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The eternal question: build or buy

build or buy

One of the most common questions I get from startups is whether they should build or buy the software for their job board. It’s a question that wasn’t that common 10 years ago – simply because the options for job board software were, well, limited.

Things have changed. If you take a glance at my job board software page, you’ll find dozens of offerings. Most are stand-alone packages, while a few are designed to work with WordPress. Every one of them provides the ability to post jobs, and most offer much more. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the current plethora of suppliers has driven up the number of job boards out there. After all, if launching a job board is as simple as buying software, configuring the site, and going live, then why the heck shouldn’t you start your board? (Well, of course, there are LOTS of reasons, but that’s not the focus of this post. Another time.)

So, again: build or buy?

1) Buy: There are several reasons to consider buying your job board software:

  • You can test it out ahead of time, thus ensuring that it works and that it has the features you want
  • You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Although a job board is simple on a conceptual level, it is actually a fairly complicated bit of programming.
  • You have safety in numbers. In other words, if your supplier has lots of clients, they also have steady demand to maintain and upgrade the software. That isn’t always true with a custom solution.
  • You can focus on sales and marketing. If you’re not worrying about tech issues all the time, you can spend time building your business. That’s always good.
  • You don’t have to worry about finding, managing, and retaining tech talent. IT folks are in demand – and good ones are always hard to find.

But (and there is always a ‘but’) there are some drawbacks:

  • You’re at the mercy of the supplier. If they don’t get that upgrade out, there’s not much you can do but wait.
  • You don’t (usually) have access to or control of the source code. So customization can be limited (although not always).
  • You may outgrow the software. When that happens, you’ll be right back to the ‘buy or build’ question.

2) Build: So what are the reasons for building?:

  • You have a highly customized or non-standard site and/or services. An off-the-shelf solution just won’t work.
  • You have a robust internal tech staff that can build and support the site for you (or you have an ongoing relationship with a 3rd party IT consulting firm that can build and support the site for you).
  • You have lots of previous experience in job boards and know exactly what you need and what you don’t.
  • If you are building multiple sites, your costs can end up being lower, as they will be amortized across the sites – prebuilt software will charge you on a per-site basis.

So what are the drawbacks to building?:

  • You’re in uncharted waters – a ‘built solution’ can take months if not years to finish.
  • Time is money – which means that custom solutions usually cost more than the off-the-shelf stuff.
  • It can be difficult to find technical staff that understand the complexity of a job board.

For the vast majority of start-ups, I think this is an easy decision – you ‘buy’. As I mentioned above, reinventing the wheel is not profitable, particularly if your site is not doing anything out of the ordinary. If you’re an established site, you may want to migrate to a ‘buy’ solution simply to avoid the technical headaches of maintaining and upgrading custom code. But for sites with unique offerings or extremely complex services, your only choice will be to build. As a veteran of many custom site builds, all I will say is, ‘Bite the bullet, take two aspirin and call me in six months.”

Note: This post came out in 2013, and the Doctor considers it just as relevant today. Take a read! And don’t say I didn’t tell you!

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