Software platform providers for fitness professionals often get asked this question, “Should I use a pre-existing software platform or should I invest into a custom-built software to meet my needs?” The answer, as any personal trainer worth their salt would tell one of their clients when they’ve been asked a question, is that it depends. The reason that building your own software is so enticing is that the options for what you can build are virtually limitless. With the continued progress of software development tools, it’s now cheaper and faster than ever before to build out custom software to meet your exact needs. That being said, there are a few things that are important to know before you make the commitment to investing into building your own custom software solutions.
There’s always hidden scope and depth
When you are outlining a software project, the first action you’ll take is to define the scope of the work required. Will the custom software require a web and/or a mobile application? What type of users will the database need to account for? What are the features that you’ll need to build out to support your needs? This may seem like a fairly simple task at the start, but once you begin the building process you’ll quickly run into one of the biggest challenges with software development. Just because a plan may be clear to you, that doesn’t mean it’s a one-to-one match with how the developer is interpreting the platform and features you’ve described. When you combine that with the fact that the different paths you can take with software development are endless, it’s very common to think you’ll receive A only to end up with B.
Long story short, communicating your software needs is challenging and that’s why software development teams communicate daily during the building process to ensure that they are all on the same page. Along the way, even the best software developers in the world continually run into situations where what was once thought to be a simple feature requires more work than they originally accounted for. More work, more time, more money spent to build out your custom software that you’re on the hook for.
It’s not as simple as build then release
You’re at the finish line and are about to push your custom software tool live. You are done! Not so fast. Another overlooked aspect of software development is that after the big initial drive to build out the platform and then release it, the work is not finished. Your custom software will not just sit out there on the internet and deliver value without any upkeep.
Let’s use the example of building a house. You build the foundation, you put all the right pieces in place, and then after you move in and turn on the lights stuff can go wrong. The lights will eventually burn out and need to be replaced. The washing machine may break unexpectedly. You’ll want to update the design of the bathroom and will have to add a new wall to make that happen.
The needs that you have for your custom software and the needs of your customer are rarely static; they will always change over time. You’ll have to continually update the systems that your software is built with, fix bugs that pop up along the way and adapt to the ever-changing landscape that supporting a successful software platform and tool requires. The main point here is that when you build custom software, you are the one responsible for it. Whether building it yourself, paying for someone to build and manage it on your staff or paying a software development team — they are all looking at you for decisions and direction. You are the one on call to ensure that it’s working as desired.
Is this the best way for you to spend your time?
Out of all the points so far, this is probably the most important. As a fitness professional, what is the value your clients are looking for from you? Very rarely are your customers going to make a decision on whether to purchase your services based on whether you have a custom-built tool or not. They are investing into your services because they trust you to help them reach their health and fitness goals. That means that this should be your top focus above all else. If you’re looking to spend a significant amount of time and money to build out custom software you have to ask yourself, at the end of the day, is this helping my customers? Am I really getting the return on my investment of time and money? Or, if I leveraged another software solution would I be able to have the needs of my business and customers met so that I can focus on what I do best as a fitness professional?
At the end of the day, I am about as big of an advocate for software in the fitness industry as you will find. We all know just how valuable software can be to scale our businesses and services. I have seen gyms and personal trainers build their own custom software successfully. On the other hand, I’ve also seen it go very poorly. If you’re thinking about making the investment yourself I’d strongly encourage you to do your research and think through each step of the process before making the commitment. If the return is there, go for it! If not, there are significant advantages to purchasing a software tool so you can move on to what you do best.