my help.

Negotiating with a dev or graphic artist can be difficult. They are in the power position by default. They know how to program or design and you don’t. So how can you really tell how many hours are needed to complete a task? They tell you it’s hard and will take a long time. But can you trust them? These tips will help you get into the Power Position and save a ton of cash in the process.

Here’s what I do…


I post my ad and then interview the 5 that look best to me. Once I’ve selected someone negotiations begin. No matter how fair the price may seem you should always ask for better. If you just ask directly for a better price they’ll probably just say no and give you a long complex explanation about how difficult the task really is and blah blah blah. So use these techniques to better your chances.

1. Blame your business partner

Tell your dev that your business partner has set a strict budget for the project. It’s out of your control. They quote $500. You tell them your partner has only approved $350. If they give you any guff just tell them “No problem. My partner has a developer that will do the task next week. I just wanted to give you the opportunity.” 99% of the time they will cave and take the job.

2. Your regular dev can do it for less but he’s busy now

You get a quote for $500. Just tell them your regular dev can do it for $400 but he’s busy with other projects at the moment. If they whine about it just tell them “no problem. He’ll be available next week. I’ll just wait.” Again, 99% of the time they’ll cave and take the job.

3. I have other quotes for much less, but I like you

No matter what quotes you really have in your hand. Always tell the dev you have lower quotes. “I really don’t want to give this to anyone else. You do great work. If you can just meet me halfway I could give you the project.” Works all the time.

4. Know your stuff. Or at least pretend like you do

Are you new at outsourcing and developing apps? Well NEVER tell this to someone you’re negotiating with. They will not take pity on you and give you a good price because you’re a newbie. Once they know this information it’s like blood in the water and you will get bit.

When you’re explaining the task to the dev say stuff like “This should only take a few hours for anyone that’s good with cocos2d.” or “It’s a pretty basic script so it shouldn’t be a problem for you.” You need to sound like you already know the time needed to complete the task. If they think you know how to program yourself then they won’t try to bid high. Also by making statements that assume the dev is talented you will puff up their ego. They won’t want to admit they’re not good enough to finish the task in such a short time. They’ll take the project just to impress you and show that they are just as good as those other programmers.

5. Bulk Buys and Combo Deals

You have successfully worked down your dev and design cost with some ninja negotiations. Is it possible to get them even lower? Sure!

If you’re reskining games then you will probably want to make 2 or 3 versions of a game before moving on to the next code. If you have multiple iTunes accounts maybe you’ll want to make 5 or 10 games. This is where you can get your cost down even lower with a Bulk Buy. Keep in mind that you should NOT tell the dev you have multiple projects up front. Let him think it’s just one, work the price down low and then tell him there are more. You can probably negotiate another 20% off by committing to multiple.

What if you only need one copy of the code adjusted? Or only one set of artwork done for a game? Well, if you’re a serious appreneur then you’ve probably got multiple projects in the works as once. Think of another task for the dev to do for you and setup a Combo Deal. “I need 3 SDKs added to this game and I need you to make this other game Universal for me. Can you do both for X amount?” It’s always assumed that the more you buy the better the price. Devs seem to understand this and are very willing to give better pricing as the task grows.

6. Artwork

Most of the above techniques will work just fine on graphic designers but this is a trick I use specifically on graphics negotiations. If you don’t explain your needs VERY well the designer will give you a high price. Why? Because they know they’ll need to make a lot of changes to match the vision in your head. So to keep your cost low you need to explain your needs very well and provide them with multiple links to images and other apps they should use as their guideline.

So explain your needs well and provide lots of references. Get your estimate and use my negotiation techniques to get your price down nice and low. Then you drop a little bomb on them. “Oh, I forgot to tell you I already have a bunch of vector graphics for you to use on this project. So you’re really not creating anything from scratch. You just need to format everything for my game and make it look nice. There may be some slight adjustment needed but the foundation graphics are there for you.” Now the pressure is off and the designer thinks their workload has gotten much lighter. The price will go down even more now.

I use this technique all the time with my artwork projects and some of my designers are used to it now. They like it. They expect me to have a set of “starter images” in vector format for them to work with. Artwork that would regularly cost like $250 can get down to around $125 if you supply them with a good foundation to build from. I get all my stuff from www.vectorstock.com I usually spend around $5-10 there to get my “starter images”. So $125 + $5 is much better than $250. Additionally, I have noticed many times my designer will spruce up the images I give him at no extra cost. They go out of their way to make it look good because they want to show you added value. They want to show you that they’re not just rearranging the clipart.

I’ve used these methods to save thousands of dollars. Hope it helps you too!

Mr. Saveintons

Need more help?

If you found this blog useful all I ask is one thing in return – please share it with 3 of your friends who would really appreciate some help to reduce their outsourcing costs. Thanks!

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Elaine Heney is an online entrepreneur, triple #1 best selling author and international keynote speaker. Elaine is an Amazon FBA ecommerce advisor, investor, Hollywood movie producer, online business consultant and CEO of Chocolate Lab Cashflow. Elaine has also published over 300 mobile apps across Amazon, Apple & Google, and enjoyed over 20 million app downloads and over 50 #1 apps worldwide.

{ 18 comments… add one }

  • Laszlo June 17, 2013, 11:01 am

    Awesome practical tips, thank you guys! As I commited a lot of aforementioned mistakes during outsourcing, these come really in handy.

  • Jane June 17, 2013, 11:14 am

    Ninja tricks super useful! Thanks Tons!

  • Ilyse June 17, 2013, 9:18 pm

    Thx Elaine! So happy you helped someone so quickly.
    I will def print a hard copy of this and keep it near.

  • Greg Hoffman July 23, 2013, 6:59 am


    when he says starter images to work from… I dont get how this works

    If i want to reskin a game from a dog game into an alien game…
    where do starter images come into play?

    just curious how that works

  • Perjan August 3, 2013, 8:35 am

    Your suggestions are like Master card, priceless ;).

  • Elaine Heney August 14, 2013, 9:00 pm

    Greg – Starter images could be a few vector images that you can use in backgrounds and icons.

  • Mel August 15, 2013, 8:31 pm


    for a re skinning what are the basic skills that I should include in my job order? Should I just be broad as in ” I am looking for android and IOS developers” or should I be more specific?

  • Elaine Heney August 15, 2013, 9:18 pm

    Hi Mel – you need to know what language the app is coded in, and look for a developer who can work with it. Eg. It is native to Apple? Or it is made in a game builder (there are a few!)? Or is it only built for Android? Figure out that, and then you should be in a good position to know what type of developer you need. Good luck.

  • Mel August 15, 2013, 9:49 pm

    Thanks Elaine, that helps and I see a lot of the language in the description of the app.

  • Mark November 18, 2013, 3:31 am

    Hey Elaine,

    Great article, just have a question, im hiring someone just for an update to my game but ive been getting a lot of developers asking me to send them the source code of my game before they can send me a quote. Do you recommend sending the source code to numerous developers? Or do you recommend just asking them to give me a rough estimate and then sending them the source code if it is reasonable.


  • Elaine Heney November 18, 2013, 8:23 pm

    Mark – No way. If its a reskin send them a link to the game in the store if they really want it. If its just to update xyz (put in ads, iaps, simple stuff), get a standard price for that. They don’t need your code before you hire them.

  • Brian December 20, 2013, 8:42 pm

    One more I came up with:
    Assume both parties already know their rock bottom price. You are not here to trick someone or persuade them to do a job that just doesn’t make ANY SENSE for them to do. You’re job is to save “some” money in the process and do it over and over in your business and life. These numbers will add up.

  • Modupe March 21, 2014, 6:01 pm

    Awesome blog Elaine, thanks for the tips. I’m super new to all of these but I’m supercharged and rearing to go :-) Just one question though: I noticed most of the information about app res-skin, not just here, on other blogs as well, are all geared towards iPhone apps. Is it possible to do android versions and would that incur separate development costs?

  • Elaine Heney March 22, 2014, 10:00 am

    Hello, yes you can of course reskin Android apps. It would follow the same reskinning lines… you’d need new art & an Android developer to put the art & new IDs in for you. Cheers.

  • Modupe March 25, 2014, 9:18 pm

    Many thanks Elaine

  • Krzysztof April 28, 2014, 1:24 pm

    While some people might find it useful, this is a strategies based on lies, trickery and is borderline unethical as far as negotiations should go.

    Then you’re surprised then quote you 5h for work that you think shouldn’t take that long, like in your other article. Of course using this strategies will result in the other side developing mechanisms to defend – you might be the first to benefit from that, but more honest entrepreneurs that will then deal with those developers will pay the price.

  • Ken June 19, 2014, 3:52 pm

    Hey Krzysztof,

    Economies of scope and scale like the ones mentioned in this piece have been in existence for a long time and are some of the foundation stones of negotiation and pricing.

    You are of course entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts so lay off the ethical high ground and just appreciate good free advice when you get it.

    Great tips Elaine!

  • Jamie Toelle June 19, 2014, 7:12 pm

    I’ve hired close to 200 developers and here are some more things we do everytime.

    1. Be very specific in your requirements, this will reduce any additional fees you might add to the project later on.

    2. Look for a developer who has a working Demo already, finding a developer with previous experience will reduce your cost.

    3. Most projects will have multiple versions, make this clear to the developer. This also can reduce cost.

    4. Ideally you want to find a Developer who has ALL the skills you will need. i.e. find someone who understands the Front End (objective C, Java, Swift) and Backend Webservices (Php, Mysql, Json, etc.). Rarely is a Developer also a good designer… but you can try…

    5. Post your project with a Budget lower than you’re willing to pay.

    6. Specifically declare your ‘Budget’ in the requirements, you’ll get developers who will match your Budget to get the job. Be careful on this, make sure they have the skills you require and previous experience. I’ll take the risk of hiring someone who is ‘new’ to Freelancer or elance if they know what they’re talking about.

    7. Hire a developer who repeats your requirements in their propsal or message to you. This tells you they understand and will help you to not having to hire a 2nd developer to fix their mistakes.

    8. Pay attention to developers who ask you questions about your project. This is a good indication they’re already working out the details of your project.

    9. The biggest tip to reducing your cost for App development and Design is to work with the same person, establish a working relationship. It might take awhile (took us a year and many failures) to get the right team together but when you do, it’s sweeeet!

    1o. This won’t necessarily reduce your cost but it will reduce your Stress Level. Especially when dealing with the Chinese. Outline the Milestone process. For instance we say. The first 50% milestone will be released once we have a working Demo that is Bug free. The final 50% milestone will be released after we have received the Source Code and the App has been submitted. You can also do 33% milestone payments..

    Just my .02…

    *Shameless plug* – if you need a badass Designer… take a look at http://raydianlabs.com/RPF/ we use them for EVERYTHING

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